by Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE
When I first entered the wonderful world of philanthropy back in the dark ages (before email, can you believe that?), I was amazed when I found out this was actually a career and that large organizations had staffs of dozens of fundraisers. But when I started my consulting practice I mostly worked with boards and executive directors who did not have the luxury of development staff, so they had to do the fundraising themselves, in addition to all their other duties. Many executives came from the program side of the organization and were accustomed to grant writing. Most had also run special events. But didn’t know much about other types of fundraising. So, I quickly realized there were some things they could do to be more effective at fundraising.
Learning Improves Results
One thing I did was to help them strengthen their boards and create strong development committees so they would have volunteers to help. I encouraged them to recruit business leaders that could help them raise money from the business community and from individuals, who happen to provide about 80 percent of all philanthropic giving in the USA. I taught them that fundraising is a process not just a one-time transaction, and that by learning to cultivate and build relationships with the local businesses and philanthropic community they would be more successful.
I also helped them become more well-rounded by educating them about the various methods of fundraising and how effective each method was. When they learned that special events ranked low on the ladder of effectiveness and that grants were often a fickle source of funding, they spent their valuable time building relationships instead of managing events and grants.
One thing I did was to provide a lot of training through seminars, conferences, webinars, and now my online courses. What is the best advice I give people struggling with fundraising? Learn! Learn as much as you can.
When I started my first development job as Assistant Vice President of Institutional Advancement (what a mouthful), I realized I had a lot of business and sales experience to bring to the table, but I knew little about development, fundraising, and philanthropy – other than what I knew from my volunteer involvement.
How about you? Whether you came into your job through another nonprofit career, a career in the for-profit world, or volunteer work, there are probably areas of this field that you might know a lot about too, but others that you need to learn. Unlike when I started out, today, you don’t need to spend time traveling to conferences. Instead, you can sit in your office or at home and take webinars, attend symposia, and even take courses. A real time-saver for an executive director whose time is limited.
What Are Your Professional Goals?
Okay, I saved the best for last: Setting Goals for Yourself.
Development officers and executive directors should be very familiar with goal setting—annual fund goals, capital campaign goals, major gift goals, donor retention goals, program goals, constituent participation goals. But how often have you focused on setting goals for yourself?
Perhaps one of your goals is to learn enough about a variety of fundraising techniques to be a well-rounded generalist. Or, perhaps you want to become an expert in a certain area of fundraising and become a specialist in this area. Maybe you’d like to be a consultant someday. Maybe you’d like to write a book or teach. Maybe you want to stay at home with your kids or aging parents and your goal its work from home. Maybe your goal is to become the CEO of your organization if you are not in that position already. Whatever these goals are, write them down and develop a plan for how you’re going to reach them – and include a timeline.
Being a Type A personality, I have always set goals for myself. When I entered this field, my goals were ambitious, but I fulfilled them all. My goals were:
- Become a CFRE
- Become an ACFRE
- Become an international speaker
- Become a consultant
- Write a book
- Leave a legacy
Your goals will be different than mine, while some may overlap. For me, I knew accreditation was important, so I was determined to sit for my CFRE exam as soon as I was eligible. When the local exam (again, back in the dark ages, when you were required to go to a location and sit in a room with a bunch of people taking the same exam) was canceled, I had to drive to Rhode Island. My late husband drove while I read books on planned giving for hours during the drive. But the CFRE credential was important to me, so I did it. The ink wasn’t dry on that certificate when I began preparing for the ACFRE process. I had to fly to Toronto to take the test and then to Dallas for the oral exam (which I failed the first time) and then to Washington, DC during a snow storm to re-do my oral exam, which I passed this time. Yippee! Again, this was important to me, and certification really helped me tremendously to advance in my career.
My last two goals are interrelated: I’ve always wanted to share my knowledge, leaving a legacy for future fundraisers. Here’s where my involvement in CharityChannel and AFP helped bring this about. Through AFP, I was offered a chance to write several Ready Reference Books and publish my first and second fundraising books. When CharityChannel launched its publishing imprints CharityChannel Press and For the GENIUS Press, I really got to fulfill my goals by publishing more than a dozen books and learned enough to self-publish four works of fiction. And through my writing and speaking, I expanded my network enough to launch more than a dozen online courses. These courses may help you advance in your career and now you can get all the courses for one low annual subscription fee. Check out the courses here: https://www.lindalysakowski.com/fundraising-as-a-career-course.
Find a Trusted Mentor
Surely your goals will be different than mine. Find a mentor to help reach your goals. Some AFP chapters have formal mentoring programs, Check that out if you are an AFP member. If not, find an informal mentor, someone you admire and respect. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to take your call and to spend time with you. After all, this is a giving profession.
Summing it All Up
Learn as much as you can, especially if there is an area you want to specialize in. Take the online courses that will help you perfect your knowledge. https://www.lindalysakowski.com/fundraising-as-a-career-course. Set your personal goals. Set a target to reach and feel good when you reach it. And find a mentor, a trusted someone you admire and respect, to help you reach your goals.
Good luck in your career!
I’d love to hear from you personally about your goals. Contact me here: [email protected] .