What Should You Do When Your Fundraiser Needs an Update?

Like many people before and after me, I prepared for the CFRE exam by studying the third edition of “The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management” by Stanley Weinstein. I’ve used it as a textbook in more than 25 extension and university-level classes I have taught. Why? Because, quite simply, it was the one book that contained the broadest scope of information for a fundraiser. Whether it was setting up a new data system, mailing an appeal or launching a capital campaign, you could find help within its 16 chapters.

But as fundraising evolved in the 21st century, the book grew a bit outdated. So I began my quest for a replacement book. There are some excellent books available for fundraisers (and I read many of them). But I was stymied—no one book would fill the big shoes left by Weinstein’s book.

If there is one thing I learned in fundraising, it’s not to give up—keep looking for what you need, and if it doesn’t exist, create it! Having worked for much of my career for small- to mid-sized nonprofits, being proactive was a necessity. I searched the internet and found Weinstein—I sent him an email, asking him about updating the book. And that’s how the fourth edition was born and a partnership between Stanley and I began.

Last week, the fourth edition of “The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management,” co-authored by Weinstein and myself, was released. Yes, I’m proud of this work because I believe it is a great tool for the fundraiser who is just starting out or the experienced one who wants to learn or refine skills in a new area of fundraising. But this article is about more than selling a few books (though, I wouldn’t object if you bought a copy from Wiley or on Amazon). Rather, this article is about something all of us in fundraising face—the need (and privilege) to be lifelong learners.

Despite having passed the CRFE exam years ago and teaching hundreds of students from the book, I knew I wasn’t an expert on every topic it included. So I asked smart people for help. That’s one of the best things, in my opinion, about the fundraising profession—people are (generally) willing to help others. For example, the people who write for NonProfit PRO do so because they genuinely want to help others grow as fundraisers and love the profession as much as we do. So the next time you are faced with a challenge or just want to try something new to maybe revitalize your fundraising program, don’t be afraid to ask a more seasoned fundraiser for help. You may strike out a time or two, but you’re likely to get a recommendation of a great article or webinar, some helpful advice on how things actually work in the “real world” or at least a sympathetic listener.

In addition to improving our fundraising by learning from others, we need to learn by watching the “vital signs” of our fundraising efforts. Following Weinstein’s example, each chapter in the new edition begins with a quote. Many are the same as from the third edition, but I changed up a few of them. The final chapter leads with this quote:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein

The chapter continues:

“Unfortunately, in the busyness of the day, too many fundraisers overlook the need for monitoring. This is true in nonprofits of all sizes. But neglecting the measuring of results and then using these measurements to improve future results is repeating the same failed or marginal strategies instead to seeking out a better way to potentially accomplish more.”

“Today, many donor-management software programs have innumerable reports built in. In fact, it can be overwhelming. But that doesn’t reduce the need to look at numbers regularly—and most importantly, to ask, ‘What does this mean? What do I need to do about this number?’ Simply knowing a statistic is pointless unless you use it to set goals, make incremental improvements and hold yourself accountable for continually improving your fundraising program.”

So this week, consider updating your own fundraising program by following these three steps:

  1. Look at the numbers. What’s working, what’s not working and what’s doing OK, but could use an update to match its potential?
  2. What can you learn from some “in the trenches” fundraisers? Read a few relevant articles, talk to a more seasoned colleague or find a webinar that you can access (often at no cost).
  3. Just get started. I guarantee you, revising a seminal book that has benefitted multiple generations of fundraisers is daunting. But like other things, the end result makes it worth the work, long nights and lost weekends.

What do you need to update, either in your program or in your own arsenal of fundraising expertise? This old dog urges you to commit to doing it. Even if you don’t find the next great fundraising breakthrough, you will learn. As Benjamin Franklin said, “I didn’t fail the test. I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.”

So start updating!

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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