What It Takes to be a Fundraiser

For the last several days, I have been working on developing a course for a university offering a certificate program in nonprofit management. I’ve been focusing on the mechanics of fundraising — for example, how to determine the right amount to ask, how to market planned giving, and how to write a grant proposal.
But as we all know, fundraising is about more than just strategy. Here are some of the important things I look for in a fundraiser.

I care
Do you genuinely care — about your donors, and about the cause you are raising money for? We’ve all experienced from time to time a person who you can tell really, genuinely cares about his or her profession. Perhaps it’s the car mechanic who goes out of his way to wipe a minute speck of grease off the door handle; or the restaurant manager who comes over to thank us for coming in, asks how we liked our dinner, and listens to our response. As a fundraiser, do you view donors as a means to an end or as wonderful partners who brighten your day? And are you passionate about the difference you are making by going to work every day?

I’m curious
Do you go out of your way to experience your program in action every so often so you can understand it better? Do you wonder what would happen if you changed the teaser on the carrier envelope or called a donor just to say “thank you”? Do you look at the past results and dream about ways you can improve them and therefore be able to do more good? A successful fundraiser isn’t resting on his or her last fiscal year’s accomplishments. Instead, he or she is mentally exploring the next opportunity to do even better.

I want to learn new things
Fundraising is never boring (in my opinion) because there is always something new to try. That doesn’t mean every new thing that comes along is right for our fundraising program, but we owe it to our employer — and to ourselves — to learn what’s new and then ruminate on it to decide if it can help us do our jobs even better. Reading this newsletter is a great place to start, so congratulations on being a learner! It’s a cliché, I know, but I still believe that when you stop learning, you stop living. Are you merely the “walking dead” at your office, or are you constantly learning and then teaching others?

I’m hard-working
There’s nothing wrong with recycling a great direct-mail package or using parts of one proposal in another. But fundraising is not about “one-size-fits-all.” Nor is it about boring our donors to death. Are you constantly looking for a fresh way to tell your story, reusing proven work but always looking for ways to tweak it and make it better? Donors choose to give us their money. We should choose to work hard to continue to earn their support.

I’m having fun
I believe there’s a reason the first three letters of fundraising are “FUN.” When we’re having a great time doing our work, it spreads to the donors and colleagues with whom we come in contact. There’s nothing wrong with being “accused” of being obsessive about direct mail or major-donor funding, or any other fundraising tool. Most of us spend more waking hours at work than any other place, so let’s be sure it’s not just a job, but it’s also something we enjoy.

So, what would you add to this list? (“I’m tired!” comes to mind, but let’s not go there.) In my experience, fundraisers are some of the most passionate, energized people I know. Being in a room full of fundraisers is never dull! And having a tissue to wipe away the tears as they tell stories from their work is almost a requirement.

Fundraising has been around for quite a while; in fact, I’ve read that the first known fundraising campaign in the United States took place at Harvard University in the mid-1600s. (And it was successful, even without a robust back-end computer support system — imagine that!) Over the centuries, fundraisers have come and gone, but the passion for doing good has never diminished. That’s reason enough to celebrate!

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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