I have worked in fundraising in some form or fashion literally since the moment I stepped out of college. Even before that I was hearing about some sort of board meeting, fundraising campaign, or local faith based outreach from my father since I was 10 years old. Service and giving back was deeply instilled in my upbringing.
My first roles, though, in “development” weren’t traditional. In fact, they were all but. In one position I was a program manager, aka customer service, in another I served as public relations manager. Both for non-profits. It wasn’t until after I went to business school that I had my first REAL job in Development, helping run a $250 million capital campaign for Davidson College. The lessons learned from my informal education and training partnered with my formal development practices led me to look a bit differently at my work.
Here are a few lessons learned that tell you more about my approach.
- Development permeates every part of the organization – Development is knowing the programs, knowing the community, knowing your audience. One cannot exist without the other. Mission based fundraising is having a resurgence, but I’m talking about really aligning your compass to your mission, and using your main goal to help you make decisions about how to move forward.
- Get to know your colleagues – I don’t like to sit down for long. And I get bored easily. My job in public relations for a hospital was to tell stories about the good things our doctors were doing. But no one from our office had really come to talk to the doctors previously. Once I built relationships with them and knew their expertise, they willingly helped me tell the hospital’s story. And that turned into more knowledgeable patients for them, and donors for us.
- Ask questions of your current and prospective donors. One of my favorite jobs was work with an international organization. I spent time with all of the program directors understanding what each of the programs we ran did and how they needed funding. Then, I would fly to Miami or Bolivia, and talk, in Spanish, with our corporate partners about their interests. Many times the interests that they published in their glossy corporate giving brochures weren’t the real issues they were confronting. Being able to align their true needs with our program offerings resulted in larger donations and longer term giving to our organization.
- Connect-the-dots – Even though my primary role in the last 15 years has been as a fundraiser, I intentionally look up from the narrower problem at hand to see the bigger picture. This allows me to to find gaps or areas for improvement. This is the essence of being a consultant, and this external, big-picture perspective is what I do best. Putting a different lens on an issue and putting yourself in the donor or community’s perspective can really change how your organization works to achieve their objectives in the community.