When I entered the world of fundraising, I thought I had a clear idea of what my work would entail and how I would find success. With experience and some hard lessons, it became clear there was much I was unprepared for at that juncture of my career.

I recently asked a group of talented fundraisers what they wish they knew when they first started working in the field of philanthropy. As I read through these colleagues’ feedback, clear themes emerged. Their answers provide a critical foundation for those new to the field, as well as valuable reminders to those of us with years of experience. Here are some of the key lessons learned.

Introvert v. Extrovert: It Doesn’t Matter

  • Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you must enjoy talking with people and develop a curiosity about them.
  • Expressing enthusiasm for a cause or institution may come easily for those who are naturally expressive. But others will need to identify their personal connection and hone language that reflects it.

Maintain Morale and Nurture Persistence

  • Fundraising brings with it highs and lows, rewards and challenges. There will be incredible wins, but they take time, persistence, and patience.
  • We all get rejected. A lot. It’s normal and if you let it stop you, it will be that much harder to find your next achievement.
  • Donors give to accomplish something that matters to them – there is honor in facilitating and maximizing this.

Build Internal Relationships

  • Be mindful of office dynamics, especially early on. Spend time listening and learning before you form and share your opinion.
  • You likely didn’t close that gift alone. Give credit freely and genuinely. Recognizing others’ contributions won’t diminish your effort or dull your shine.
  • Find a way to love (or accept) your people – all your people. Difficult donors, persnickety prospects, demanding deans, frustrating faculty … there is something in each of them that you do or could like. Find it. Connect with it.

Build Good Habits

  • Prospect outreach and meetings are sacred. Proactively schedule time for it and make internal meetings work around your external work.
  • It’s easy to hide behind researching prospects and working on projects, and to rely on email rather than picking up the phone. But there’s no success without consistent outreach across all channels.

Evaluate New Opportunities Thoroughly

  • Fundraisers will regularly weigh new opportunities, and chasing the next best position can create a history of job hopping that makes a candidate less competitive over time. Consider whether you’re staying in roles long enough to demonstrate that you have the ability to achieve and maintain success.

November is a month of gratitude. For those of us fortunate enough to work in philanthropy, this is a time for us to celebrate our profession and the people that make it possible (all the people). Take the time to assist those newer to the profession to build better habits, and remember why you made the choice to devote your career to philanthropy. Remember the why and what you’ve learned, as well as helping others, assures all of our relationships are meaningful and our work matters to the organizations we serve.

Looking to expand any of the skill sets above? We would love to partner with you in coaching to ensure you have the best tools in your toolkit.

Recommended Posts