new to fundraising

There is this great scene near the start of the movie, Hoosiers. Coach Dale comes in to his first practice and the volunteer coach tries to tell him how things are run (the way they always have). Coach Dale stops practice and says it is not about how well they shoot, it is about the fundamentals and he has two weeks until the first game. This team has never made it past a round or two of sectional competition. For those two weeks he drills on passing, teamwork, and endurance and getting to know and understand his team. He knows you still have to shoot the ball to score points. When you are prepared with the fundamentals, shooting the ball happens more naturally.

When I worked in the private sector, the corporations I worked for had a similar expectation. Before new employees or myself were allowed to represent the company, they spent a significant amount of time in the classroom learning the fundamentals. How the systems worked, what resources were available, and practicing the sales process in a safe and controlled environment.

Nonprofits are not major corporations with training and HR departments. Most of the time training is on the job and as needed. Human resource activities are not centralized. The thought of a training calendar is far from anyone’s mind. The thought of weeks before someone new to fundraising is face forward with the constituents is inconceivable.  

In this article, I share a training calendar that I actually used when I got my first position with a nonprofit when I was new to fundraising. I also recommend this calendar when I am a part of hiring a development professional. Development staff is often asked to raise as much revenue that some salespeople are asked to generate with a product. When you compare the training conducted, you can see the value in a training calendar.

The elements below can be used whether you are new to fundraising or just new to an organization.

1. Discover and own the plan – If you are the first person in a position or replacing a person, most likely the organization has been doing some form of fundraising before you got there. Look for a file. Find programs or posters or invitations jammed in other files. Look in your accounting or donor management software and if there is a bevy of donations around a date, chances are that was an event. If it is on paper, review it and understand your role. If it is not on paper, start putting it on paper. What has been raised each month in the previous 12 months; when events have occurred and their details (attendance, expenses, results); when solicitations have been sent out. These are just a few things you can have on a plan.

2. Know the mission – Spend time with your mission at least four hours every week. When I started with the Red Cross, this was one of the best things I did. I met with the disaster team, I observed CPR classes, went to military service events, and spent a day at a blood drive. It would be great if you could do it all in a week, but it is never that convenient. If you ask around, you can begin to place these activities on your schedule before you get too busy with your role in the organization. Through these activities, you can gain your stories to talk with donors about.

3. Interview colleagues (Volunteers and staff) – Take the time to understand what other people in your organization do and how they came to join the organization. Again, you will begin to have stories that you can share with donors. Rather than approach it as an interview, ask for help or guidance. Everyone wants to help, not everyone wants to be interviewed.

4. Interview long-term significant donors – These donors may “belong” to other members of the development team, but ask them to take you on a visit. Talk to them like investors. Inquire about what they like about the organization and what they see as missed opportunities. Understand why they support the organization. Then for your benefit, ask them who else you should talk to or think is a good prospect for the organization to invite to be a donor.

5. Be present – It will take time for you to get up and running for your organization. As you are looking for donors to talk to, and get tired of working in your donor management system, take time to be a part of things going on in the office.  This could be stuffing envelopes or verifying a deposit or editing a letter or even emptying the trash. Demonstrate that you want to be part of the team.

Most importantly, set goals. At the end of the first 6 weeks you should have some idea of what you want to accomplish.  Hopefully, you have been given a personal goal and you have discovered ways to accomplish those goals. If you have not been given a personal goal, then take time to develop two or three. With your goal, explain how you plan to accomplish them with action and share these goals with some of the people you interviewed.

When you are prepared with the fundamentals and the mission, asking for the contribution comes more naturally. What other tips do you have for someone who’s new to fundraising? 

Nonprofit Sustainability

Patrick Belcher

Patrick Belcher

Principal Strategist at PB&J marComm
Patrick brings his nearly 20 years of sales leadership to the field of fundraising. He helps non-profits develop fundraising infrastructure and strategy that will help them to be successful and sustainable. Through practical solutions and strategy, Patrick has helped many organizations increase results, improve their donor relationships, and fulfill their mission.