Making the Best Decisions for a Lifetime of Learning

Today, one of the greatest skills a fundraiser needs, in my opinion, is the ability to be nimble. Rapid changes in the online space, donor ages spanning six (or more) decades, the still-relevant role of offline fundraising tools, the growth of donor-advised funds, changing foundation priorities and many more things all make the job of fundraising require the flexibility and balance of a gymnast.

Although easy to ignore in our busy days, we also have to be nimble in our choice of training. I am a huge fan of continual education. However, the growing number of options can make choosing which one to attend a daunting task. In fact, I suspect there is a free webinar each day that could make us better fundraisers if we only had time to actually fundraise after consuming all those webinars.

As a small-business owner, I have to constantly make choices about where I invest my time—and sometimes money—in my own professional development. Much of the time, this is automatic. (This speaker always has something interesting to say. This is a topic that interests me. This is probably something I better know something about or I’m going to become irrelevant.) But today, as I deleted multiple emails urging me to sign up for a webinar or training event, I was curious: Is there a better way to sift through all the must-attend webinars being marketed to us daily and make the best personal choice?

In a LinkedIn post, Dr. Deepak Chopra, listed four human elements that are present in a good decision:

  1. Emotions – Your choice must fit in with your most positive emotions and avoid negative ones.
  2. Self – Your decision must match who you are as a person.
  3. Vision – Your decision must accord with your long-term goals.
  4. Surroundings – Your decision must be compatible with the situation you find yourself in.

These are good ways to evaluate the decisions we make every day about our own growth as fundraisers. I am not a Chopra follower, so my effort here isn’t to proselytize. Rather it’s to help all of us make better training decisions as lifelong learners and fundraisers. So, let’s apply these four elements:

  1. Emotions: Will I be proud, as a fundraising professional, of the fact that I made this decision? Will gaining this expertise enhance my skills and play to my strengths? Will I feel justified explaining this training choice to my employer? If you answer “no”—or even “I don’t know”—to any of those questions, it’s probably a bad decision. Yes, it sounds interesting, but it’s probably not the best choice right now.
  2. Self: Will I grow as a fundraiser because of this choice? Am I pursuing this because it will cause me to be more fulfilled in my work or because it’s what others expect me to do? Yes, there are sexier parts of fundraising. Should you choose what makes you achieve your best self and not just do what others think you should do? As someone who is passionate about direct response, I know I chose one of the less sexy skill sets of fundraising. But I love what I do, and I am proud of what I have done. I have learned to be competent in multiple aspects of fundraising, but my passion comes from direct response. Where are you most passionate about?
  3. Vision: Where do I see myself in three years? Five years? Ten years? Sometimes, as fundraisers, we get so busy we can’t see past the next event, mailing or donor visit. But we’ll make better decisions about where we invest our time and training money if we consider it as part of our longer journey as a fundraiser.
  4. Surroundings: Will this training help me do a better job in the work I am currently being paid to do? Can I invest my employer’s money (for the event and/or your time) without guilt? This may mean doing a particular training event that interests you on your time and at your expense if it is not relevant to the job you currently hold. But that’s a worthwhile investment if you see it fulfilling your longer term goals.

I expect that your inbox has more than one invitation to sign up for a training event or read information that every fundraising must know. Before you just delete them all or entertain any thoughts of envy since you’ll never be able to sign up for everything, take a few minutes to consider your own fundraising journey road map. Are you heading where you ultimately want to be. Or, did you take a detour that has left you feeling stuck in the mud? This old dog knows that being a fundraising is a huge time investment, but investing time to think about the path you want to follow is the best way to love your work and make the best contribution you can as a 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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