Top Ten Fundraising Lessons I’ve Learned in Ten Years

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Today I’m celebrating ten years of working in the nonprofit sector doing fundraising for nonprofit organizations! When I think back on all of the experience I’ve gotten over the years, I am overwhelmed and humbled by all I’ve learned, as well as the people who have helped me learn it.

I thought I’d celebrate today by sharing the top ten lessons I’ve learned over these past ten years. Hopefully some of these tidbits can reinforce what you’ve been thinking or allow you to consider a new idea. Because that’s the thing about fundraising – we are never done learning about it.

1. While fundraising might be our world, to most people, it’s a small piece of their lives. We might toil over a fundraising letter, spend hours hundreds of hours working on a three hour fundraising gala, or write a lengthy grant proposal. While the work we are doing is important, usually, the details matter less and the intention matters more.

2. We are not fundraising for the nonprofit organization, we are fundraising for the cause. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the nuances that your organization offers, and the activities it is doing. But in the donors’ eyes, they don’t care about what you are doing, they care about why you are doing it. They care that because you exist, the world is a little different. And that’s what we’re working for.

3. Donor centric communications and activities are key. Being wrapped up in the organization you work for can easily lead to communications and activities that are full of organization-specific jargon. As often as you can, take a step back from your communications and read it with fresh eyes. Remember, donors just want to change the world. Your organization is just the way to do so.

4. It’s all about the relationships. Maintaining relationships with donors is just like maintaining relationships with your friends or loved ones – it’s important to keep them updated through the good times and the bad. No friend is going to stick by your side if you ask for a favor every time you call them. Cultivation and stewardship should make up 90% of your communication with a donor – solicitation should be 10% at most.

5. Fundraising is not a dirty word. Society has made us scared to talk about money. Many people think there are power dynamics at play when it comes to money, so they think of fundraising as begging. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Every organization, nonprofit or otherwise, needs money to function. Donors know that, and they want to be part of the change.

6. Fundraising is a two way street. We need donors just as much as donors need us. Fundraising is an equal exchange, where donors get just as much out of the relationship as nonprofit organizations do. There are a plethora of benefits that donors enjoy in making a donation, everything from changing the world to public recognition to tax benefits.

7. There is always more work to be done. There are always more donors to thank, prospects to find, research to do, solicitations to be made… the work is never done.

8. Fundraisers need to take care of themselves. Since the work is never done, it can be easy to burn out. Expectations just keep growing higher and needs of program staff just keep increasing – which is great – but, we need to remember that we are not all miracle workers. We must do our best and accept that it is enough.

9. Fundraisers need to take care of each other. We are a community. It is time to band together and support each other in the work we are doing – whether through professional associations or informal meet ups. We are our best allies!

10. The learning is never done. As I mentioned in the beginning, there is always something new to learn. The field is always changing and it’s imperative to keep up. That’s part of what I love most about fundraising – it’s always changing.

I am tremendously grateful for all of the experiences I have had and the people who have been part of my journey. You know who you are! Here’s to the next ten years – I have a feeling I’ll be impacting even more nonprofit organizations through my work!

-N.C.

Redefining Purpose-Oriented in the Nonprofit Sector

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I came across this fascinating post in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Nonprofits Need to Give Workers a Sense of Purpose and thought, as many others likely did, what the heck? What’s more full of purpose than showing up to work and having every task, even the most menial, work toward a larger goal of helping others?

I read the piece and realized: this is a different kind of purpose. And I’m totally for it.

The author defines a purpose-oriented worker as the following:

“This group defines work as being about relationships, having a meaningful impact, and personal growth. They see work as a means to serve others and grow themselves. They need to get paid and be acknowledged, but that’s not what gets them out of bed each morning.”

Pay close attention to the inclusion of self-growth in this definition: that’s what is often missing in others, and that is what is a key takeaway here.

The author writes that 45% of all nonprofit workers land in this category, and they are exceptional. We should do all we can to encourage this attitude: one of personal growth and employee fulfillment. This is the way to attract and retain good employees, not just by giving raises across the board (although that helps too!). Investing in our people is the most important thing we can do as nonprofit leaders to ensure the success of the nonprofits of the future.

I encourage you to take a look at the piece – it’s a great read and a good reminder that no matter what sector we work in, taking care of ourselves is the most important thing.

-N.C.

Five Years Old Today!

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Five years of blogging as Nonprofit Chapin! You know what that means – a complete blog overhaul. New layout, new photos (courtesy of the supremely talented Krishna Patel), new About Me page, even some new stuff on my Twitter page. It’s a new year and time for a refresh. Let me know what you think!

