Have you ever worked your tail off to prepare for something only to have your efforts derailed by technological difficulties beyond your control? That happened to me recently when I presented to a group of up-and-coming fundraisers in the liberty movement. Given the importance of fundraising talent to our nonprofit universe, I spent many hours crafting and tweaking a presentation packed full of advice, and I was so excited to share it with the attendees.
But from the start, the webinar was plagued with technological challenges that rose to comedic levels. Unbeknownst to me, my computer started a new backup program that decided it was best to run mid-day instead of overnight. As a result, the webinar froze repeatedly and had to be restarted. If that weren’t enough, I had somehow inadvertently embedded a completely unrelated sound file in the presentation that may or may not have contained mildly inappropriate language. So, every time I advanced to the next slide, the sound file would play. I kid you not.
Needless to say, the presentation was a total bomb. But I pinky swear that the content was valuable! And it’s not only valuable for new fundraisers, but also for established fundraisers, people considering fundraising as a career option, and executives who have fundraising staff.
So, I share the advice with you today — without all of the fits and starts and inappropriate language.
- You are needed! Of Talent Market’s 800+ searches over the last nine years, roughly a third of them were for fundraisers. One might assume that the greatest need for think tanks/do tanks is policy talent, but only about 11% of our searches were for policy-related roles. Fundraisers have historically been and will likely remain the most in-demand subset of talent in our universe.
- If you’re good at this, you’re set for life. Related to the above point, if you are good at fundraising, you enjoy it, and you build a positive reputation, then you will never want for a job again! While it’s not something people just entering the workforce often consider, career stability is important (just ask any established professional).
- Fundraising is a prerequisite for nonprofit leadership. Nonprofit leadership almost always requires fundraising! It would be fun to think that our leaders spend their days waxing poetic on policy and crafting clever op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, but the reality is that most of them spend a significant portion (if not a majority) of their time fundraising. As a result, fundraising experience and/or ability is usually one of the top prerequisites for leadership positions.
- You don’t have to live in DC! If you want to fundraise for liberty-advancing organizations but don’t want to live inside the Beltway, don’t worry! Free-market fundraising opportunities exist in nearly every state, and an increasing number of organizations across the country are hiring virtually. To browse a list of organizations advancing liberty, see State Policy Network’s Directory: https://spn.org/directory/.
- Your organization’s reputation matters. A strong reputation is the foundation for fundraising success. Fundraising is an uphill battle if your organization’s reputation is tarnished or nonexistent. Before considering your next move, ask yourself if the organization has a recognized, positive brand, and if its successes are clearly identifiable.
- Internal reputation matters. A healthy organization includes several key components: positive working environment/relationships, strong communication/trust among staff members, clear expectations, low turnover, and a positive bank account. Working for a dysfunctional organization will only make your job raising funds that much more difficult.
- Ask these key questions before accepting a new job. What are your expectations for this role? What percentage of time do you expect this person to devote to major gifts, grant writing, administrative work, events, etc.? How long was the last person in this role and why did he/she leave? What is the organization’s five year fundraising history? How much money has been raised from: major gifts, direct mail, foundations, events, board solicitation? Is the trajectory positive, negative, or neutral? What are the specific metrics on which the new hire’s success will be measured? May I please talk with your staff to ask their thoughts about fundraising and to get a feel for how this function is regarded within the organization? To what extent does the board see fundraising as a part of its job? And what are the board’s expectations for this hire?
- Study the 990 before accepting a new job. GuideStar is your friend. You can create an account for free and find a plethora of important data about your potential future employer.
- Fundraising is a long game. Fundraising is a long-term proposition; success won’t happen overnight. If you’re new to fundraising, don’t decide it’s not your thing until you’ve had a chance to taste success. Short-term and mid-term measures will help you stay on the path to success.
- Your reputation matters. No matter how early in your career, you’ve already started building your reputation! Every job, internship, apprenticeship, and associateship counts. And every interaction you have at a network function counts. Remember that the best marketing will come from others and it’s a small liberty movement!
If you’re wondering, the mildly inappropriate sound clip was the ringtone for my work phone, which I chose for ironic amusement because I love my job and my candidates do, too!