• Dan Reed

Becoming a Pro

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

My first 7 years as a fundraiser were a professional development wasteland. Everything I learned was unintentional, unguided, and failure-produced. Don’t get me wrong. I was driven to succeed. I cared about the causes we served. I even have had some raw talent to get by. But I didn’t know what I was doing. I was unconsciously incompetent and learned everything in the rear view mirror.

The stats suggest I’m not alone. 38% of fundraisers have little to no experience making a direct philanthropic ask. And perhaps saddest of all, 40% of all fundraisers expect to leave the profession within two years.

Becoming an elite fundraiser requires an effort that few people signed up for when they took their first fundraising job. The work is hard and the burden feels heavy. How do we learn to develop authentic donor relationships? To what efforts do we focus our time? What does a good fundraising day look like? And how do we become good at this without a clear path to follow and an intimidating revenue goal to hit?

Where does one start?

These are the questions we tackle at the upcoming Seed Gathering in October. Join us to find your answers.

I’ve met thousands of executive directors and fundraisers.

The defining attribute of those I consider elite is that they faithfully pursue both vocational conviction and technical excellence.

It’s the marriage of the two that produces deep, abiding satisfaction in our work and the generosity our institutions require.

Vocational conviction + technical excellence = elite fundraising. Ready to start?

Like so many of us, it’s easy to start with your job without looking at deeper questions. But culture-changing professionals should be able to connect who we are with the intrinsic value of our work in ways that excite us.

After years of wandering through work, I was blessed to be guided through a clarifying vocational conversation. I came to understand my vocation as two-fold: I am both effective at and enjoy pointing others to stories beyond themselves; and threaded through most of my conversations is an urge to challenge others to action.

What occupation expresses this truth? I could have been a guidance counselor, therapist, clergy, etc. I chose to be a professional fundraiser.

My job? Chief Development Officer at Morris Animal Foundation (one of several jobs).

It was at this point that I became a vocationally convicted fundraiser.

While I believe that vocational conviction best comes first, it alone is not a silver bullet. You are not suddenly good at fundraising just because you care. The next step is to commit to the long journey of technical excellence. My recommended path:

  • Pick a specialty within fundraising to which you will dedicate yourself to technical mastery.

  • Decide on 1-3 skillsets or mindsets that you wish to develop in the next year.

  • Select a quality, focused learning experience per quarter.

  • Find your tribe. Connect with a group of fundraising leaders who, despite maybe differing specialties and organizations, are striving for professional mastery. Spend time with them.

  • Follow someone else that is ahead of you on the journey. Become a disciple and do what they do.

Professional development can so often be a marginal, rushed type of experience. For many leaders, it’s even a non-experience. Don’t be like this.

Leaders who take responsibility for their learning refuse to defer it to someone else and dedicate themselves to growth. Pursue the path that few have the courage to walk: the faithful pursuit of a calling you can’t avoid.

At the Seed Gathering next month, several sessions will shed new light on vocational discernment and professional development. Click here to review the session schedule and see the lineup of speakers who have been curated to aid your learning on these crucial topics. We hope you'll join us.

Seed is an ambitious community of problem solvers, institution builders, and activators, more interested in the rigorous pursuit of generosity-fueled impact, than the comforts of self serving work.
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