Professionally, I have grown a tremendous amount this year. I moved from a Donor Relations Manager role, where I was focusing mostly on direct mail, grants, and donor database management, to an Associate Director of Development role, where I am in charge of a fundraising team while there is no Director of Development. I am jumping head first into some meaty management issues and getting a ton of great experience thinking about how to be strategic with my energy and efforts. With managing a department comes a variety of different types of tasks, and it can be tough to manage my time without working 12 hours a day. But I’m learning it, and gaining a lot of wonderful experience.

If you (or someone you know) has found yourself at a loss of how to move forward with your development team, I would love to help. I have gained so much great experience that I’d enjoy working with other nonprofits to reimagine how their team might work best. Feel free to contact me on my About Me page or by leaving a comment here, and we can talk about working together. I’d love to be of help, wherever you are!

Here’s to another five years!

-N.C.

Spreading My Leadership Wings

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Here I am again, another two months after my last post. And while it really hasn’t been that long, there have been some changes at my new job that are allowing the space for me to really, I mean really, spread my leadership wings.

One thing’s for sure – I’ve spent the last few months steeping myself in nonprofit staffing issues. Whether it’s hiring new staff, appreciating more seasoned ones, or thinking about division of duties and workloads, the human resource discussion in nonprofits is as important as ever. Now more than ever, as I manage a team of development staff, I think about the ways we can make sure our nonprofit employees are satisfied in their careers and lives. What’s my role in making sure this happens? At the moment, it’s with my own team and at my own nonprofit. What is my obligation to make change on a deeper level? I consider these questions as I move through my changing role.

I hope you also think about this as you do your work. How are you modeling behavior that your nonprofit peers can appreciate and emulate? Do you have clear goals and expectations in your role, and are you being fully appreciated for them? For that matter, are you being outwardly appreciative of your colleagues? We should all shower each other with a little more love! No matter where you are on the totem pole, you can make a difference with your actions.

Thanks again for your patience. I assure you, something big will come out of these changes. And I’ll try to be better about bringing you along with me. Because I’m learning so much, and what’s the point of that if I’m not sharing my learnings with you?

Happy working, my nonprofit friends!

-N.C.

A Brand New Role in a Brand New City

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It’s been some months since I’ve blogged – I’m sorry about that! But I promise there’s a good reason: I’ve been busy learning and growing in a brand new role in a brand new city. I accepted a new position: Associate Director of Development at a theater nonprofit. I started there on August 19 and have been getting to know the ropes and my role in the development team.

I was attracted to this position because I was ready and craving the next step in my career. Over the past few years, I have gained multiple direct reports and realized that my favorite time at work was working with these folks. I really enjoy thinking about how development teams work and I was looking for a new step that would allow me to contribute to that most thoughtfully.

And that’s where my current job comes in. This brand new position was created to inject capacity into a department where everyone is working at 150% and no one is able to step back and plan (sound familiar?). I am able to serve as the liaison between the development director and the rest of the development staff, manage daily operations, and assist the development director with department strategy. I was excited that this nonprofit identified the need for this kind of role and happy I could fit in to help.

I am learning a tremendous amount at my new job, and the possibilities are endless about what I could write about here. In addition to the development operations, I get to focus on developing the people in our department, which I love – a nonprofit is only as good as the amount of happy people working for it.

So thanks for being patient with me, and I hope you’ll read the coming posts as I navigate through my new role. It’s not always going to be pretty, but it’s always going to be honest. I appreciate you understanding that.

-N.C.

Sharing a Great Post: You Are Not Your Job

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I love this post: You Are Not Your Job on 99u.com. For us ambitious and passionate millennials, we’re working our hardest to get that dream job or contribute to that amazing nonprofit. We go to networking events and one of the first questions we hear: what do you do? I fall into this trap as much as the next girl, so often asking that. Inevitably, we get caught in a cycle of pressure.

Answering this question is especially tough when you work for a nonprofit. How many times have you heard “you get paid for that?” or see those sad eyes that say, “aw, you’re never going to move out of your parents’ house.” Since there are a lot of misconceptions about the nonprofit sector, there are a lot of misconceptions when you answer that question.

When you get those sad eyes looking at you, don’t fret! You are not alone. Read this article and remember that what others think of your job does not define you. Even more than that, what you do doesn’t define you. Although we all spend a bunch of time at work, it doesn’t mean it needs to represent who you are. If you get reprimanded at work, it’s not because you’re a bad person. Your job is only one part of you – not all of you.

“The more we can see each other in all of our humanity, the more we can honor each other for what we really are and what life is actually about. We are people first. We are not our jobs.”

-N.C.

