Guest Post: Fundraising As a Vocation, Not a Job

After I read this post by Lynne Wester, I e-mailed her about re-posting it here for all of you and she graciously agreed. Please feel free to leave comments here or in Lynne’s original post.


There are two types of people that work in nonprofit fundraising. Distinct and telling differences emerge when you examine those two types of people. Many times I am often asked why I do all I do in addition to my full time employment. My first answer usually revolves around insomnia, my second answer strikes at the core of who I am, fundraising is my passion. I fully feel that there are two types of people working in our field. Some who feel it is their day job and the rest of us that feel it is our vocation or calling.Growing up, I was the kid who never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. Among my lifelong dream careers were the first female NFL referee, the next Ernest Hemingway, and a  restaurant critic. Growing up, never did I say I wanted to be a donor relations professional. After trying many things from a boat captain to a pastry chef to a teacher and a bartender, when I found philanthropy, something in me changed.  We now have the opportunity to teach others about our profession, to hire the kinds of people that inspire us to do better.So why am I on this vocation kick? Because I meet people who are just in it for other reasons and I’m baffled. You won’t become rich working in nonprofit fundraising, but boy is your heart full. The dictionary defines vocation as “a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.” The first time I heard vocation it was in 8th grade when I had to take a series of all of the vocations, including wood and metal shop, agriculture, home economics (am I dating myself?), typing, and auto shop. But I am now convinced more than ever that fundraising is my vocation. I chose higher education as my specialty for a deeply personal reason that I won’t go into in this blog (let’s just say it involves my Dad) but one day if you catch me at a bar over a glass of Malbec I’ll try telling you without crying.The folks I tend to do business with, those whom I admire, and those whom are my mentors all are in this profession and see it as their vocation. I actively choose not to spend my time on and with those who see it as another job or a means to an end. They exhaust me. As some might say, they don’t
“get it”.

A job is defined as, “the work that a person does regularly in order to earn money” this designates a few differentiations from a vocation. The first is that the end goal is money, anyone in nonprofit will tell you the benefits are great, the pay is not that fabulous. The second thing about a job is that it seems to have a finite end and purpose, I just cannot say that about a vocation. My vocation consumes me at times, for better or worse.

Maybe I can relate it in philanthropic terms. People who work in nonprofit fundraising as a vocation are donors, and those who see it as a job are non donors? Is that too bold a statement?

As I wax philosophical, I would love to hear your thoughts. What drives you in your career? why do you do what you do? Is it a vocation, a job, what? How do you define what you do and who you are to others?


Are you talking to your donors?

A recent Wall Street Journal article about a $100 million gift from billionaire couple Henry & Marie-Josee Kravis to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center reminded me of the simple power of talking to and engaging donors in our work. The article shared how the gift started . . . with a simple conversation:

It grew out of a conversation at a social event 18 months ago between Mr. Kravis and Craig Thompson, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s president and chief executive officer. As the men recall it, when Dr. Thompson described how the emerging ability to analyze the DNA of individual patient’s tumors was changing cancer care, Mr. Kravis asked how Memorial Sloan Kettering could make a unique contribution.

Dr. Thompson told him about the center’s database of more than one million patients, including archived tumor samples and details of care and outcomes, dating back to 1980. Mr. Kravis asked what could be learned from the history of the patients that were already treated.

How has your successful donor engagement led to major gifts? I’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!


Quick Tip: Uncovering Wealth Among Your Prospects & Donors

In the last six months, I have been spending anything from a few minutes to an hour or so each week looking up lost I-House alumni in the hopes of being able to reconnect with them. During this year’s Association of Donor Relations Professionals NYC Regional Conference, one of the presenters mentioned that one of the wealthiest counties in her state was not too far from the metropolitan area in which her organization worked. After the conference, I looked up that county and started checking for any alumni who lived there just to be sure that we were not overlooking any particularly well-off constituents. With this in mind, I encourage you to check the wealthiest counties in the United States each year and confirm whether any of your prospects and/or donors reside in any of them; any of those who you identify can be marked for additional research. Here’s to uncovering some wealth in your own database!

