Things I wish I’d known when I started my career

We’ve all heard the phrase, “I wish I knew then, what I know now.” And if that saying has never rung true to you, stick around a few more years, and it will. I’ve learned a lot since I entered the nonprofit world in 2001 at the ripe old age of 23. Here are my top 10 things that I didn’t learn in books. Some are funny. Some are serious. And some are things I never thought I’d deal with, but I have.

10) You have to be likable. One of the key factors of being a successful fundraiser is relationships. If you aren’t likable, then relationships can be hard. If you work with difficult people, try to put yourself in their shoes. You never know what someone else is going through when you interact with him or her. By showing empathy, you automatically become more likable, and hence, will become a better fundraiser.

9) You will have bosses that don’t like you. I’ve had a handful of bosses I did not get along with at all. No matter what I did, l felt as though I would never please them. The key – don’t try to please, simply do your job to the best of your ability. I took what I didn’t like about how those bosses interacted with me and my co-workers and used that to become a better leader myself. If life gets super difficult with your boss, try asking him or her if there is anything you could do to make their job easier? Acknowledging their job can be difficult may improve your relationship. Being a boss is hard. Don’t let one boss define your experiences.

8) Pay your dues. No, I don’t mean association or chapter dues (although we will get to that a bit later). Every good fundraiser has done the grunt work. We’ve learned from stuffing envelopes, setting up events, moving boxes, handwriting addresses, and all those other tasks that make us roll our eyes because we want to be in charge. Take the time to move up through an organization or positions. A year in an entry level position does not qualify you for a director role. Take the time to learn from those with more experience. Talk to your boss (even the ones you don’t like) about your goals and aspirations. Let him or her know that one day you want to be a director and ask for projects that can help you gain the skill set you will need to get there one day.

7) It’s okay to make mistakes. I’m a recovering perfectionist. I used to cringe when I would make a mistake, try to hide that the mistake was made, and then make excuses for the mistake. Anyone else? No? Well, lucky you. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a boss was, “It’s okay to fail as long as you fail forward.” We are human, thus, we make mistakes. When you make mistakes, do these three things – 1: Admit it. 2: Fix it (if you can) or know what to do to keep it from happening again. 3: Learn from it. If we aren’t making mistakes, then we aren’t learning.

6) Do weekly reports. This may sound silly, but I’ll tell you why I find weekly reports so important. I had a boss that fit #9. To prove to said boss that I was doing my job, I started sending him weekly reports. He didn’t ask for them, but I was trying to prove to him I did know what I was doing in my position. What I learned from doing these reports was the sense of accomplishment I had leaving work on a Friday afternoon. I spent about 30 minutes recapping all the work I had done since Monday, and I made a list of upcoming projects on my schedule. These reports helped guide one-on-one meetings, goals, and learning opportunities long after that #9 boss was gone. When I had people to manage, I asked them to create weekly reports. It allowed me to see where they may need guidance, and the reports gave me a snapshot of the work being done by the team I managed. If not for any other reason, do weekly reports for yourself. It’s amazing to write out everything you’ve accomplished in one week.

5) You will eat a lot. Fundraisers take people to coffee and lunch. Fundraisers attend other nonprofits events either to support their colleagues or as a guest of a donor. With each position I had came a new waist size (ok, not really, but somedays it felt that way). When I started out in fundraising, I don’t think I ever imagined how much I would eat. This sounds silly, I know. But I don’t think there is a fundraiser out there that doesn’t take coffee or lunch meetings on a regular basis. My advice – make sure you aren’t always going to grab a burger. Mix in some healthy options every once in a while, and enjoy those meetings.

4) Join AFP. I mentioned paying your dues earlier. These are the dues that I recommend for every fundraiser. Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) is the organization that has grown my career. I did not join AFP when I first started in fundraising, and today, as I finish my final year on our local AFP board, I wish I had. The level of expertise and knowledge that can be found in an AFP meeting are top notch. Fundraisers want to see each other succeed. Membership to your local AFP chapter provides continuing education, connections, and access to the international organization. AFP is what you make of it. If you join, get involved. If you don’t get involved, you won’t find the value in the organization. Learn more about AFP.

