Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.
Speak with any two development professionals and ask how they got into the profession, and you will get two very different answers. Some came from another industry altogether; others were passionate about the organization’s mission and chose to become involved; others began through volunteer work. Learning the “how” is fascinating because it often aims us at the “why”—the personal reasons why people have chosen this career path. These stories, too, may vary, yet they should all have one important aspect in common: a deep commitment to making a difference by facilitating meaningful philanthropy.
However, it can be easy to get distracted from this purpose amid all the pressures and duties of development work. One development manager said, “New fundraisers can get wrapped up in the glamor of it all. They think fundraising is all about going to parties and meeting fancy people and having expensive dinners. They don’t recognize the strategy behind it.”
That strategy—to leverage existing links to the organization, assess donors’ current levels of commitment, craft engagement opportunities that increase commitment, and discover donor passions that align with organizational priorities—is aimed toward a singular goal: to secure funds for the organization’s work.
The most successful development professionals are those who recognize that it’s not about them. Free from self-focus, they can reach outside their comfort zone and concentrate on donors and their needs. This perspective is essential to the work of development because the primary purpose of a development professional’s job is to strengthen relationships between donors and the institution so that more funds can be raised and the mission can be advanced.
Here are three tips for staying focused on the purpose:
1. Set a goal and build a strategy
Never should a development professional meet with a donor without knowing what the long- and short-term goals are for that donor’s relationship with the institution. The long-term goal may be to secure a major gift to pediatric medicine, for instance—and the short-term goal may be to discover the donor’s personal story that makes pediatric medicine meaningful to them. With these goals in mind, the development professional can focus on building trust that leads to a meaningful conversation and sets the stage for uncovering donor passions.
2. Share the impact—with yourself
Development professionals are well aware of the importance of showing impact to donors—but showing impact to yourself can be just as powerful. Check back in on the major gifts you secured in years past and discover what has been accomplished through them. The donor isn’t the only person who should be proud of the impact of their contribution. As the development professional who facilitated the contribution, you are a major player in what was achieved. Seeing the impact in the past can help us focus on the potential impact in the future—in other words, the purpose.
3. Be a mentor
New people are joining the profession all the time, and they are working to discover their role and purpose, too. If you are more experienced, it can be a highly gratifying exercise to give back by bringing others along and helping them discover the “why” behind what they do. By demonstrating that “it’s not about me” and helping others focus on the organization, the donor, and their needs, you will simultaneously refresh your own perspective.
Click below to check out public workshop offerings that strengthen the skills development professionals need in connecting the important work of their organization to donors’ passions.
The Art and Science of Donor Development