The average development professional spends less than 18 months in their role before moving onto another nonprofit or leaving the sector altogether. With 60 months behind me, I think I understand why turnover is so high in our field. Staff and senior leadership have expectations that do not correlate. Compensation leaves something to be desired. The fear of raising money and asking people to make a personal contribution is crippling for some. If you’re a department of one, the isolation from the mission and other staff can be daunting. Working with board members, can, at times, be frustrating.
To make it to the 2+ year mark, is part brush with luck and part determination. In this line of work, we are often called upon to reframe expectations, lead from within, and step outside of our comfort zone. To reach this milestone, we must work closely with senior leadership and the board to set clear and attainable goals. For many organizations, the compensation you desire or need may never be there. At some point in time, altruism may be required to win the day. In a strange paradox, the only way for one to overcome their fear of asking for money is to begin asking for money. Before you get out there though, realize a lot of work is done before the ask. Discovery meetings, donor research, capacity analysis, stewardship, practice, practice, and more practice, then you finally ask for a gift. Once the operation of asking is discovered, the whole entire exercise seems less fear inducing. Finally, to reach this milestone, you must realize you are an integral part of the mission. Without you, the mission doesn’t get off the ground, staff aren’t paid, services aren’t provided, change doesn’t occur. Sure, you don’t work on the front lines. You aren’t saving lives. You aren’t performing on the stage or saving endangered animals. Make no mistake though, the work you do makes all of that “hope & change” possible. For that alone, you should be proud.
If anything stood between me and the 2+ year mark, it was my isolation from the mission. When I dreamed of nonprofit work, I thought I would be working with clients, mentoring students, feeding the homeless, and/or advocating on behalf of those without a voice. It took me some time to realize my talents were not aligned with the work I dreamed of doing. I feel comfortable in front of people. I possess a special talent to write and create marketing pieces. The fear of asking for money was squashed when I realized it wasn’t me who was being rejected, but rather the opportunity. I am suited to do this work. I am made to tell stories that move people from apathy to action.
After this realization, I worked to connect myself to the mission. I got out of the office. I went out to our program sites, I interviewed former clients for success stories, I spent time visiting with staff, and I learned to talk about how my job impacts all others. Then, I quantified my work:
In five years, I have raised $933,304.43. Working with 1,326 donors, we’ve been able to use that money to positively affect the lives of 536 youth and families. The work I do every day has provided 332 kids a safe place to learn and play after school, 166 youth and families sound mental/substance abuse counseling, 21 kids have a spot in a Head Start or ECEAP classroom, and 17 homeless young moms and their kids have a place to call home. I have made my mark on our mission and you will too!
If you’re a new development professional, the best thing you can do is learn from those who have gone before you. Within my first 6 months on the job, I met with 10 other fundraisers. I wanted to hear their wisdom and apply it to my own life. Theirs words were powerful and still provide motivation. In some small way, it is my hope to return the favor, because we need you. The people of our community need your lust for change, your hope for the future, your desire to promote good works, and your love of rallying a community. The world needs development professionals who are in love with their jobs.
Be good to each other,