First Steps for the New Development Professional
I have had the delight of working with several new fundraising professionals in the past weeks, all of whom were hired to their positions with very little direct experience in fundraising, but with great enthusiasm for their respective organizations.
One of the things I love about development is the abundance of opportunity for the entry level professional. Many of the fundraisers I know (including me) got their start by accident: throwing in for a good cause, showing some aptitude for or interest in development, and subsequently being handed the reins as development officer.
Yeah! Thinks the new fundraising professional.
Followed by Now What?
The downside to this is sometimes these opportunities are available by virtue of the fact that small nonprofits rarely allocate enough resources to the development function to be successful. They therefore cannot normally entice seasoned professionals with generous (or sometimes even adequate) salary and benefits packages. The best they can offer is the chance to make a difference for an exciting cause.
Lack of resources is not the only reason there is tremendous turnover in development. Another is the fact many small to medium-sized organizations don’t understand the development function. They may place unrealistic expectations on the shoulders of their inexperienced but enthusiastic new professional – who may not know enough at the outset to object – resulting in a tremendously dissatisfying experience for everyone involved.
If you are in such a position, know that you will need to dedicate a significant amount of time throughout the course of your career (not just at the beginning) to learning about your job. I have been a fundraising professional for more than twenty years and still take time on a regular basis to bone up on strategies on how to work with fundraising volunteers, for example, or how social media intersects with development, how to start a new campaign, or the latest trends in the philanthropic world.
Not every fundraising professional finds herself in exactly the same situation. Each organization is different from every other. It may be a fledgling nonprofit, in which new staff are working with the founding board and executive director; it may be an established organization which finds itself in a position to develop a fundraising strategy in the wake of becoming independent from a parent organization.
For every board member, though, or director who tells me “our organization isn’t like the those you’re used to working with,” I find there are a lot more commonalities than differences.
It’s true, each organization is unique, just like each donor. Therefore, creativity and flexibility are keys for success in development.
But there is an established and sound methodology to fundraising. Understanding fundamental best practices and the philosophy behind each, developing a solid plan and sticking with it, and dedicating oneself to professional development and growth are all critical to the success of the development professional.
Development is in some ways just as challenging and rewarding for the seasoned professional as it is for the neophyte. In the coming weeks, I’m going to share what I might do upon entering a new organization – whether it’s stepping into a role that’s been vacated, or as the first development professional for the organization in question.
As we progress through the following topics (and others I might develop along the way), I’ll include links to those entries below.
- Articulating your case for support
- Working with your board, fellow staff and volunteers
- Outlining your development plan
- Identifying and addressing the gaps in your plan
- Coaching your development team and the importance of ‘leading up’
What would you like to know as a new development professional? Or wish you knew upon embarking on your career? Let me know and I may include your chapter in this series.