Engaged in Lifelong Learning: What I Learned, Why I Keep Learning and Why You Should Too

We’ve all been around them — those co-workers who seem miffed that the abacus has gone out of style and who are still carrying slide rules in their pockets. (For those of you who are younger than a baby boomer, let me translate: They are miffed that Lotus 1-2-3 has been swallowed up by Excel and are still carrying around a seven-pound laptop instead of an iPhone.)

But for those of us who want to stay relevant (and, need I say, employed) in this decade, we have to stay current. For fundraisers, it’s no different. Fortunately, there are books (many available electronically), webinars, seminars, college courses and e-newsletters like this to help us learn both for productivity and simply because learning new things is just plain interesting.

So, like many of you reading this column, I made the pilgrimage to Philadelphia last week for FundRaising Success’Engage Conference. And I learned.

In no particular order, here are some gems I wrote down in my conference notebook. (These may or may not be exact quotes — I long ago forgot my high school training in Pitman shorthand — but all credit for this column goes to the speakers at the conference.)

  • We can’t continue to lose the money and the donors we’re losing now, said Roger Craver (The Agitator). Retention and long-term value (or lifetime value, if you have solid numbers to calculate that) are king. (This can’t be emphasized enough. We’re spending too much to acquire donors, only to have them never give a second gift. Over time, it’s a recipe for self-destruction.)
  • Survey and pinpoint key drivers of retention and donor value — and fix the pain points — was another reminder from Roger.
  • Repackage your nonprofit in such a way that donors can understand what you do. This reminder came out of theOperation Smile case study. Know your donors and what they’ll support — not what you want them to support.
  • “All ideas are not equal” was a great reminder from Tom Harrison of Russ Reid. We have to avoid the “I have ideas, too” syndrome, where we make our fundraising decisions in such a way that every idea receives the same value. Worse is when we are controlled by HiPPOs (highest paid person’s opinion).
  • Nonprofits work together on the field, but they often don’t collaborate in marketing. Collaborating can fuel growth. (From Operation Smile’s case study.)
  • “Mark your donors with a memory” was another memorable comment by Tom. Remind them what they did, and invite them to do it again.
  • From the American Bible Study (ABS) case study: Look at how competing goals work together. What are the trade-offs?
  • Nurturing donors toward the ultimate gift (end-of-life gift) is a reason to keep mailing to and cultivating donors, even if the ROI is low. A good reminder from ABS.
  • To grow and get to the next level, you have to think, “What’s next?” was helpful advice from the team fromHuman Rights Campaign (HRC).
  • THE HRC case study also reminded us that we need to have a willingness to fail and learn from mistakes. I wrote an article to help make intelligent risk-taking part of your nonprofit culture; you can read an archived copy here.
  • “If you love it, it will fail.” Sage advice from HRC — and something I have proven over and over in my career.
  • Jeff Jowdy suggested looking for board members two to three years out. Cultivate them like you cultivate potential major donors.
  • A speaker’s bureau is, for some nonprofits, one of the best sources for finding new donors.

So, why keep learning? Because things are changing, and we need to change along with them. There are great opportunities to learn, no matter what your learning style is. You can learn by reading, listening, talking to others who have figured out something that you are still working through, observing and surfing (the Internet). Fundraising is tough — but not impossible, and the more we learn, the better we become.

And besides, it’s fun!

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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