Fundraising is a Passion, Not a Job
Looking over my last few articles, I’ve decided I’ve been grumpy. Maybe it’s the heat and the drought in my part of the country, or maybe it’s the dread of spending the next 15 months being bombarded with political messaging. So, today I am going to take a major turn and write about what I love about fundraising.
Because, the truth is, I do love being a fundraiser. I have done this work for nearly 36 years now. During that time, I have lived in four houses in two states, worked for three nonprofit organizations, took part in innumerable conferences and webinars, taught the craft to hundreds of students, raised a lot of money for my employers and clients, gotten to know some wonderful donors—and in short, I have had a wonderful time.
What is it about fundraising that makes it such a great profession? The hours are long, the pay isn’t always the best, the results are unpredictable and disappointments aren’t unknown. But, on the other hand:
1. Many donors are passionate, and it’s an honor to help them fulfill their dreams. Some donors give out of obligation to someone or something, but others give because they are totally in love with the cause we represent. They are willing to overlook boring newsletters, never-ending events, a revolving door of staff or any of the other obstacles we toss their way. Why? Because they honestly believe in what the organization is doing. They celebrate every success, and hurt with us when a project isn’t as successful as we hoped. They tell others about our work without our prompting—or even without our knowledge. When our faith in the organization is weak, they build it back up simply by being so committed to the mission.
2. It’s a (good) challenge to keep our work fresh, even if the mission and programs don’t really change. Some organizations are constantly evolving; others are basically doing the same thing they were founded to do. Their methodologies may change, but essentially, the raison d'être is set in concrete. A good fundraiser is constantly reinventing to keep that mission alive and vibrant for the audience. He or she is seeking out the stories, even if this requires extraordinary effort. New ways to express the organization’s work are crafted at night when sleep is elusive. There are failures, but the fundraiser keeps at it, always asking, “How can I make this the most exciting fundraising case possible?” Boredom is rejected because our goal is raising funds, and that requires unending vitality.
3. Some friendships develop that go beyond the job. Later this week, I am having lunch with a friend I met first when I was a client. Many of my Facebook friends date back to my various jobs in fundraising. There are some donors that have become long-term friends, well after I am in a position to cultivate them for a gift. I am grateful for a career that has led me to passionate people who share my enthusiasm for fundraising and for life. Fundraisers are great people!
4. There is constant proof that our work is valuable. While I do not do work for the Special Olympics, it was exciting to hear reports of the World Games held in Los Angeles last week. One of my former students does work for that organization, and I thought of him often, knowing how much he gives to his work. But you don’t have to travel to L.A. to see the difference nonprofit organizations make in our daily lives. The signs are everywhere—people’s lives, the environment, medical advances and so much more are a result of the dedication of nonprofit organizations and the fundraisers who made sure there was money to fund the mission.
5. We are supported by a huge amount of talent, research and pundits. Even if you aren’t in a major metropolitan area, you have unfettered access to so many resources. Early in my career, I went to the library and waited expectantly for the next issue of a fundraising magazine. Now, we have white papers, webinars, giving analyses, free newsletters, in-depth studies and (frankly) more than we can ever truly consume. We are never alone in fundraising, fighting our battles with no one to support us. We can find someone to help us when we need it if we reach out.
6. Fundraising provides new experiences and opportunities to stretch. When we change jobs, we immediately immerse ourselves in a new situation, a problem that we will work to help solve. We can learn new skills and incorporate new techniques, constantly reinventing ourselves as we stay current in our field. The Bible says, “The poor will always be with us,” and so will medical conditions needing research for a cure, animals in need, environmental concerns, people needing to learn new job skills, and so forth. A fundraiser’s job is never done, nor should it ever be mechanical. When we invest our hearts into the work, the rewards are so much more meaningful—for the cause we serve, and for us.
So, forgive my journey into Pollyanna-land, but these dog days of summer seem to be a good time to ask “why?” Why are we fundraisers? This old dog thinks that it is because most often, we feel like we are some of the luckiest people on earth, because we are doing work that matters. Let’s keep doing it, and striving to do it better all the time.