Tales from the Field: Tips from a New Fundraiser
Guest Blogger: Angie Kendall, Director of Development and Communication, Child Abuse Council of the Quad Cities
As I understand, my mission is to (briefly) explain what I have learned in my last 14 months serving as the Director of Development and Communication.
Gosh, a more brief response would be to list what I already knew when I took this job. But that sounds like a really boring and irrelevant piece.
Let me start by telling you that my background is in social work and child development. My degree is in Child, Adult and Family Services from Iowa State (GO CYCLONES!). Development was not on my radar as a potential career. In fact, it wasn't even a consideration. However, as I continued to grow in my career in non-profit work, I realized very quickly that having strong skills in development, marketing and communication are not negotiable. I believe that every leader in the industry is doing their agency an injustice if they don't at least have a basic understanding and appreciation of how an effective development program works (and how hard your development director works).
So, I set out to hone my skills. And by hone I mean build them from the ground up.
Use your network
I am convinced this is the secret to everything. Parenting? Leadership? Staying sane? Using my network is the greatest tool in my belt. To do this, you have to make sure you develop a network, which I will also talk about, but once you have one, tap in to it! I have met some of the greatest people in the past year. And here is the best part: People in development are passionate. They want to make the world better in whatever piece of the world they are working: Healthcare, education, human services. They generally very genuinely want to help. Few interactions I have can parallel the ideas and energy that come out of my time with others in development. We talk. We dream. We connect people. We solve problems.
Build Your Network
We have great opportunities to grow and learn the fundraising world in the Quad Cities. The AFP Mentoring Course is the perfect introduction to the field and one I think every person in leadership at a nonprofit should take. Attend events, put yourself out there. Let's face it: you will soon be in many awkward positions. You will say the wrong thing. You will ask for a gift that makes you squirm. A donor will ask you a hard question that you don't know the answer to. Get used to being uncomfortable and rolling with it. Put yourself out there and meet new people - it will get a lot more uncomfortable soon so you might as well have people to commiserate with!
Don't get overwhelmed
Ugh, this is so hard. There is just so much to do. And so many ideas. And so many things that could be done better. But there is so little time. And for many of us, we are pulling double, triple, even quadruple duties in our positions. Cut yourself some slack, and look at what you can realistically accomplish. There will always be room to grow but you have to start somewhere. Small goals will help you reach those big ones.
I remember in one AFP course hearing someone tell a story about an agency that knew they weren't the best at development but they were "the best at saying thank you." They did stewardship really well. That stuck with me. I have set little goals to get to being the best at saying thank you. Letters go out the door in 24 hours; handwritten notes for qualifying gifts are mailed within 48 hours. The goal wasn't to write the best thank you anyone ever got and compel them to give more as soon as they open the world's most eloquent note. The goal was to get them some sort of thank you right away. It's a small goal, but one I am proud to say we meet nearly 100% of the time now. It took time to get there though.
Also a hard one for me. I want to email you and have you reply (immediately and preferably in the affirmative "Yes, I will give you that. And I will give you even more just because you're awesome!"). That's not how it works. At all. It takes time. Even when you don't have time. Even when Illinois doesn't have a budget and you have no time. You have to take a breath. You have to build a relationship. Be patient.
Sincerity and Authenticity
Be sincere and authentic. Find a cause you care about. You are asking people for their money. It's personal. If you aren't passionate, it will show. If you aren't authentic, it will show.
It's a Puzzle. Or Maybe a Recipe.
Everything is a puzzle. Connecting to Person A through Person C. Talking to Person F who leads you to Business Y. Finding that Business M likes project F but Person R wants to see program B. Look for connections. Then weave them all together.
You will find yourself trying to put together the perfect recipe of connecting, stewardship and asks. There are a lot of ways to make a meal. And some will turn out better than others; keep cooking. You don't know what perfect opportunity will come up next, but you have to be looking.
Take the Opportunity
You may be entering a meeting to discuss a sponsorship and leave with a potential board member. Be aware of opportunities. For example, just now I had a great opportunity to make Linda support the Cyclones on her blog. And I am not ashamed to see an opportunity and take it.
I am both honored and embarrassed to be writing this. I am honored to have someone who is such a powerful and knowledgeable leader in the field ask me what I have learned. This implies they think I know at least one thing. I am embarrassed, because I have so much more to learn and am in no position to be giving advice. I've barely begun. But I will only learn it if I keep doing it. And I know no matter where I go next in my career, these skills will always serve me well. More than that I will be forever grateful for the people I have connected with: donors and colleagues alike. My world is better because of those I have connected with. And I truly believe with those connections we have made the world a little better.
Angie Kendall is the Director of Development and Communications for the Child Abuse Council. Her passion is supporting women, children and families to build a better community. She serves as president of the Early Childhood Coalition of the Quad Cities and co-leader and developer of the Eastern Iowa - Western Illinois Trauma Informed Care Consortium. Angie and her family relocated to the Quad Cities in 2007 and are proud to call it home now.