Fundraising Career Checklist for Success
Whether you deliberately set out to be a fundraiser or you simply “landed” in a position, if you enjoy the work of fundraising, you probably hope to get ahead in the field. That may mean you switch organizations or that you take on more responsibility where you currently are working.
There are many ways to advance your career, and many things to consider when looking for the next position. Here are some things to consider—personally and in terms of organizations—when considering the next step along your fundraising career path.
Being nimble is one of the best traits for a fundraiser. Thirty-five years ago, fundraising was skewed heavily to direct mail and events on the lower-gift end, and foundation grants, major donor cultivation and planned giving on the higher-gift end. Today, fundraisers may find themselves tasked with doing or supervising those same five things, but also with an organization’s e-appeals, social-media presence, peer-to-peer fundraising, website, telephone and text campaigns, and other options that make up a fundraising portfolio.
In a nonprofit organization, “I don’t do that” is generally not the answer being sought. So that means fundraisers need to be willing to stretch into new fundraising areas, reading more, actively looking to see what others have recently done, attending workshops and webinars that look like they will add value by helping to increase knowledge bases, taking thoughtful risks on something new, and—in short—getting out of their fundraising comfort zones to increase their “nimble quotients.”
What your nonprofit does program-wise is critical to what you can do fundraising-wise. Successful fundraising requires that the fundraiser have a worthwhile “product to sell.” A fundraiser needs to be passionate about the work being done, but that passion will be hard to develop if program results are continually weak.
One of the major focal points today in nonprofit management is the need to show impact. Fundraisers can’t create impact if it really isn’t happening. If a nonprofit organization’s leadership can’t articulate to you at least some impact, you likely will struggle to make the programs you are trying to fund achieve value in the eyes of potential donors. As a fundraiser, you will want to “translate” that impact into terms that excite donors, but trying to excite donors about sub-par programs is a tremendous challenge, so be sure to not just look at the fundraising programs and the salary package when considering a job, but also at the quality of the programs you will be presenting to donors and potential donors.
Donors need to have philanthropic intent, disposable income and interest in your mission. That’s who a fundraiser must focus on. Put the bulk of your efforts into people who meet these requirements and your success as a fundraiser will be greater. You can certainly invest some time in others who don’t match this criterion to grow prospects for the future, but your job is to raise money—so you need to focus on those who are most likely to give and on the places where they will likely hear your message.
This sounds like one of those “no kidding” statements, but too many fundraisers are spending too much time chasing after rainbows instead of appreciating what’s right in front of them. Just today, I heard someone describe it as the shiny penny that is surrounded by dirty nickels, dimes and quarters—and we’re putting all our efforts into picking up the penny. We need to focus on the right things to be successful as fundraisers. For fundraisers—and everyone—time is precious; we all get only so much and when it’s gone, it’s never coming back. So invest your allotment of time on the things that are going to raise funds so your organization can do more program—and thus continue to progress toward fulfilling your mission.
When this old dog looks back, I am grateful for every new skill I learned, honored to have raised funds for programs that truly were making a difference, and humbled by the men and women who chose to give to further that work. Yes, I am also pleased that I had opportunities to take on more responsibility and grow in my job (and grow my income). I wish the same for you as you invest your time, talent and enthusiasm in this always exciting field of fundraising.
Pamela consults with nonprofits, helping them develop their fundraising strategy and writing copy to achieve their goals. Additionally, she teaches fundraising at two universities, hoping to inspire the next generation of fundraisers to be passionate about the profession. Previously, Pamela led the fundraising programs for nonprofit organizations. Pamela is a member of the Advisory Panel for Rogare, the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University’s Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, a CFRE, a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and Dominican University, and holds a Doctorate in Business Administration from California Southern University. Contact Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @pjbarden.