3) Learn, Learn, Learn. Read about fundraising. Attend fundraising classes (see AFP), conferences, and webinars. Many larger organizations offer on-site training in leadership, communication, crucial conversations, and writing. Take advantage of these offerings. Ask for professional development in your annual goals. The more you learn, the more well-rounded a fundraiser you will become.

2) Don’t burn bridges when you leave a position. When you know it is time to find a new position, you may be burned out, overworked, and completely done with your current organization. Don’t leave on bad terms. I’ve remained in good terms with all organizations that I’ve worked over the years. Jobs come and go. Your passion may change. But you never know when someone from a previous position will come in handy in a future position. Don’t stay if you dread going to work daily. It’s important to know when to go, but you must go out on good terms. I’ll have an upcoming blog post on how to know when to go, so watch for that in the near future.

1) Be passionate about where you are working. When you aren’t passionate about the cause, it shows. Donors can tell when you are just going through the motions and not truly excited about the mission. If you aren’t sure if you are passionate about the mission, ask yourself this simple question, “If I learned about the organization and didn’t work here, would I support it?” If the answer is yes, then you are good to go. If the answer is anything other than yes, then figure out where your passion is, and find that type of organization. Having the passionate voice behind the ask makes the ask more viable, and donors connect to that passion.

Stop Networking. Start Connecting.

I have never shied away from meeting people. My Strength Finders tells me I have WOO. My friends describe me as outgoing. When it comes to networking, I can work a room. To say I’m an extrovert is an understatement. Not everyone in fundraising is an extrovert, which makes meeting people more of a challenge for some than others. For those introverts that are amazing at their jobs, networking often causes anxiety and fear. Is networking really worth it?

Yes, I can network. I can go to an event, smile, talk about the weather or latest sport scores, and exchange business cards. But does that truly help me toward a goal? What good have I done to leave with a stack of business cards for people who can’t help? With that concept of networking, networking doesn’t work.

Instead of networking, I now think of connecting. Who do I need to connect with to reach my desired outcome? Am I attending an event simply to be seen or am I going in hopes of meeting someone specific who typically attends these events? While sometimes it is worth attending an event to be seen, the better use of attending an event is for a specific purpose.

Take for example, any chamber of commerce event. Often, I attend those because it would put my company name in front of people as I exchange business cards around the room. I attend to be seen in hopes that when I do reach out, the person may remember me. Then there are times that I attend a chamber event because of who I know I will see there. Have you ever had trouble getting someone on the phone or via email? Connect at a chamber event you know they will attend. Chances are, if their company is sponsoring, the contact you are looking for will be in attendance.

But what if I don’t know who I need to be connect? This happens often. Don’t fret. Start with getting involved in your community – professionally and personally. Are you already involved with local organizations – Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), PRSA, your local chamber, Rotary clubs, your college alumni association? These are wonderful resources for getting to know people and truly connecting. Find the people who have the same interest as you. See if any of these groups offer mentoring programs. Being part of a mentoring program allows you to connect with others who in turn can grow your circle of influence.

I’m a member of AFP, and we do have a mentoring program. Fundraisers mentoring each other. We take two (or three) individuals with different types of experience and match them together to share best practices with each other. We connect. My first mentor partner has now turned into one of my friends. She’s my go-to when I need to figure out who to talk to, what action to take, and how to connect with a particular company. We bounce ideas off of each other, and we support each other in our efforts to reach our goals. We connect. Through my career, I’ve found various people who have become those that I turn to when I need to connect and don’t know where to start.

Never underestimate the elevator ride to or from an event. Most events I attend include some sort of elevator ride to get to the event space. As you venture to and from an event, pay attention to who is on the elevator with you. Introduce yourself. You never know how an elevator ride may turn into a useful connection.

One of my favorite “how did you meet” stories is with someone who definitely understands the art of connecting. She and I briefly met at a networking event. A few weeks later, we were on the elevator together going to another event. And that happened two or three more times – seeing each other at events, typically on the elevator. During one of those elevator rides, we started laughing that we clearly needed to stop meeting like this and set something up, so we did. She and I now grab breakfast four or five times per year to discuss how we can help each other connect in the community. By utilizing each other, we have both found additional success in our professional lives.

