In my early career as a fundraiser, I worked in a small shop, a mission-based organization where I was the only professionally trained fundraiser working directly with donors. Previous fundraising had focused on mail, phone and whoever walked in the front door. Often, I was an outcast. In my first annual review I was asked to stop wearing suits, as it gave staff the impression I considered myself more important than everyone else.
Moving to a large charity did not solve that awkward profile issue. A class system of internal desk-bound experts and major gift road-warrior fundraisers made me “one of them.” It was then that I started reading all about networking and influence – not because of donors, but to soften my internal profile. I was sick of other staff commenting, “Must be nice to hobnob and schmooze all day.”
Many fundraisers face similar challenges. They aren’t allowed to present to staff or to the board and will never be regarded as an expert in their own shops. So – in Gandhi’s tradition of “being the change” –
Be the fundraising champion you wish you had!
Reach out to a charity you support. Once you’re inside as a volunteer, become a champion for the fundraising team. At the board level, talk to the other board members about giving, ask for the fundraising strategy and discuss it. Go to staff events and talk up the fundraising staff. Talk about employee giving. Remind the team that they have a great group of people who love the cause as much as they do. Most of all, be that board member who thanks donors and lets them know it’s OK to talk to the fundraisers.
Recently, I’ve read a couple good rants on charities and funders online. My work is in planned giving and so talking to people about their current finances, discussing their Wills and reminding them of their own death is a daily challenge. That leads me to my second Gandhi-ish tip…
Be the donor you wish you had!
Go to recognition events and share the complaints and compliments from donors (anonymously) with the fundraising team. Send feedback on mailings when you see mistakes. Every time you interact with fellow donors, help them update current mailing information (I’m notorious for carrying my alma mater’s magazine for disconnected alumni).
Treat the fundraisers well when you give. To give them a story they can use, consider disclosing your planned gifts and yes, remind them that donors appreciate what they do. After a long week of office work, donor visits and events, you know you would appreciate a note from a donor or an email to your boss about you. So be that person for someone else.
Here is a list of great networking books to help you beef up your skills for internal and external networking. As you strive to “become the change” consider taking some tips from Jon Duschinsky’s and Tony Myers’ new book (Me)volution. It has a step-by-step plan on how to go from wishing to become, to becoming what you wish.
Paul Nazareth is a philanthropic advisor with Scotia Private Client Group. He spent 12 years working in legacy fundraising for charities and teaches planned giving with Georgian College and the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. Paul speaks to CAGP, AFP and fundraising associations across Canada and is a passionate advocate of social media for fundraisers and the power of networking in our work and lives. Find him online or follow him @UinvitedU.