“How Do I Get Started In Fund-Raising?” This question has been posed to me countless times in my nearly thirty-year career as a development professional. And, it is a query I now observe scores of times via the various internet non-profit-related News Groups. If this is a question you have been asking, I’ll try in this article to direct you to travel several avenues toward your objective of beginning a career in the non-profit fund-raising profession.
The business of fund-raising quite often overwhelms and discourages individuals who wish to enter the profession.
- You are told that fund-raising is impossible and that the process is a mystery.
- When seeking your first-time development position, you read help-wanted ads for development officers which usually lists as a condition of employment, “must have a successful history of managing a major annual campaign or soliciting large donations.”
These can be formidable obstacles, but they are not insurmountable. Take heart that fund-raising, being simple in design and concept, (but very hard work!) can be readily and quickly learned. And, you do not need years of experience to be good at fund-raising. All you need is the chance!
Development jobs are available in great profusion because good and experienced development officers are hard to find. One reason for this may be that there is no broad formal training ground for development officers. However, you do have at hand the means to gain an understanding of the process of fund-raising. And, you can take advantage of the opportunities to enter the field through the process of apprenticeships in organizations where you can learn from the competent and experienced development professionals at work there.
Ways To Gain An Understanding Of The Process Of Fund-Raising
- Attend “for-the-profession” events. (See if your local universities, local chapters of national charities, etc., are presenting workshops, seminars and annual conferences.)
- Read books and articles on the subject. (Start with your local Library.)
- Be an observer and an active participant in the many internet News Groups. (As well, take advantage of the wealth of other fund-raising instruction and information available through a multitude of non-profit service websites.)
- Join a professional service group. (Is there a National Society of Fund Raising Executives chapter near you?)
- Volunteer your services to a non-profit organization. (You’ll see first-hand how such organizations function overall, and how fund-raising is conducted.)
- Attend classes in non-profit management as presented by colleges, universities and business schools in your area.
- “Network” with development professionals. (Such an encounter many years ago with someone who took the time to explain fund-raising to a then-General Electric employee marketing light bulbs, made it directly possible for me to be later invited for a development interview with The Cleveland Orchestra.)
Learn From The Best Through Apprenticeship Positions In Non-Profits
I believe the best way for you to get a better understanding of what development is all about in record time, and for you to be in the “network,” is to receive personal briefings by experienced development professionals. What I know about skilled, experienced, competent and secure development officers, is that they almost always are willing to share their knowledge and are especially supportive of individuals who are eager to get into the fund-raising profession. One of my special joys over 20 years as Director of Development for The Cleveland Orchestra was to talk to aspiring development candidates at every opportunity. All of my colleagues in our community felt the same way and acted accordingly.
I suggest that you select about five of the largest non-profit organizations in your area. Identify their chief development officers. Send letters to them asking for visits so that you can receive their briefings regarding the general nature of fund-raising as they know it. Tell them that you know they are highly thought of in the fund-raising profession and that you desire their wise counsel as you begin your career in development. Do not ask for a job, nor imply that you are contacting them for employment. To do so almost always results in the suggestion that you “send in your resume,” and your chances for personal meetings with them become slim to none.
In each instance, say something such as, “My principal reason for wanting to meet with you is to gain an introductory understanding of fund-raising.” Indicate that you will follow-up your letter with a telephone call to seek a personal meeting with them at their convenience. Cite a time period you will make the call, and be sure to honor that promise.
Note: You will make the best possible impression on your development officer “prospects” if you place your “solicitations” of those persons in the same context in which they identify, contact, cultivate, solicit and steward the major prospects and donors to their respective organizations. Your process to seek “gifts” of counsel and expertise from those development professionals is exactly the same as the fund-development process they know so well—and they will certainly will be cognizant of such insight and thoughtfulness on your part.
When you do have your face-to-face meetings arranged, be sure that you are not late (arrive 15 minutes early) for the appointments. Your dress and manner should be exactly in line with what you would imagine those development officers would want from you should you someday be working for them and be in contact with their major donors, prospects and volunteers.
Make the meetings listening experiences—for you! After all, you are there to learn from them. Maintain eye contact as much as possible and, for certain, take notes. Do not sit across from those advice-giving professionals without your pen and paper in front of you being actively utilized.
What questions do you ask? Queries related to the respective organization’s vision, budget, fund-raising results and requirements, volunteer organization and staff resources, are quite in order and will help to give to you a concise assessment of the organization’s overall picture. Knowing and appreciating the organization’s mission—sincerely and in advance—will be most helpful to you.
Over the duration of each interview, be sure you do not ask for, or about, a job. Keep to your original promise and stay on the course of strictly seeking information and counsel. If there is a job opportunity for you then, or later, or should they know of colleagues who could be interested in your services, they’ll know what to do about it. Bring your resume’ to the meeting, but present it only at the end of the session.
Ask your host if they would suggest a development officer colleague of theirs whom you could next contact to seek an appointment. As well, ask if they would be willing to be named as a reference. Then too, if your interview went well, your host might even send a note to that person with his or her suggestion that they interview you.
When you return home or to your workplace from any of your meetings, be sure to send short and appreciative messages to those development officers for their thoughtful contributions to you of their time and expertise. You will then be demonstrating to them that you understand one of the most important aspects of fund-raising; the sincere expression of appreciation and regard for the gifts of others! It will make the very best sort of impression and you will be remembered—hopefully soon, so you can be on your way to an exciting and fulfilling new career in fund-raising.
Those are my views on the subject. What are yours? I welcome your comments and suggestions.