Fundraisers Anonymous

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For the September-October 2013 Grassroots Fundraising Journal, GIFT talked with several fundraisers of color about the secrets of their success and ways that nonprofits can better support development staff. Here are some highlights. You can download the full article here.

How did you come to development?

“Somewhat on accident. I never thought I’d work in development. Really. An organization I trusted reached out, and each of us took a chance on each other.”

“I knew I wanted to work for social change and that I wanted to be behind the scenes. A speaker came to my class and described fundraising as a way to build power, and I thought, ‘Hey, I could do that.'”

What’s most rewarding about development work?

“My organization organizes low-income Asian communities. My favorite part of my job is doing yearly grassroots fundraising trainings with members. I like to see fundraising as an organizing tool to help build community investment in sustaining the organization. Training our members helps me strengthen my political philosophy around fundraising and reminds me how fundraising can be fun and inspiring.”

“Utilizing fundraising strategies as a way to engage people around issues of shared concern.  Yes, the money is necessary, but the real juice is connecting with people.”

What’s most challenging?

“It’s been challenging to adjust my communication style. [My organization] has a very individual, high-touch approach to fundraising. This type of strategy requires you to not only be on top of your donor background information, but to also be high energy and chatty when communicating, especially in written form. Coming from my previous work background I had to be very aware of my tone in emails coming across as too business-like or formal. These weren’t major challenges but they were skills I had to master.”

“When development is perceived as separate from program work, it hurts all of us in very basic ways. It prevented me personally from preparing mentally and professionally to do both. From the perspective of industry culture, it’s been difficult to validate my work, get the resources, and build needed infrastructure in the face of a nonprofit mentality so weighted fixing things outside of the organization (e.g., societal injustices) that the health and sustainability of the organization itself is neglected. My job is to make sure that my organization is healthy and has the resources it needs to fulfill its mission. To do that, my organization needs to be willing to pause long enough to tune up and make the repairs necessary to keep the engine running smoothly and effectively. Then there’s the misperception that development work is locked into money neediness, which makes development staff sleazy sales-people. Money is one part of the work, but there’s so much more. Development staffers are far from sleazy, and none of the folks I’ve met have been salespeople. We are passionate, committed to justice, mission driven, hard working, and genuine. There is dignity in what we do.”

What’s the biggest fundraising mistake you’ve ever made?

“My biggest mistake was not asking. Be bold in asking.”

“The biggest mistake was trying to apply a “table captain” format to an annual casual breakfast event after two previously successful years with a smaller event. While we raised more money than before, we were not able to effectively seat people with their captains and did not have a plan to feed almost twice the number of people! Sounds so ridiculous now, but we were experimenting and learning along the way. After that mishap, we shifted the event back to a casual, family friendly event and cooked food ahead of time to plan for larger crowds. The biggest lesson was to not assume any event can be more profitable. Some events are not meant to be huge fundraisers. This particular event draws a diverse crowd and continues to be a great “friendraiser” for us.”

 “The biggest mistake that I’ve ever made and one that I’ve made a few times has been asking too little when the potential to give more was there.  After trial and error, more study, and information gathering, I try hard to be bold when making my asks.”

If time and money were unlimited, what would you like to see change for development staff?

“I’d like to see development staff work together to create new cultures of giving and asking in a movement oriented way.”

“The creation of the perfect affordable database. For everyone to have access to good financial advice and planning, and for donating money and paying their fair share of taxes to be part of every-one’s budget. For strategic planning consultants to band together and convince foundations to accept unsolicited proposals. To have curriculum in high schools that talks critically about wealth, poverty, the class structure, taxation, the common good, nonprofits, and philanthropy.”

“The more I see how development and nonprofits work, the more concerned I am about the sustainability of traditional nonprofit models. Development staff are poised to advance and support a shift in organizational revenue models. How can we evolve our models to keep our doors open with more consistency, longevity, and self-determination? I don’t know the answer, and I do have a feeling that there’s opportunity for positive change here. With the resources to explore these opportunities and pilot new ideas, we might be able to truly lead the conversations and direction of our work with fewer barriers.”

How did you come to development work? What’s been most rewarding? What’s the biggest fundraising mistake you’ve ever made? What changes would you make if money and time were unlimited?