After our chairman Clyde Watkins offered up his best wisdom for early-career development professionals, we decided to compile the best advice our senior level consultants had to offer. Here are their answers to the question: what do you wish you had known earlier in your development career?
“Build and nurture a network throughout your career–don’t wait to “network” until you need assistance from others. Continually expand your network and build lasting professional relationships. Be genuine; establish your credibility and reliability; gain respect by the strength of your character and your professionalism. Provide value to others in your network before you ask something in return.”
“The advice I give to young professionals is to try different kinds of positions, but pay attention to what kind of development work you like best so that after a few years you are focusing on a trajectory in your career toward corporate and foundation fundraising, working with individual donors or creating special events. This will give you a chance to use your talents in the best way!”
“Often the priorities and timing of the need for gifts does not coincide with the prospect’s own priorities and timing. If you push for a gift to fit the institution’s time frame, you may get a gift, but often much less than if you had waited for the right time for the donor.”
“Become an expert on your organization’s database. There is likely a user manual available to you. Print it out and have it easily available. Understand the prospect tracking feature and use it religiously.”
“Seek experienced and high-achieving mentors. Reach out to those individuals who have terrific track records in our industry. Ask for their advice, pick their brains and develop a relationship with them. Sure, these stars are extremely busy, but I’m sure they are willing to take 30 minutes out of a day to advise someone who wants to make development their career. I owe my mentors so much for their guidance during my enjoyable and rewarding career which has spanned 35 years.”
Integrity and follow-through are everything in fundraising. Do what you say, say what you will do, and then do it. This is the ultimate trust builder with donors, co-workers, Board, and the people you serve.
“What I wish I had known sooner in my development career is the way that great fundraising is done. It is not accomplished with fancy direct mail or online campaigns, or by focusing on the problem that needs to be solved, or using messages like “now more than ever we need your help.” Great fundraising is connecting the disconnected, organizing large groups of people who want to hear from each other, and you are the center of it. When you can deliver relevant and expected messages to people who want to receive them and when you are keeping you donors connected with your organization, raising money is not an annoyance to your donors, it’s more of a privilege for them to give. When people make a gift, they are doing it because they are getting more value in return. Focus on connecting the disconnected through one-on-one and group contact and maintaining contact with people who want to remain connected.”