Finding Passion in Your Fundraising Staff
As an instructor at two universities, I have the opportunity to share my passion for fundraising to many people each year. My experiences and learnings often come from experience rather than from a textbook because when I started in this field, there weren’t training programs. But after teaching more than a few dozen classes, I have found that one thing I can’t instill in students is passion. If taking the course is just about fulfilling a requirement—a means to an end—it’s hard to turn the interest from “the grade” to the joy offered from working as a fundraiser.
Some of the things that I see in students with passion are the same things we should look for in employees, if our goal is to find people who spend their career (or at least more than a year or two) fundraising for our organization and to grow as a professional as they help grow our income.
Passionate fundraisers ask questions. From the first day (and even during the initial interview), look for people who ask questions. “Why” is no longer something to dread. When a passionate student or employee asks “why,” there is a genuine desire to understand and possibly challenge our traditions to find something better. People who ask questions also make you a better instructor or leader because you may need to do some research to find the answer. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out and let you know.”
Passionate fundraisers stay current with trends and news. I regularly have students find a news article related to fundraising and share it with the class and talk about how they can apply the information to their work as a fundraiser. My goal is two-fold: Introduce students to reputable sources and get them in the habit of practicing lifelong learning on the job. People who aren’t learning new things and having their assumptions challenged can develop “root rot” that quickly kills any potential for growth.
Passionate fundraisers worry more about what works than what they want. I wish we didn’t have to spend money to raise money; I wish people just naturally realized what a great job we do because they give; and I wish people knew that, of course, we are thankful for their giving. But a passionate fundraiser knows that making the experience great for the donor—not simply efficient (or inexpensive) for the organization—is what makes our fundraising effective. “I don’t like it” is never said unless it is followed by “But it’s not about me. How will it resonate with our target audience?”
Passionate fundraisers go beyond the basic assignment. The best kind of fundraiser on the team is the person who knows what the end goal is and is never satisfied with just checking an item off a list. Instead, he or she wants to know more than the minimum and do more than “just enough.” A passionate fundraiser doesn’t need to be managed every step of the way; instead, they take the assignment and exceed your expectations. James C. Collins, author of “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don’t” wrote, “The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake.”
Passionate fundraisers are genuinely excited about fundraising. Every day, we have three broad categories of things we do: Things we have to do, things we like to do and things we are absolutely passionate about doing. I have never had a job where I loved doing everything all the time. But when you are excited about what you do, you understand there are things that aren’t as much fun, but they are part of what leads to success overall. If a student or an employee is clearly just marking time, working just for the grade or the paycheck, the “things they have to do” will quickly break them down. But when they’re passionate, even the mundane task feels easier because it’s part of what makes achieving our passion possible.
This old dog knows that hiring and training a new team member is not easy (or cheap). So watch for the signs of passion and never settle for a “good enough” employee. The cost is not only wasted time and opportunity, but it can also cost you those who are passionate. Again quoting Collins:
“Letting the wrong people hang around is unfair to all the right people, as they inevitably find themselves compensating for the inadequacies of the wrong people. Worse, it can drive away the best people. Strong performers are intrinsically motivated by performance, and when they see their efforts impeded by carrying extra weight, they eventually become frustrated.”
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.