2023: The Year to Start Loving Fundraising Again
Way back in February 2020 — before COVID-19 became part of our daily vocabulary — fundraisers were leaving the profession at an alarming rate. The average tenure at a job was 16 months, and four in 10 development directors were considering leaving the profession entirely.
Combine more than two years of COVID-19 protocols, working from home and hiring challenges with a general lack of appreciation that I regularly hear fundraisers talk about (“Hey, how hard can your job be? I have no clue how to do it, but here’s my opinion anyway.”), I expect that there is even more frustration amongst fundraisers, especially if you work for a smaller shop where training opportunities are few and multitasking is plentiful. Fundraisers may be near their limit.
So right now, when 2023 is looming in your windshield, I am sharing some ways I’ve found to reduce frustration and — most importantly — improve confidence in your skills as a fundraiser. I encourage you to choose at least three of them and make them part of your personal career growth plan for 2023.
1. Commit to Staying Relevant
Set aside time at least monthly to read the articles you have bookmarked. Research new opportunities and maybe even try a few. Some shiny new tactics won’t make sense for your organization’s donor file size and budget, but somewhere out there is something that has potential for more income — and possibly some fresh fun in your work.
2. Figure Out Who Is Your Target Audience
Once you determine who is your target audience, then accept the tough reality that it’s likely not you. If you don’t know from whom you are asking for money, you may be using the wrong tactics or language. Your goal is not to bore, be condescending or try to impress donors with your fluent use of big words and acronyms. Instead, your job is to tell a story that so captivates them that all they want to do is to join that story and influence the ending.
3. Don’t Discard the Old
No matter what anyone says, don’t discard the old just because it’s boring. As long as it’s working or has room for improvement, keep it. When a tactic is working to engage and retain your target audience, it’s not important if you like it or not. What matters is that it works.
4. Commit to Learning More
Admit to yourself what you don’t know and commit to learning how to do it. When you’re asked to do something outside your core competencies, view it as a challenge to expand your knowledge and look for reliable sources online.
5. Try to Avoid Tactics That Don’t Work
Start saying “no” to suggestions that consume time but have little chance of raising money. This one is hard because the request often comes from someone higher than you on the organizational chart. But build a case for why it isn’t the best use of resources (time and money). You may not win this time, but you have at least planted seeds for future change — and reinforced in your own mind what is the best strategy for raising funds. That knowledge may serve you well in the future.
6. Become More Efficient at Efforts That Don’t Raise Funds
You didn’t win at tip No. 5? If there are things that don’t raise money but you have to do them because of organizational politics, look for ways to make those things more efficient so you waste as little time as possible. How can you minimize the time investment so the assignment has as little impact on your workload as possible?
7. Talk to a Donor Daily
Commit to speaking personally to at least one donor every workday. This could be a disgruntled donor, a drop-in donor or one you choose to call to personally thank. It’s easy to get caught up in doing fundraising and start viewing donors as interruptions. Talking to a donor can re-energize you, and the intel you collect can help you sharpen procedures or identify an area that needs to be better communicated to donors to help prevent confusion.
Don’t give up on fundraising. Your cause needs passionate, smart, creative, hardworking people. It may not always seem that way, but you are making a difference — and that’s something to celebrate as we close out 2022.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.