Letter to a New Development Director

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A colleague just got a great new development job. I started thinking of what I would tell him if he asked me (and he hasn’t but since this is a great outlet for unsolicited advice I thought I would share).

Dear friend,

Congratulations on your new position! Fundraising is an extremely challenging and immensely rewarding profession. I’ve thought of several things I think you should do in your first few days and weeks in your new position. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. Get a good support system – sometimes development can feel very lonely and frustrating so make sure you have a good group of colleagues outside your organization who can encourage you and tell it to you straight.
  2. Join a professional association – development is a profession and our professional associations offer much of what we need: continuing education, a code of ethics, research, and advocacy. AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) has local chapters throughout the US; several right here in the Tampa Bay area (Suncoast, Southwest, Nature Coast, Polk). There are others for specific parts of the nonprofit sector like education (CASE) or healthcare (AHP).
  3. Read, read, read – there are great books and blogs (like this one!) about fundraising. Read them. Not all of them, not all the time but make sure you are spending some time refreshing your skills and recharging your batteries.
  4. Go home on time – I’m sharing this advice given by author Penelope Burk at the AFP Planet Philanthropy Conference in 2012. I was shocked when I heard it. Some of us think that we should be working day and night to get all of the money raised. Penelope pointed out that if we are working all of the time, we won’t be that interesting when we interact with donors. Have a hobby, exercise, spend time with your family – stay interesting.
  5. Practice your listening skills – 2 of the great thinkers in the field of development have written extensively about this. Karen Osborne has a free resource on her website, Asking Strategic Questions. Jerold Panas dedicated a whole book on the subject called Power Questions.
  6. Learn the key things about your organization – a great book on this subject is The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave by Harvey McKinnon. Check out those questions and make sure you can answer them for your new organization.
  7. Go get a story and be ready to tell it – every organization is full of stories about the impact they are making in their communities. Make sure you can tell a firsthand story that illustrates that impact. This may mean spending some time in the patient care areas, museum floors, classrooms, or labs of your organization.
  8. Make time and budget for training – as you build your team, pay attention to the areas where they need additional training and the ways you can help them prepare to move up. Same goes for you, too. Don’t get so busy in the job that you forget to keep yourself current.
  9. Enjoy it – fundraising is a challenging and wonderful profession. You are a part of changing the world and you should enjoy it.

I’ll close with: I’m happy to help however I can. Good luck!

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay blog.

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