Characteristics of Great Fundraisers
Nonprofit organizations rely on skilled professionals to raise charitable donations to support their overall mission, specific programs, and the general operations of the organization. Careers in development, as fundraising is called in the nonprofit arena, range from frontline fundraisers to prospect researchers to database managers and gift processors.
Within the realm of nonprofit development are four major revenue streams: major gifts, planned giving, annual giving and special events. Depending upon the size and the scope of the organization, a nonprofit may have individual fundraisers managing each of the revenue streams or one individual who does it all. There is a lot to be said about each of those revenue streams and the specific skills necessary to be successful in them, but first, let’s focus on you.
In considering a career in fundraising, you need to first look at your own passions and skills. As a fundraiser, it is difficult to raise money for a cause to which you would not contribute yourself—part of that is your passion for the cause and part of it your confidence in the quality of the organization (more on that later). All of us desire to better the world we live in, but we all choose different aspects of our world to improve and different means for doing so. Whatever your cause, you have to have enough passion to get off the bench and into the game.
Do you have a difficult time asking for help? If so, fundraising is not for you. At its most basic level, fundraising is about asking for help, specifically financial help, for the programs promoted by the organization. Also, development is a team sport—a collaborative effort that includes subject matter experts like program officers or senior leadership; leadership volunteers who have connections to people who could support your cause; and you, the fundraiser, who facilitates conversations that match donors’ passions with your organization’s mission. If you not willing to ask your colleagues for help, you will not be successful as a fundraiser.
Are you a great storyteller? If so, you could be a great fundraiser and a great advocate. As a fundraiser, you are sharing the stories of the impact your organization has on the people and communities it supports. You are telling the story of a unique program that uses yoga and music as alternative therapies to support three- and four-year old children who have experienced more tragedy at their young age than many of us have seen in our lifetimes. You are sharing the story of healthy cooking classes provided to low-income children and their families that help reduce childhood obesity, a public health issue we must confront. As a scholarship recipient, you can personally testify to the value of that scholarship to your education and your potential career and the critical importance of expanding the resources to help others in similar situations. You can translate complicated medical technologies into stories about their impact on patient care. You know how analyze your audience and choose the right delivery method for the story, matching the vastly different expectations of the range of generations who give to organizations with the right communications vehicle.
Are you transactional or more relationship-based in your approach to people? Those who view the acquisition of support—whether it’s from an advocacy or fundraising perspective—as transactional (i.e. checking it off the list) will be successful in the short-term, but not in the long-term. If you don’t understand the need to thank people over and over again; to communicate to them directly the impact of their support and the difference they make; or, in your mind, can’t be bothered with that ongoing relationship because you’ve already accomplished your goal, then do us all a favor and don’t chose a career in fundraising.
When a donor chooses to make a gift to your organization, they are making an investment in your cause. There are so many nonprofits competing for philanthropic dollars that you should be truly honored when a donor chooses yours. Your responsibility is to be a great steward of that gift. Today, donors view themselves as investors and want to be fully engaged with an organization before making a transformational gift. By investing in that relationship, you can be the facilitator of an investment that truly changes people’s lives.
So, after answering the questions above and doing some serious soul-searching, you decide you want to pursue a career in fundraising. How do you decide which organization is right for you? What are the pros and cons of a career in nonprofit fundraising? Stay tuned for answers to these questions and more.
Post by Rose McManus Coleman (CLAS ’84)
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