Attend the events. Have your business cards ready for exchanging. Think about the goal you want to achieve once there. And go achieve it.

Have a Plan…Follow It…Sometimes

When I first decided to have a blog, I had a plan. I had it all in my head. What it would be called, how many times I would post, where I would share it, and what I would write about for each post. This is how most of my planning starts – whether creating a blog, planning special events, creating direct mail pieces, a full year development plan, or strategic plans – it all starts with the ideas in my head.

My latest plan is about this blog. As I provide some tips to start a plan, I’ll use where I am with this blog as a real life view of how these steps can be used. To be honest, I’ve already strayed from the plan, and I’m okay with that. It’s okay to stray. It’s not okay to ignore. These are the same steps I take to create plans for fundraising, too. I can utilize these with any type of plan I need to create. I simply have to start.

Tips to get started on your plan.

Write it out. Do not leave your plan in your head. What happens if you win the lottery and never show back up to work? (We can all dream, right?)
Having a written plan is more than having a document in a drawer for reference for the day you are no longer there. Writing it down helps you see the holes, the overlaps, and the attainable and unattainable tactics you want to use. The goals are spelled out. The actions are detailed. Get a calendar and write in by month or day the action steps. It’s amazing what happens when you start to see that you’ve scheduled everything for the end of year to happen all in the same week. You can then evaluate what can be done early, late, or at another time all together.
Plus, how can you convince others to join in making the plan a reality if all they have are your thoughts – where is the collaboration?

For my blog, I started with a launch date. I then decided I was going to post each week on one specific day. I wrote it all out…the dates, the ideas for the posts, the timeline. I kept my blog plan to a simple timeline with the concept of the blog in mind. So, what’s happened so far? The dates have all changed because I launched later than I originally thought I would. I’ve also changed to every other week instead of every week. The plan details have changed, but the goal has not. Life happens, and we have to adapt accordingly.

Plans must be attainable. Do not over promise in a plan.
The worst feeling in the world is looking at how you are doing in a plan and realizing you must have been on an “I am Wonder Woman” kick the day you wrote it out. We all want to be able to achieve our dreams and goals, but we get there sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. When planning, it’s best to fall somewhere in the middle. For the blog, I mentioned before that I went from once a week to once every other week. That was more attainable for me at this point of my life. If you can’t be flexible then your plan may not be viable for you. For work, I often started with an entire year goal, then broke it down into quarters, and sometimes even months. The more I broke down the goal, the more attainable it became. There were also the goals that I broke down and realized they were simply not attainable at this time, but I knew I could utilize the plan to get close to the goal, so I did. Don’t let the larger goal scare you from realizing it could be attainable.

Use strategy to make your plan viable. Fundraising in a silo is not effective.
For the blog, my strategy is simply to offer my thoughts and create discussion around nonprofit management, specifically fundraising. Nothing too drastic or life changing, but something that is important to me and I have knowledge of from my career. With my plan, I wrote out topics that fit that strategy. It’s simple. Viable plans do not have to be complex.

For work, I created fundraising plans around the organization’s strategy. If you are not using your organization’s overall strategy and goals to set fundraising goals and tactics, you are fundraising in a silo. It’s much easier to raise money for programs that are part of the organization’s overall goal instead of the “pet projects” that one person wants funded. And if you work for a nonprofit in the development department and have never seen your organization’s strategic plan, ask for a copy. Most leadership will have no issue sharing the strategic plan with a staff member. Knowing the why behind your own plan is as imperative as knowing the how to attain the goal.

Follow and Review the plan. Don’t forget about the plan.
You’ve written it out. It flows with your organization’s strategy. Use the plan!

Weekly, I look at my planned calendar of posts. I mentioned before, I’ve already strayed from the plan. I realized I didn’t have a post about planning, so here we are. The great realization is the other information in my plan is still viable. I’m sure some posts will be deleted and changed along the way, but the overall plan to post on April 16 still happened.

