THREE MISTAKES EVERY FUNDRAISER MAKES
by Dan Reed, CEO Seed Fundraisers
PROFESSIONAL FUNDRAISERS OFTEN "FIND" THEMSELVES IN THE
profession. We arrive eager to support causes we care about, often to face daily resistance. Between daunting, often unrealistic revenue expectations and the common belief fundraising is merely a necessary evil, much of our work seems out of our control.
We can’t control gift amounts. We can’t control our work environment. We can’t control the board. We can’t force people to understand how fundraising works. Twenty-five percent of all fundraisers face termination due to unmet expectations, and we move from job to job at a seemingly frantic pace in search of the right fit.
HOW THEN DO WE BECOME ELITE FUNDRAISERS WHEN THE ODDS SEEM STACKED AGAINST US?
By avoiding pitfalls that hinder fundraising success. Three mistakes plague almost every fundraiser’s journey. Identify them. Understand them. Overcome them. CROSS OVER INTO THE ELITE.
ACCEPTING A PREMATURE PROMOTION
Rapid promotions often serve the interest of the organization – not the fundraiser – and occur as a response to a lack of available fundraising talent. Organizations promote fundraisers at rapid rates in an attempt to retain top performers and fill management roles. However, promotions may not always be helpful.
If you have been offered a promotion, or expect a promotion in the near future, a FEW WORDS OF CAUTION:
When promotions arise as a result of an organizational crisis, a fundraiser’s professional development shifts from a non-negotiable priority to an afterthought. Taking a professional challenge should be on your timeline, not based on the urgent needs of the organization.
An elite individual contributor is a rare and valuable talent. Don’t assume management is the best career goal. Know your value and don’t diminish it by taking a role for which you aren’t truly prepared or suited.
If you’ve been in fundraising for even a little while, you know promotions often go to those who demonstrate even the slightest level of success. Accepting a promotion is the most common way fundraisers get derailed from their own professional development and their journeys to elite careers. When you accept a management role, the time available for personal professional development and tactical refinement decreases drastically.
In my first 10 years as a fundraiser, I promoted six times – four of which I was ill-prepared to truly handle. In hindsight, I should have been more patient with my career and instead focused on improving my craft. Doing so would have helped me become a better fundraiser, and able to lead others more effectively.
HOW TO OVERCOME:
Don’t let the needs of the organization trump your PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT GOALS, PASSIONS, OR READINESS. Create a two-year skill development plan by establishing six-month learning milestones. These milestones should include markers to identify when you’ve mastered a particular skill set. When a promotion comes your way, ask yourself if accepting the position will deter or accelerate your learning milestones.
RELYING TOO HEAVILY ON IMPACT
When “impact” is a key motivator for donor giving, even the best fundraisers can fall into an over-reliance on sexy projects instead of creating compelling relationships.
If you are in an organization with attractive, high-impact projects at your fingertips – con- gratulations! Your organization is well-pre- pared to acquire and retain donors. However, all the great projects in the world can’t substitute for the elemental purpose of your occupation: to connect relationally and inspire sincere generosity. Be grateful for the organization you serve, but also be aware of complacency in your professional growth.
If you find yourself in an organization struggling to create and demonstrate impact, don’t let it be an excuse for difficulty in your fund- raising. Your excellence as a fundraiser is defined first by the quality of connection you make with donors, followed by the level of generosity your work inspires. Some of the best fundraisers I’ve met became elite because they persevered through circumstances where they could not rely on immediate returns or attractive projects.
HOW TO OVERCOME:
The fundraiser works to help the donor tell their story. The donor relationship stands as the bed- rock of fundraising because the more truly the donor can tell their story, the greater their generosity becomes. If you’re in major gifts, avoid talking about your organization’s initiatives in the first meeting. Focus instead on building a genuine relationship with your donors by actively learning about their passions, family life,
and work. If you’re in annual giving, write an appeal without highlighting a project.
Additionally, when deciding on professional development goals for the next year, consider courses that address behavioral economics and the psychology of giving.
DEFINING DONOR RELATIONSHIPS BASED ON PRODUCTIVITY
Fundraisers serve as the personal, relational conduits between a donor’s passions for the world and impact-creating work. The nature of the donor-fundraiser relationship dictates the strength of a donor’s commitment.
THE FUNDRAISER IS SUBSERVIENT TO THE DONOR
You are the needy organization and they are the hero.
The problem with this posture is that your relationship with the donor is one-way. The fundraiser is nothing more than a checkout register. They don’t assist the donor in digging deeper, telling their story, engaging their passions, or inspire generosity. The fundraiser doesn’t play a meaningful role in the donor’s life or philanthropy. From my experience, 65% of fundraisers fall into this category.
THE FUNDRAISER MANAGES THE DONOR
In the film “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Alec Baldwin plays a sales manager and gives a speech to his sales team saying, “Only one thing counts in this life: get them to sign on the line which is dotted.”
When the fundraiser manages the donor, the relationship centers on the fundraiser’s goals. The question becomes, “how can the fundraiser convince the donor to give an amount that achieves the goal?” Hurried asks soon follow. This type of relationship isn’t about helping the donor sup- port work that aligns with their passions, it’s about the organization’s bottom line. Managers make up about 25% of fundraisers.
THE FUNDRAISER IS MISSIONAL WITH THE DONOR
Shoulder to shoulder, the fundraiser and donor form a partnership based on a shared commitment to positively impact the world. This relationship builds genuine trust, requiring vulnerability and the willingness to challenge one another towards heightened levels of generosity and service.
The “with” posture is difficult to develop. Vulnerability and challenge are intimidating, especially in a professional setting, but the result is long-lasting, abundant generosity.
HOW TO OVERCOME:
Few fundraisers naturally incline towards the “with” posture. More likely, if you are honest, you fall into the subservient or manager category. Regardless of which category you fall, you must arrive at the belief that you and the donor are equals, living towards a common, transcendent goal.
If you take a subservient posture, practice telling a donor your job is to inspire their generosity. You’ll be surprised how much donors respect you for this and how quickly you begin to own your newfound role. For the subservient fundraiser, your goals must share equal priority with those of the donor.
If you naturally assume a manager posture, practice asking a donor about their philanthropic priorities for the coming year. If you hear an answer outside your organization’s mission, introduce them to a different organization that might be of interest to them. For the manager, your goals must shift to become secondary to developing the relationship.
BECOMING AN ELITE FUNDRAISER
WHAT IF OUR JOB SATISFACTION DEPENDED LESS ON WHERE WE WORK AND MORE ON THE THINGS WE CAN CONTROL?
For the sake of the missions we serve, and the personal satisfaction of our own work, we must commit ourselves to becoming truly elite fundraisers. As it stands right now, 40% of us plan to leave our current job. The road to excellence starts with a deep conviction the work of the fundraiser is a well-aligned expression of who we are, followed by a commitment to learning the art and science of creating genuine donor-fundraiser connections. Everything else builds from this foundation.
For far too long, the profession has used the metric of “money raised,” or a fundraiser’s title to define the quality of their work. Instead, we should measure ourselves on the quality of donor relationships we create and the authenticity of the generosity we inspire.
At Seed, we desire to serve those who seek to inspire generosity in the world and serve those who walk shoulder to shoulder with donors in their quest for meaning, impact, and a life well-lived.