Tough Choices Can Lead to Big Payoffs in Your Fundraising Career

Reading this week’s issues of Today in Fundraising, as well as posts, tweets and updates from my network, I’m convinced I am the only fundraiser who wasn’t at the Association of Fundraising Professionals annual conference earlier this week. But, it’s true — I didn’t attend.

I’m not mad at AFP, and I love San Antonio so that wasn’t an excuse, either. But it was a tough choice I made. I had another goal for 2014, and that requires any spare time and money I can scrounge up.

While I was commiserating that I was missing out on all the good learning and networking, I started thinking about what it would be like to achieve my personal goal later this year. And I thought back to how my career was often shaped with the help of others and by serendipitous events — but also by strategic planning for “me” on my part.

As fundraisers, we can get caught up with the strategic planning for our programs and achieving our quarterly goals — so much so that we neglect any intentional effort to manage our own careers. We still grow and get recognition, but it may be more haphazard because we couldn’t find enough time to develop a plan for our own career. If you’re stuck in that whirlpool, here are some non-time-consuming ways to manage your career and, therefore, impact your future.

Update your résumé every six months

Gasp! Quick, supervisors, hide this article from your team! Wait!! I’m not saying to update your résumé and start “shopping.” It’s just that the worst time to try to update your résumé is when you’ve just been laid off or told your company is moving to Siberia in six months (Nothing against Siberia. I’ve been there; it looks like Northern Wisconsin. But I don’t want to live there.)

Instead, make it a point to regularly review your résumé. List your most recent significant accomplishments. Consider whom you would use for references. Update your continuing education and contributions to the industry. Then you’ll be ready should the unexpected happen — or opportunity knock.

Keep a file of ‘Yea, Me!’ items
It’s usually difficult to remember what you did that really worked, the idea you had that turned things around or the memo you wrote that got high praise from “the top.” But those things help when you are doing an annual self-evaluation, when you’re interviewing for a promotion or a new job, or when you are just feeling unappreciated or, even worse, incompetent.

This folder is just for your eyes, so fill it with the victories, large and small, that make you proud and show you that you did something that really made a difference. Over the course of the year, you’ll be amazed at all the great (albeit sometimes little) things you did that got forgotten in the tyranny of the urgent.

Do an annual self-evaluation, even if no one asks you to

For a number of reasons, annual reviews get overlooked, pushed back or are inadequate for really reviewing the employee’s contribution to the whole of the organization. (I think, in 27 years of working for nonprofits, I probably had fewer than 10 “annual” reviews. My favorite was the time the boss sat back and said, “So, why don’t you take the next 45 minutes and tell me what you think I should know about what you’ve accomplished in the last year.” Talk about being unprepared; he clearly had never even read my self-evaluation. Sigh …)

Given this spotty record of getting a truly meaningful review, I began taking my self-evaluations very seriously. I put time into them and pulled out my “Yea, Me!” file, reviewing my accomplishments, how I progressed on last year’s goals and, yes, even reviewing where I hadn’t done too well. Generally, these were “for my eyes only,” so I could be brutally honest — and unabashedly braggadocian.

Set personal career goals, big and small
Several years ago, I attended a seminar led by Jerry Panas. The first day, we were assigned to write a letter to ourselves about where we wanted to be in five years. That got me thinking, and I made some decisions that put things in motion for my then-stalled career. (My one regret is that I moved away and never got my letter, which was mailed to me at my old address five years later — or at the least, that I didn’t keep a copy.)

That “navel gazing” led to an eventual job shift that was more than just moving from one square box to another; instead, I took some leaps and made some tough choices. A few didn’t work as well, but they led to other things that did, so I can’t complain. I also set some long-term goals that I wanted to accomplish “eventually.” That kind of introspection is not for every day, but once in a while, we need to allow ourselves to envision the future we want and then set a plan in motion to get us there, no matter how far the journey is.

That leads me back to why I wasn’t at AFP. Since I was a teenager, I wanted to earn a doctorate — not for some lofty career reason, but for the personal satisfaction and discipline that accomplishing that would bring. I began that process in August 2010, slogging along through some great courses and some that were super challenging (regression analysis is just not something I naturally gravitate toward), and last year I decided that I would finish in 2014. That meant no conferences, less travel, and more weekends with my nose in a book and my computer working overtime as I wrote my doctoral project. The end is in sight — October 2014. But I would never be writing this if I hadn’t set a big goal and never let it go, eventually making accomplishing it my priority.

Your big goal probably isn’t the same as the goal of this old dog. But putting a little effort into managing your career can lead to a big payoff, in your career or in your life outside your career. That journey starts with a few small steps — and taking time to remember why you are a terrific and passionate fundraiser.

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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