For work, when you follow the plan, you will not fall for the “shiny new fundraising idea” that will be suggested to you. That’s not to say that new idea isn’t fruitful. It may simply need to be added to the plan in an effective way. You also must review the plan. There are parts that may not work when it comes down to execution. Scrap it and add the “new shiny idea”. Often times, strategy changes, so the fundraising plan needs to change as well. After trying part of the plan and reviewing the outcome of that one action, you may realize that it will be more beneficial to try a different tactic next time. Don’t waste your time on ineffective actions. Utilize the plan as your guide, not your rules.

For a quick review, here are my four tips for plans:
1. Written
2. Attainable
3. Viable
4. Follow and Review

If you’ve never written a plan before, start with these basics and the rest will come together. A quick search of fundraising development plans will lead you to a number of articles with the best ways to create a plan. Here’s one of my favorites from The Fundraising Authority.

Whether you prefer a calendar, a document, a storyboard, or a spreadsheet, having a plan with attainable and viable goals is essential to success.


Are you Passionately Opinionated?

When I start a new position, I meet people with extremely strong opinions, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, about the organization – specifically fundraising and communication at the organization. These are people who are volunteers, current or past employees, or longtime supporters of the organization and believe longevity equals expertise. In my head, I am telling them all to “hush up” as I am new and have no knowledge of the past or have even had time to review what has been done prior to my arrival. I am hearing these individuals telling me how to do my job, what needs to be done overall, and why the way it “used to be when we were in here” is better than the way it is now. Every time I started a new position, I would find these individuals. Or, I guess I should say, these individuals would find me.

To save myself a lot of headaches and frustration, I began to call them passionately opinionated. The term was perfect. These individuals are definitely passionate about the organization, even if I don’t agree with what they say. They are also opinionated and believe their opinions will solve the issues they see within the organization. The term passionately opinionated became a term I used frequently when describing people I came into contact with throughout my career. The term also is not offensive. I originally used it to keep myself from calling them inappropriate names or saying something out loud that would get me into trouble out of pure frustration.

What I’ve come to realize over the years is that I want to be passionately opinionated. I want to be so passionate about a cause that I am constantly talking about what makes it special. I want to be opinionated in ways to make others think about opportunities and improvements for the organization that I brought out my passion.

Being passionately opinionated is no longer a negative term to me. Today, it’s a term of endearment. As I spent time with my groups of passionately opinionated people, I learned about their true love and passion for the organization. I learned that this organization had shaped their lives into the lives they are currently living. I learned that they wanted to be heard, and I was a new ear for them to share their thoughts and opinions. It had nothing to do with them thinking their way was better or they knew best. It had to do with them wanting to still feel a part of something bigger.

What organization makes you passionate? Do you talk to your friends or the organization’s staff about your ideas about how the organization functions with programs, fundraising, or communication? Can you share your passion and opinions without complaint of how the organization is doing?
If you have an organization and can answer yes to these questions, then I challenge you today…

Go become passionately opinionated.

Welcome to PhilanthroBlox

I’m excited to start this journey in blogging with you. As I know you have all read My Story (because that’s where we always start with blogs, right?), you know that my friends played an important part of how I came to try my hand at blogging. So here I am, creating a blog.

What is Philanthropy?

I love philanthropy. I’ve learned to give back from a young age. I joke that my first volunteer position was licking stamps at the Junior League of Memphis headquarters when I was 4. I may not have been 4, but I’m still pretty sure that was my first true volunteer position. I grew up giving back to my community.

As with most people working in nonprofit, until recently, it wasn’t through a college major or minor. I simply fell into it and stayed. As my idea of philanthropy has changed over my time in the nonprofit world, the concept has not. Philanthropy is not who can write the biggest check. It’s not who gives the most time to an organization. It’s actually, according to Mirriam-Webster, 1. Goodwill to fellow members of the human race or 2. an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes. In other words, to me, Philanthropy is giving back to those in need; helping causes that are close to my heart; and doing so with a grateful heart for the things I am blessed to have in this world.

If this blog does anything, I hope it brings joy and perspective to someone’s life. And most of all, I hope it starts the conversation around what the topics mean to others in nonprofit careers. By working together, we all improve.

Feel free to share your own thoughts on Philanthropy. I’d love to know.