Frontline Fundraiser Credentials: 6 Things That Matter
A frontline fundraiser can have a long list of credentials (schools attended, diplomas, certifications, etc.) and be a total failure at actually doing major gifts. Conversely, a frontline fundraiser can have no schooling, no credentials, no certifications and be an outstanding high-achieving frontline fundraiser. I have seen this over and over again.
Seth Godin basically makes that point in his blog, "Where did you go to school?" He mentions how little a college where you spent four years contributes to a job you’re doing 30 years later. Instead, the way you approach your work is what matters.
“You are not your resume,” he said. “You are the trail you've left behind, the people you've influenced, the work you've done.”
Think about what is needed in major gifts. Here are six examples.
1. A Genuine Caring for the Donor
You can’t learn this stuff out of a book. It comes from the heart. Do you really care about your caseload donors? Are you really interested in what they care about? That is what is important.
2. An Ability to Sort Conflicting Values and Positions Inside the Organization
As a major gifts officer you have to sort out what finance thinks about a project in terms of costs, what programming knows about the program in terms of impact and profile, what the priorities are of various stakeholders: the CEO, board, etc.
A frontline fundraiser has to navigate many rooms in the house to be able to give the donor what they need. I suppose you could go to one of the many negotiation seminars out there to learn some techniques in this area, but, in my opinion, this is more about the ability to listen, compromise, find a new way, etc. I’m not sure there is a college course out there that offers substantial help here.
3. The Ability to Stand Up and Dust Off After Rejection and Failure
Major gifts fundraising is full of “no’s,” and stops and starts. Some people can take it. Many can’t. You can learn to adjust, but it takes time. Can you take a class on this? Probably not. Personal counseling is what helped me the most in learning how to deal with rejection.
4. Loving Goal-Setting and Planning
Again, you can learn a lot in books and school about these two items, but there is also an emotional and psychological side to goal-setting and planning that is sharpened and honed by trial and error and practice.
5. Matching the Needs of the Organization With Those of the Donor
This is more art than science although there is a logic to it. But you have to listen well — to the donor and to the internal stakeholders, like program and finance. What book can you read to teach that?
There is nothing like it. And experience is what you bring to the job. As Godin said, it is “the work you’ve done” that is the most important. It is your experience that has taught you what to say or not to say. It is your experience that guides your planning and your prioritizing. It is your experience that guides you in moments of rejection. You know from experience that there is another day and that what has happened today is not the end. You will get another chance.
I want to be clear that I am not against education, books or formal learning so don’t draw that conclusion. What I am saying is that being able to navigate a relationship with a donor and serve those needs while paying attention to the organizational values you need to deliver is a far more important asset than where you went to school, your CFRE certification, this or that seminar or course that you attended, or a book you read. Your actual work, past and present, is what matters.
Focus your efforts on improving getting results that value the donor long term and meet the organization’s needs. That is the real value.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.