This week I turn 60. I never imagined I would still feel like I’m 38 or 42 for this milestone birthday. Alas, these years have taught me a lot.
I’ve taken some time to reflect and have come up with a list of what 60 years of living taught me about fundraising. Feel free to add your own learning!
1. Being the first child (or staff) means no one quite knows how to do this well. . .
at least not yet.
2. It’s a big wide world and anything is possible when we are inquisitive.
Remember learning to walk? Run? That inquisitive nature propels us forward every hour of every day. It’s a characteristic to maintain to keep your fundraising nimble & appropriate with current tools & tactics.
3. Learning new things can be scary and exciting.
Remember learning to climb the jungle gym at the park – on your own? Saying “I can do this!”
Taking that leap into the unknown and eventually seeing it payoff is what fundraising is all about.
4. More people involved in decision-making can make it more difficult to come to agreement.
By age four I had two younger brothers whose opinions changed the decisions we made as a family.
Patience will be required when you fundraise by committee. Keep that group small & savvy to make your job easier.
5. Looking outside our own back yard offers options & excitement.
I still remember my first day of kindergarten as one of the most exciting days as I walked one block to school.
Venturing out to learn new things at conferences or webinars is how to feed yourself to keep your enthusiasm alive.
6. Systems & rules may feel like they slow things down, but they are important success factors.
Teachers in grade school measure students on whether or not we are trustworthy, successfully complete homework assignments, or were are listeners.
Donors want to know if you are trustworthy, handle your money well, and have successful ROI on your programs. Your communication and donor stewardship systems take time to create and are critical to your success.
7. More visibility offers more opportunities to build your supporter network.
Being a student with good grades provided me with attention and brought opportunities I may not otherwise have had.
As awareness of your nonprofit grows fundraisers have more access to high net-worth donors plus corporate and foundation support.
8. A fall might break a bone but doesn’t have to hold us back.
I broke my arm in the third grade. Because of youth and naiveté, it didn’t stop me from running, playing with friends or having fun.
When the mailing doesn’t work or the computer crashes it doesn’t have to stop your progress. Maybe it’s time to phone a donor or two?
9. It’s all about the stories.
I love to read. During grade school, we had story time every day. I also got my first library card and gobbled up books like popcorn at a movie.
The magic of storytelling is the most powerful way to stay connected to staff, donors, volunteers.
10. Things will change.
Making the move to a different city and home, a new school, and making new friends was scary. And it helped build a resilience that I rely on to this day.
New jobs, bosses, board members – they are inevitable. Look for the opportunity they provide rather than staying stuck in resisting the changes.
11. Surprises can be life-changing.
My sister, my favorite person on the planet, was born more than a decade after me. We’ve shared a bedroom, giggles, dreams, and oh so many memories.
When that surprise major gift shows up – things WILL change – AND will require different tactics and strategies.
12. Awkward can turn into articulate and self-confident.
Teen years are rough on everyone. We have to go through them to get past them.
First days on the job, learning new donor software, asking for a contribution for the first time – we move past the awkward with repetition.
13. Different things matter at different times.
In our 20s and 30s life moves fast and is rarely focused on saving for the future or writing our will.
Segmenting your donor communication isn’t just a good idea – it’s a necessity.
14. Unless you ask, you won’t receive.
There were some rough spots in my 40s and 50s that caused feelings of isolation and depression. It wasn’t until I asked for help from my trusted friends and family that I was able to turn the corner.
Being a good fundraiser means talking to people about money. The truth is, asking for a contribution is both a science and an art. Learning how to be a good fundraiser means asking for help to learn HOW to ask. And then actually making the “ask” of your supporters.
15. Passion is necessary for meaningful happiness.
When I was young I wanted to help other people…and travel. Those desires have never changed. For more than 30 years I’ve chosen work that allowed me to do both and have never regretted it.
Knowing what brings your donors, staff, and volunteers passion will build a healthy, inspiring, possibility-focused organization.
16. The more I know, the less I know.
As I turn an age that I once thought was really old I am heartened to still feel young of spirit and mind. Most interesting has been realizing the vastness of what I don’t yet know. I now have the wisdom to say, “tell me more.” Instead of feeling it’s a weakness to show what I don’t know.
Whether you are a seasoned fundraising professional or a newbie, I guarantee you’ve got more to learn. I invite you to embrace each phase of your career with the same energy you had dashing around as a young child.
Listen. Soak up knowledge from others. You’ll build trust and deeper engagement.