A Nonprofit Career: Advice to Future Fundraising Executives
I was recently listening to actor Denzel Washington’s speech to a group of college graduates in 2011. While taking notes on his key points, I was reminded of the year 2002 when I spoke to a graduating class of Marshall University (Huntington, West Virginia) Master’s Degree graduates. I received a student/alumni award from the university that day, which I cherish. I hope I provided some practical advice to these college students on that day. The future certainly was in their headlights.
When you begin your nonprofit career, you basically have a clean sheet a paper at your disposal. You are hungry and want to learn as much as possible about the business. You hopefully listen to others and gather tons of information. You quickly understand you will need to learn the internal organizational mission, vision and processes before you externally hit the road. Everything at first will feel new, fresh and exciting. It is wonderful when you do not know what you do not know. How can you seek answers when you are struggling to create the proper questions? With time, experience and confidence, the fuzzy vision slowly comes into some type of focus.
In an article excerpt by Andrea McManus, CFRE, titled “Six Things I Wish I had known at the Beginning of My Fundraising Career” from the book “Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals,” edited by Darian Heyman, Andrea provides six basic fundraising principles she believes are fundamental to philanthropic giving and fund development based on her Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) experience.
- People give to people—people are motivated to give for a variety of reasons.
- Much comes from few—a successful development program will receive 80 percent of its donations from 20 percent of its donors (80/20 Rule the Pareto Principle).
- Wealth is not always obvious nor is it necessarily interested in your cause.
- It’s not about the money—it is about building the relationship.
- Fundraising is not a stand-alone activity—for success to occur, work in sync with strategic planning, recognize governance responsibility, and involve everyone in the organization in the fundraising process.
- Philanthropy is something to be proud of, and fundraising exists to promote philanthropy.
If a new fundraising executive decides to join the AFP, which would be a very smart move, they will find out how quickly the investment will pay dividends. If you go to the AFP’s “Toolkit for New Fundraisers,” you will immediately open a toolkit with parts that include building your ethical foundation, the tools you need from AFP, quick resources and web articles, plus professional development opportunities. Key areas of focus from the ethical foundation section include the code of ethical standards, donor’s bill of rights and discussion on ethical principles of fundraising.
Other areas in the toolkit include what to do in your first 90 days, ways to define your target audiences, basics in developing your fundraising plan, fundraising fundamentals—where to start and where to obtain AFP webinars, fundraising courses, bookstore, resource center and other development information. Through AFP you can quickly determine if you have a new group of AFP friends and colleagues in your town where you can learn, network, socialize and engage in serious career discussions.
The Forbes Nonprofit Council created a post titled “Eight Nonprofit Professionals Offer Their Best Fundraising Advice” to fellow nonprofit leaders that can certainly benefit newcomers to the field. Their advice is as follows:
- Keep it simple—maintain a strong bond with your community and give them clear opportunities to raise funds within a clear mission.
- Align fundraising with a concrete, quantifiable Purpose—always link what you want to raise with a specific goal that can be quantified and shared.
- Be transparent and accessible—invite donors to your facilities and include your cell number inside hand written thank-you notes, which will help gain new supporters and keep the ones you have at present.
- Focus on strengthening a few key relationships—focus on a few high-level, high-impact donors. Strive for a superb relationship, long-term board seat and long-term value.
- Continue to show gratitude after the donation is made—Thank donors often and through stories.
- Understand and communicate what’s In It for the donor—understand the goals and motivations of the donor and then provide a pitch that will help them meet their goals through giving to your cause.
- Ask for donor feedback—ask them what was the pitch that drew them to you and how we can improve. Use their feedback to build a better program.
- Do what works best for you—keep doing what is working and double down on what works best for you, from Ted Gonder with Moneythink.
I had a long-term volunteer who jumped into development tell me the other day that he feels development is very hard. He realized what I have known for many years. The process of philanthropy is very complicated with many moving parts. Administration, volunteers, staff and board members constantly come and go while donors stay with you for a time, depending on if they feel appreciated with a value for their investment of time, talent and treasure.
My 10-point advice to the next group of fundraising professionals is as follows:
- Be relationship-oriented.
- Be focused on the institutional mission and not personal gain.
- Constantly educate various constituencies on how to fundraise.
- Immediately seek a mentor.
- Seek at least a Master’s degree.
- Strive to make a difference.
- Seek daily constant work performance.
- Use research for best of class, prospect analysis and operational strategies.
- Take your career seriously and represent the profession and yourself well.
- Always seek answers and where to get answers.
Our profession is both an art and a science. There are many right answers. You will obtain numerous ideas and suggestions. Be determined to shift though these to see what works for you. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Failure is a good thing and all of us have failure stories. Learn from your failures! Appreciate what you do and the impact you are making on our society. Always leave a situation better than when you entered into it.
Finally, blink and you will realize your career is over. You will forget jobs in this business but you will always remember the lives impacted and stories of your unforgettable nonprofit experiences.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.