Every Fundraiser Needs a Coach
Our culture celebrates self-reliance. We have this admiration for the “self-made [fill in the blank].” The problem is that while we have bought into it, it’s a myth. No one I’ve ever met is a self-made anything.
Yet, for some reason we’re all supposed to aspire to it.
I’m going to tell you right now to put away that lie and embrace the fact that all of us need a coach to help guide us in our work and in our lives.
Now, you may not call this person a coach, perhaps they’re a mentor or a teacher, or maybe a really good friend. But I can say with certainty that I’m only in the position I am today because I had people around me who spoke truth into my life.
Ever since I was in high school, I’ve sought out other people in my life to provide advice, offer guidance and tell me the truth as I journeyed through college, early career choices and major life decisions. And I continue to do it today.
One of those people was Richard Perry. When we first started working together, he was 50 and I was 32. He had been through quite a bit in his life, and I wanted to learn from his mistakes and successes. This started a life-long friendship that is still going today. Fortunately for me, he was someone who wanted to mentor younger people who had a desire to learn.
Over time, our relationship turned into a mentorship-friendship, then into a real friendship, and then we became co-owners of our firm. Today, I still seek his advice about owning a business, and he’s still speaking truth into my life — even when I don’t want to hear it.
Why am I telling you this?
Because in your career in fundraising, you need a coach.
Whether that’s a formal or informal situation, you will need help in some way. Depending on your needs and goals at a given moment, you may need guidance in the technical aspects of fundraising, or you may need someone who can provide accountability. Having a good coach can help guide your growth in all areas of this profession.
This was the brilliance Perry had many years ago when he started working with nonprofits on major gifts. He realized that besides having a structure for frontline fundraisers to work within, the most important aspect that would bring success was providing a coach for each fundraiser. What he saw with most frontline fundraisers is that they had no consistent management. They were basically left on their own to raise a bunch of money.
Having led a sales team in a previous life, he knew that it wouldn’t matter how great a plan or structure you had. Without consistent accountability, focus and strategic thinking (all of which a good manager or coach would provide), the fundraiser would not be successful.
It is necessary to meet with a coach regularly to get guidance, receive encouragement and be held accountable to working the plan. And this coaching — more often than not — leads to growth outside just the technical work of fundraising.
Because this work is difficult and emotional, your coaching should also encompass life issues beyond just work.
Why? Because work and life can’t be disconnected. Especially when your work involves changing the world.
I could tell you story after story of how coaching and encouragement get fundraisers through tough times in their lives. Coaches have helped people to carry on building relationships with donors, inspired them to not to give up on the profession and encouraged them to keep a positive attitude in times of turmoil.
No one can do this work alone. Bringing someone with you to coach you through your work and life is the best thing you can do for your growth as a human.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.