Towards a True Professionalism in Fundraising

I asked this question a year or so ago, and others are starting to ask as well, is fundraising a profession? Compared to accounting, with a similar emphasis on revenue, we cannot really say yes to that question. We lack the training standards, the professional development expectations, and the established best practices of a true profession.

Today if you call yourself a professional fundraiser, then you are a professional fundraiser, even if you work five different jobs in seven years. Heck, have someone pay you once for a side gig, and you can call yourself a Consultant.

Friends, this needs to change. The needs are too great, and the stakes are too high for our non-profits to keep up this shoddy and amateur status quo. As a new fiscal year begins, the time has come to embrace a new and true professionalism in fundraising.

The Professional Fundraiser shall:

Commit to Our Organizations. Fundraising is about relationships and impact over time. It is impossible to have meaningful results in 18 months. Major gift fundraising is an exercise in patience, love, and education. But far too many of us cannot help ourselves. We jump to the next thing at the earliest possible moment, for a little more cash, or because we stopped liking the Marketing Director, or got our feelings hurt at the Annual Meeting. When you leave for the next shiny dime, consider very carefully there is real consequence to your actions. Donor relationships are damaged and organizational credibility is diminished. All of us working in fundraising are a little less credible every time one of us jumps ships.

Show Ownership and Leadership. I have heard just enough of fundraisers whine about the goals given to them, and the board and executives who aren’t helpful. The whining must cease. I argue with Marketing staff from time to time, but they rarely blame others when sales goals aren’t met. Fundraising is everyone’s job – okay, fine. But it is the fundraiser’s responsibility to inspire effort and action from board members, committee members and executive staff leadership. It is our job to seek a path to a revenue goal, and to rally others to action. If not this, what?

Be Collegial. The last person who should pick any sort of fight in a non-profit is the fundraiser. Every dollar that fundraising staff get paid (and they are the highest paid non-executive staff members in most organizations) could be applied to programming – serving kids, serving the community, taking care of the exhibits, and so on. What that means is that you are the most expensive overhead of all. Be a partner to your program colleagues. Learn their names and their roles. Thank them for their efforts. Show them that overhead is worth it.

Look and Act the Part. Jeans on Fridays in the summer? Maybe. But not if you are spending time with Donors. You are the best paid staff members. Act like a professional. Dress like a professional. Don’t be sloppy, in person, on the phone, or by email.

Show Grace. I remain enthusiastic about our millennial colleagues, hard working and motivated in my experience (for the most part) but this is a group too quick to be offended, to take exception, to hold a grudge by day to day interactions and inevitable conflicts. This won’t do. Fundraising is as much art and science. We made bad decisions and we use bad judgment. Accept responsibility when you screw something up. Forgive others when they do the same.

Get Out of the Office. Go. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. My goodness. If you want to play around with computers all day, go learn machine code. It pays better.

Seek out Mentors. It is unfortunate that learning from experienced professionals is increasingly uncommon in our industry. Is is shameful, really. The internet is a delight. College is fun. But you can learn more from a good mentor in this business than in any other way. Like masonry or car sales, one learns fundraising by doing, through experience. This is a dated notion in our late era America I know. Seek a mentor, and your career will benefit.

Put the Donor First. Most of the challenges our organizations are having in retaining donors is due to simple application of stewardship. Are you talking to donors every day to say thank you? Are you engaging them before you ask them for things? Are you increasing your donor’s interest in your programs through personal engagement?

Ask, Without Apology. As much as I admire the ideals of “Philanthropy” our job is to engage, to steward, and to ask. It isn’t complicated. Asking is hard – that is why organizations hire someone to do it. They hired you. Ask – some will say “no” and that’s okay. Some will say, “Not right now” and that’s okay. Many will say “yes” and the world will change. That’s worth the fear.

We can advance our work. We can show pride. We can become, at last, a Profession.


About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
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5 Responses to Towards a True Professionalism in Fundraising

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