What Does It Take to Succeed in Fundraising?

Feb 22, 2021

Concern for People

Again, this may seem like an innate quality that one either has or doesn’t, but there are some things you can do to cultivate concern. First, working for an organization about which you care deeply is one way that you can feel concern for the organization’s clients. Many professionals gravitate to an organization that may have helped them or a loved one and these individuals will usually be empathetic with the organization's clients.

Another tool that can help is to get out and about within the organization, the old “management by walking around” theory. Talk to the people who use the organization's services, find out their stories and talk to them about their hopes and desires for the future. It will make fundraising easier and allow you to speak in a compelling fashion about your organization's mission and can also help you build empathy and concern.

Concern for people goes beyond caring about the donors and the clients, but extends as well into concern for the staff. Taking time to listen to the concerns of other staff people, your colleagues in the development office and others in the organization, can help the development professional build a concern for people.

High Expectations

As a development professional, you should have high expectations not only for yourself, but for your organization and for your coworkers. Often it is the development professional that “leads from the middle” and inspires the organization to greatness.  Cultivating donors who have vision is one way to lead the organization to a higher level of performance. Also, some board members can have a great effect on the vision of the organization, so as a development professional, you should have input into the selection of new board members who can help transform the organization into bigger and better things. However, this does not mean setting unrealistic goals or having expectations that are so demanding that the staff gets frustrated.

Expecting the best from the development staff and other staff within the organization is critical as well. Development professionals who have a staff reporting to them should allow the staff members to set their own goals and provide them with the tools to do their job. Having a once-a-year staff retreat for the development office members in addition to regular staff meetings can be a good way to empower staff.

Love the Work

Not only do you need to love the organization you work for, you need to love the work of development! Loving this career often starts with volunteering in the area of development. If you do not enjoy volunteer fundraising, you probably won’t love it as a career. So, if you are thinking about entering the profession, you may want to begin by volunteering to work on a special event, a phonathon, or a corporate appeal for a few nonprofits and see if you really do love fundraising.

As with anything the more knowledgeable you become in an area, the more likely it is you will enjoy doing it. Who can say they love knitting if they don’t know how to knit, or cooking if they have never learned how to cook, or skiing if they haven’t taken a ski lesson? The same is true with development. You will need to learn as much as you can about the profession by taking classes, reading books, attending workshops. If you find a particular aspect of fundraising that really appeals to you, such as planned giving, major gifts, grant writing you should pursue that area. If you prefer being a generalist, you should look for a position as a development director in a small shop where you will get to do a variety of fundraising tasks. Finding your niche is critical to loving the work. It also means that if you become frustrated, worn out, or just bored, you may need to think about moving on.

To learn more about getting started in or advancing in your fundraising career, take my course, Fundraising as a Career, sign up here

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