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It Took me 25 Years to Write This (Triple Distilled)

I am celebrating over 25 years working in the Non-Profit sector with a significant focus on resource development. A lot was learned over that time, often the hard way. I've distilled it down into the following observations. 

The Entrepreneurial Succeed

The best fundraisers and the best fundraising strategies are entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurialism leads to better results because of the emphasis on effectuation. More on effectuation can be found at Effecutation Intelligence.

The common themes you will see in relation to resource development are the ability to leverage existing resources for growth, manage risks and opportunity costs, getting buy-in first, and focusing on what you can control.

The Funding Model Dictates the Staffing Model

The starting point for any conversation about fundraising at any organization has to include the work done by Bridgespan on evaluating funding models. Every organization should determine where they fit in those models. Even if they are not the same scale as those mentioned in the article, the exercise can shed clues on where to focus for organizations of any size. That decision will drive what kind of staffing you need whether it is a grant writer, event planner, major gifts officer, direct mail expert, etc.

Yes, it is Like Sales, but There are all Kinds of Sales

I started my fundraising career in high school doing door to door solicitation for an environmental organization. I was lousy at it and was not asked to return. That is one kind of fundraising, and it was very similar to door to door sales. I also did that selling newspapers and was not very good at that either. But I found there were other areas of fundraising, like developing relationships, at which I was good. And, it turns out, that is a key skill in many types of sales strategies too.

There are parallels in fundraising to the sales models of “hunters” and “farmers”. Both have their place in fundraising, but we also uniquely combine the two models. I often tell sales people when they give me the line about how they have to “kill what they eat” that we do too but, “fundraisers typically hunt in packs.” I would not advise routinely referring to hunting your donors, but I am sure you get my point.

Learning Organizations Have the Best Results

Quality data drives measurement and learning. Data management requires a quality database managed by people with specific expertise to harness its abilities. Expertise in logic is really essential. I found that people who understand the concepts of logic are great at the advanced features of databases that you will need. The database manager needs to understand development well enough to be helpful to Development Officers with data needs and ensuring positive donor experiences. And whatever you need, it's always going to take longer than you think. Data is complicated, treat it with the respect it deserves, and allow the time it needs to give you the answers you are seeking.

Use your data to understand your donors and their giving trends. Use it to set goals, and then use the data again to understand why, if you didn’t get the performance you wanted, or how you can do even better if you did.

The best fundraisers are not the ones with the best fundraising skills. They are the ones that will understand the ambiguity inherent in strategic thinking and be able to communicate those challenges to the leadership. There are a lot of myths about how fundraising works, and it is still all too common for donors, board members, and executive staff to buy into them. The Compass Point research presented in “Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising” is a great place to start in understanding these challenges.

And while many great fundraisers may go their entire career without facing these challenges, the ones that did and were able to communicate effectively, even if not quite as technically skilled, learned how to be the most successful.

Appreciate the History 

There is nothing more fulfilling than helping donors fulfill their passions. I have enjoyed connecting others with causes they are interested in and giving them the opportunity to invest the resources they are able into those causes. The path I’m on has some prestigious company. I have heard Benjamin Franklin is considered the Founding Father of Fundraising. Getting France to join a war must have had one amazing case statement and moves management strategy. There is even a case to be made for St. Nicholas himself being the Patron Saint of Fundraisers. I will be happy if I can reach just a fraction of their greatness, and I am equally thankful for the company of all my contemporaries on this journey.

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