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Advice for Starting A New Fundraising Job

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One of my favorite colleagues and co-host of our Eskin Fundraising Training Non-Profit Empowerment webinar series, Rhanda Luna, has been hired as Director of Corporate Giving and Special Events for SAFE, based in Austin, Texas. This nonprofit provides comprehensive services for survivors of child abuse, sexual assault, exploitation and domestic violence. Her new fundraising job represents an exciting entry into a nonprofit sector different from her previous jobs in which she raised funds for three different Texas opera companies.

Rhanda is representative of the enormous movement and flexibility of fundraisers. Nonprofits are lucky to keep high-performing development professionals like her for 18 months. That means that there are many men and women in our profession who are beginning roles with new employers.

Check out these 10 tips to help you thrive in your new fundraising job

1. Start by having thoughtful conversations with your supervisor that help you establish stretch-but-realistic goals and objectives.

Performance metrics should be both quantitative and qualitative. After productive discussion, put the results in writing. My favorite question for employers is, “A year from now, how would you know you made the right hiring decision?” Keep in mind that no fundraiser is a Superman or Superwoman that can fly in and produce gift income results by themselves. They need a supportive culture of philanthropy flowing throughout the organization that actively engages other staff, board, volunteers, and current donors to strengthen discovery, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship activities.

2. Review progress on these goals and objectives at least quarterly.

Present a progress report in an easy-to-understand format that provides updates on what you have accomplished. Fundraising is the ultimate continuous improvement process. Each solicitation and interaction with donor prospects provides the opportunity to learn and improve.

3. Focus on winning the inside of the nonprofit before focusing on donor prospects and external friends.

If possible, time is well spent meeting with all members of the nonprofit team across all departments. It means so much to put a face on other staff with whom you will be emailing and communicating. This is also essential to deepening your understanding of the nonprofit’s mission, vision, and values.

4. As soon as possible, meet face-to-face with current donors.

There is no agenda to these meetings other than thanking them for their support and understanding their motivations to provide gifts of time, talent, and treasure. If face-to-face meetings aren’t practical, then video-conferencing will suffice.

5. Fall in love with the work of your organization.

More than anything else, philanthropy is driven by passion for the distinctive ways nonprofits touch, improve, and save more lives. Successful fundraisers must feel this emotion in their knowing heads and honest hearts.

6. Develop a personal case for support.

Your organization will have official documents, but put those sentiments into your own words, and as much as possible relate them to your personal experiences and background.

7. Accompany senior staff and board members who enjoy making solicitations and watch them in action.

You might have made solicitations for other causes but, like Rhanda, you could be entering a different sector and need to pick up new nomenclature, appeals, and the return on the philanthropic investment.

8. Network, network, and network.

Seize every opportunity to circulate in the community and meet with nonprofit leaders in similar mission spaces and those serving in different sectors. There are boundless ways that these personal relationships can reinforce your acumen and success.

9. Confirm work-life boundaries.

A fundraiser is often expected to work during the evening and over the weekend to play important roles in special events attended by donor prospects and other friends. There should be give-and-take, with supervisors giving employees flexibility to meet family, medical, and other daily demands on their lives. Research repeatedly shows that allowance for work-life balance means as much as compensation to employees. The overriding benchmark is that there is steady progress toward meeting core goals and objectives.

10. Explore opportunities for growth.

Too many fundraisers are leaving their nonprofits and the profession altogether because they have a feeling of being stuck in one place. Supervisors need to know that you welcome new challenges and ways to advance the success of the organization.

Starting a new fundraising job can be welcomed as beginning with a clean slate — there are no problems holding you back. You can enter all relationships with an open mind and a focus on positive collaboration.

I have no doubt that Rhanda is poised to achieve strong results. She has all the qualifications and is personally passionate about championing SAFE’s timely mission. But she fully recognizes that success will ultimately depend on the organization’s professional and volunteer leadership, and its collective commitment to always go the extra mile in faithfully carrying out donor intent.

Fundraising success requires an entire nonprofit village in which the development professional makes steady strides down a path that is supported by a solid infrastructure and culture pointing the way for moving boldly and steadily forward.

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  • Marcy Andrade

    Excellent advice from a top-notch fundraiser, professional and leader! Tip number 9 is so important. You don't want to lose yourself, your friends, your health to constant work. Finding a balance is key to happiness and success at work, as well as at home. I am working on it!
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