The Closet Fundraiser — It's Time to Officially Come Out
[Editor’s note: For six years, Dane Grams has served on the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board — the last two as co-chair. He is stepping down at the end of this year to serve on the Direct Marketing Fundraising Association Board. We hope he will remain a regular contributor.]
Nearly 20 years ago to the day, I embarked on my nonprofit fundraising career when I walked into the offices of Greenpeace USA and started as the assistant to the director of development. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was ready to learn. Or was I? The truth is, I was asking myself, “How the heck did I end up here?” I had ambitions of being a lawyer! I had just finished school, had no money left and, frankly, needed a job. So I put my three years of work-study in the annual fund office to good use on my résumé. And so it began … the journey of an accidental fundraiser.
Here I was, in this unplanned job. And to make matters worse, it wasn’t long before I started to feel the stigma — fundraising seemed to be a dirty word. Inside the organization I felt shunned by the more glamorous program staff, out on boats saving whales. Outside the organization I felt the heavy-handed poke of angry donors who we called too much, mailed too much. It seemed like everyone had it in for me.
Moving to the Human Rights Campaign wasn’t any better. There always seemed to be a tension among the communications team members. Even worse, people expected us to raise money without spending any — like dollars just fell off of trees. The nerve. And the gays. The gays were even more annoyed than the environmentalists. Then came e-mail and social networking … and instant feedback! Oy.
My guess is many of you have felt the same way at one time or another. It’s time for that to stop. Here goes: I am a proud nonprofit fundraiser. There, I said it.
Much like each of you, during my career I have directed the strategic planning and implementation of numerous direct-marketing fundraising campaigns that have helped some of the most respected organizations in the world establish identities, build strong brands, win critical victories, and inspire hundreds of thousands of individuals to support meaningful causes with both their voices and their dollars.
As fundraisers, we do good work. Important work. Some might even say God’s work.
We are strategic, innovative, and have adapted to the times with little training and education. We keep the lights on and the doors open even in the face of volatile economies. We provide essential funding to house people, feed children and care for abused pets even when our government fails us. We make positive and lasting change.
Things have certainly changed since my journey began. Long gone are the days when you gave “nonprofit manager” as your profession. You can’t find a college or university these days that doesn’t offer some sort of nonprofit fundraising program or class. Fundraising is an accepted and essential part of the world we live in. Fundraisers are talented professions, and very special people. And good fundraisers are in demand.
I for one am glad I stumbled upon this profession. Come out and be proud with me.