I was meeting with an Executive Director and a newly hired Development Director to work on a development plan for their organization. The development director had extensive experience in the for-profit sector and had volunteered with the organization. However, this was his first adventure in professional fundraising. As we wrapped up our meeting, the ED turned to me and asked, “What three things would you tell him as he gets started?” What a great question! At first I was taken by surprise. After a quick minute of thought here’s what I shared:
1. Always have a story
We know our organizations so well but have to remember that the people we meet everyday won’t know it as well as we do. Telling an impactful story is the most effective way to demonstrate your mission in action. Forget the statistics about impact. Don’t bother saying that you are a 501(c)3. Tell me a good story to pique my curiosity. Invite me for a tour. That’s how you will begin to build relationships for your organization.
2. Listen more than you talk
Now that you’ve got a story to tell, tell it well then shut up and listen. Especially when we are new to an organization, we are compelled to demonstrate how much we have learned. Stop that. Tell your story, then stop and listen to the responses. When you are meeting donors who already support your organization, ask them questions and learn from them. (Not sure what questions to ask? My favorite resource for that is from fundraising expert Karen Osborne here)
3. Write it all down
In the busy life of a professional fundraiser, we are tempted to move quickly from one task to the next without taking the time to record important information. I warned my new colleague not to skip that step. For instance, when we are meeting with a donor and practicing “listen more than you talk,” we will probably learn new information that we think we will always remember. Unfortunately, we won’t. Write it down so that it will be recorded and available for you (and the development staff that follows you – and the data shows that you won’t be with your organization forever).
Some months have passed since this interaction and I’ve had a chance to reflect on the three things that came to mind.
Would I change my answers?
I wouldn’t. I still think these are the three things a new development director should keep in mind as they get started.