Care Less & Achieve More at Work

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I recently came across this post and found it fascinating: Want to Be Happy at Work? Care Less About It by Kelly O’Laughlin on Quiet Revolution. Whether or not you’re an introvert, you will likely relate to this post if you’re a hard-working Millennial working at a nonprofit. So many of us are working our hearts out for our clients and for the benefits of others, and unfortunately the term “nonprofit burnout” is not one that’s foreign to us.

I was hesitant to completely buy in to the post until she compared my 80% effort to others’ 100%… and then I got it. By not giving my all 100% of the time, I am recognizing that I am not perfect and cannot solve all of the world’s problems all by myself. It’s a moment of remembering my last post, Be An Average Nonprofit Unicorn. This quote specifically resonated with me:

“Putting in slightly less effort in times of high stress doesn’t mean you don’t care about your job; it means you care about yourself more.”

Let’s remember to focus on self-love and self-care first and foremost. Because we can only show up to take care of others after we have shown up to take care of ourselves.

-N.C.

Be An Average Nonprofit Unicorn

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I absolutely LOVE this post, Mediocrity Starts with ME (humor) by Vu Le on Blue Avocado, a fantastic online magazine for the nonprofit sector. Although the post is six months old, I think it will (unfortunately) be one of those timeless posts that will always ring true. Through his witty and dry sense of humor, Vu asks us to take a breath, take a look around, and… take a nap. Chill out for a minute!

As nonprofit staffers, we are fully committed to the missions of the organizations we work for. We are working tirelessly to make the world a better place for our clients and our peers. We work long hours and pour our heart and soul into our work. All that is great – until we burn out. Vu poignantly and emphatically encourages us to give ourselves a break. Although we all strive for perfection in our jobs, doing our best is and should be good enough. We can’t all be the Jane of all trades to everyone – and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be. Calm down and know that you, doing your best, is enough! You are a nonprofit unicorn!

To quote Vu:

The Nonprofit Unicorn’s Mantra

“I am a nonprofit unicorn.
I try each day to make the world better.
I am good at some stuff, and I suck at some stuff, and that’s OK.
There’s way more crap than I can possibly do on any given day.
On some days I am more productive than on other days, and that’s OK.
I know sometimes there are things that I certainly could have done better.
I know that I can’t make everyone happy or spend as much time as I could on everyone.
I know there’s a bunch of crap I don’t know.
Sometimes I make mistakes, and that’s OK.
I will try my best to learn and to improve, but I’ll also give myself a break.
I will be as thoughtful and understanding with myself as I am with my clients and with my coworkers.
I am an awesome and sexy nonprofit unicorn.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

-N.C.

Slow and Steady Can Still Win the Race if the Course is Changed: Here’s How

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Change is inevitable. Especially in well-functioning nonprofit organizations, consistent reevaluation of your work, your staffing structure, and your resources is key. As the world changes around us, the work we do to serve our clients should change as well.

But change can be scary. Especially for people like me, workers who set up their processes and procedures and get into a groove. They know what they need to do figure out the best way to get to where they need to be. Those slow and steady turtles that often win the race – I am definitely one of those. Those folks take change the hardest.

But – it doesn’t have to be that way. Any time you need to implement change in your organization, remember there are turtles like me. Remember that involving us in the conversation (if that’s an option) is key to do from the beginning. If you can’t involve us in the decision making process, walk us through the justifications as to why these choices are the best for the organization. Explain to us why you’re doing what you’re doing and allow us to understand how we are key to the process. Make us feel like a valuable member of the team and show us why the changes will help us do our work, and help the organization in the long run.

Without that, the turtle can get lost. But with adequate explanation, the turtle just might surprise you and win that race.

-N.C.

Staying Authentic, Always

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My friend Melissa and I are going to be the keynote speakers at a benefit dinner on Sunday and our adrenaline is pumping! There are so many directions we could go with our talk, so many messages we want to portray. As the founders of a university student organization, we’ll have a whole bunch of eyes and ears ready to take in what we have to say on Sunday.

As I was thinking about what we could do for our speech, I tried to think about the best speeches I have ever seen – the ones that have made me laugh, made me cry, or really resonated with me and struck me to my core. I recognized a pattern: all of the speakers were authentic. They didn’t all speak the most eloquently or come from the same background. They knew the core message they wanted to portray and they went there, without apology. Melissa and I went off that concept and are sharing moments and stories from our childhood and our time together, in the hopes that our speech will be a little bit more of a conversation.

Thinking about this also made me realize the importance that staying authentic has in so many other ways and places. In the workplace, with friends, and even at home, being yourself will give you the most confidence and happiness in the end. It might be uncomfortable to always be completely open and honest and yourself (especially at work, with your boss), but let me tell you from experience that it’s worth it. Because you might actually get what you need. And even if you don’t, you know you tried your absolute best and can move on.

-N.C.