How To Succeed At Major Gifts Fundraising is Linda Lysakowski’s take on breathing fresh air into your professional life as a major gifts fundraiser.
Are you in a rut? Do you feel unappreciated at work? Are you overworked and underpaid? Is it just wearing you out trying to build a major gifts program and trying to convince your CEO or board that events and grants are not the solution?
Well, I can tell you I’ve been there too, which is why I started my consulting business thirty years ago. I’ll tell you more about consulting a little later, but first let me show you some ways to rejuvenate your career and your nonprofit.
First, assess whether you are in the right nonprofit. Where is your passion? I was fortunate enough to feel a great deal of passion for my first two employers. The first was the University from which I got my undergraduate degree. About a month after graduation, they hired me as Assistant Vice President for Institutional Advancement, and about a year into my first development job (I had been in banking for eleven years) the VP resigned, and I became Acting VP for IA. I loved the school, and the mission of a Franciscan University. I guess I never got that Franciscan blood out of me because I am now getting my graduate degree from another Franciscan University.
From there, I went to work in a museum, where my father had been a night security guard when I was young, and he took me to the museum a lot—my favorite part was the Egyptian Room, with a real mummy and replicas of some of King Tut’s treasures. Later my consulting career took me to Egypt where I got to see the original King Tut’s treasures and numerous mummies. So having a passion for your organization is one thing that can get you through a lot of frustration. So why did I leave these two organizations?
Well, probably the same reasons that might be driving you to reimagine your career. In one case, it was a reluctance to promote a woman into a job, even though I was well qualified. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen too often in today’s world, but women are still underpaid and underappreciated in many organizations. In the other case, it was an ethical situation that I fought against and lost my job.
So how can you succeed in your position? Sometimes the best way is to seek a qualified consultant that can explain to your superiors how fundraising should be done. I know, you’ve probably explained philanthropy until you’re blue in the face! I know I did it when I was a staff member. But somehow, when they are paying big bucks to a consultant, (a consultant is someone who has often been described as someone who comes more than fifty miles and carries a briefcase), they sit up and listen. I know I gained a lot by talking to my consultant at my first development job who, after hearing I was not getting a well-deserved promotion, helped me find my second job.
So, if you haven’t attended a Major Gifts Ramp Up session, sign up for one and bring your CEO or Board Chair. You’ll probably find that much of what you’ve been trying to accomplish suddenly gains merit in the eyes of your boss. What most fundraisers already know is that grants and special events are not the best way to raise money, that 80 percent of all giving comes from individual donors, that it takes research and relationship building before you can ask for a major gift. But many CEOs and board members don’t understand this. This workshop just might convince your boss that you are right and that they need to invest in a consultant to help get this kind of fundraising started in your organization. And guess what—the bonus is you will be more appreciated; will learn how to work smarter, not harder; and you’ll be able to obtain the resources you need to be a five-star fundraiser. You can even get credentialed through NANOE, which will give you more stature in the eyes of your organization and the public.
But there comes a time in most fundraisers’ careers when they just feel the need to accomplish more. I know it happened to me after my first two jobs in development. I met so many people that wanted to learn how to start a development program, how to get organizational by-in, how to raise the big bucks without wearing themselves to a frazzle. And so, I started my own consulting practice, which has been reimagined several times, I started as a Subchapter S and hired a few staff members and subcontractors as the business grew, later I became a partnership, then and LLC, and then a sole proprietor as my business interest began focusing more on writing and teaching. I also moved across the country and had to build a whole new set of clients and formed partnerships with other consultants. And then at the age of 80, I reconnected with a longtime friend and mentee, Jimmy LaRose, and I thought this is just what I am looking for, keeping my hands in the consulting field, while finding time to write and teach. And guess what, the passion is still there!
Perhaps it’s time for you to consider consulting. I knew the first week in business this was my calling—to be able to help other fundraisers reach their goals, to work with a wide variety of nonprofits, to travel, and to have the freedom to set my own hours. If this is something for you, check out our Consulting Workshops. You might be ready to take the next step and reimagine your carer in fundraising.
How To Succeed At Major Gifts Fundraising was first posted at Development Systems International.
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