Top 3 Reader Favorites from 2013

In case you missed any of them and to be a bit reflective as we proceed into 2014, I wanted to share the top three posts that were written last year.  They cover a few of the different areas and concepts that were discussed here on The Good Steward last year and I hope that you find them helpful in your efforts this year.

  1. How One Web Search Led to a $20,000 Gift
    I shared how some smart web searching led me to a strong prospect for a fundraising effort focused on I-House’s retiring Board Chairman and the true serendipity that led to a $20,000 contribution. The title alone seems to have grabbed readers’ attention!
  2. Are You Making the Time to be Creative?
    I wrote this post while at the 2013 AFP International Conference after an especially insightful talk by John Legend. Please feel free to share in the comments how you keep those creative juices flowing!
  3. Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story in the 990 Report
    This post provides some quick food for thought around how fundraising staff can collaborate with their colleagues in the Finance Office to better tell their organization’s story through the annual 990 charitable filing.



I’m Quoted . . .


As you can see above (feel free to click the photo to  zoom in), I was quoted in the newest book on major gifts fundraising, Rainmaking: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Landing Big Gifts by Andrew Olsen, CFRE & Roy Jones, CFRE.  If you are interested in learning some great strategies for starting or refreshing your organization’s major gifts strategy, check out this book!  For more information and to buy it, go here.

If you end up buying a copy, please feel free to share your thoughts and how you find it helpful in your work in the comments below.

4 Tips for Managing a Student Giving Program

Last month, we completed the tenth annual Resident Members Gift Campaign (RMGC) at International House.  As my colleague was out on maternity leave, I served as the lead advisor to the Campaign Co-Chairs and their Steering Committee.  I am proud to report that this was a banner year, as the residents were able to break the previous record for the most money raised — more than $7,200.

To provide a bit more background, this year’s RMGC ran for a total of 40 days and the Steering Committee was composed of 21 members and 3 co-chairs who represented a wide swath of our resident community.  During the first two weeks of the Campaign, Committee Members focused on soliciting a specific group of 10-15 of their fellow residents.  Following this period, it was open season to approach the entire community and was done through numerous venues, including tabling at the 24-hour entrance/exit and outside the Dining Room, a sponsored musical performance event, a used bicycle sale, and having Committee members address small groups during normal resident programs.  This year’s funds went toward the creation of an endowed fund to support greater resident engagement with alumni through programming.

As I reflect on the experience, I wanted to share four tips for managing a student giving program:

  1. Set mutually agreed-upon goals: After going through a training session for the Committee members on basic face-to-face fundraising techniques, they were able to mutually agree on Campaign goals of raising $5,000 from a minimum of 350 resident members.  By virtue of having past Committee members serving again, they were able to provide some context for and clarity of what it really takes to meet the goals.
  2. Communication is key: I made it a high priority to communicate as regularly as possible a) with individual Committee members about their personal progress and when the prospects on their lists made gifts; b) with the entire Committee about their progress on their goals; and c) with the resident community through e-blasts, signage and updates to the I-House website on the Campaign’s progress.  While all of these efforts required a great deal of my time (and that of my colleagues), it was absolutely important to keep everyone in the loop and on the same page.
  3. Be supportive & encouragingHowever long your campaign runs, you will need to keep the students encouraged and feeling enthusiastic.  One way that I did this was simply through my regular check-ins with the Committee members, whether via e-mail or in person.  If they have questions or concerns, be sure to respond to them ASAP.  It also helps if your campaign has a history of success, which always helps propel the students forward as they never want to be the year that doesn’t make their goals.  Another important element of our Campaign is that a group of Alumni Trustees provide a challenge grant to the resident members to provide additional encouragement — and it keeps these Trustees engaged and connected with each year’s class of residents.
  4. Start recruiting early!  As I write this post, we already have one co-chair committed for next year’s Campaign, who served on this year’s Steering Committee.  If you have some bright stars with potential on your committee, don’t be afraid of asking them about their interest in participating in the effort next year.

What other tips have you found useful in working with student giving programs?  Please share your experiences in the comments!

Are you making the time to be creative?

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One of the many highlights of the first day of the 2013 AFP International Conference on Fundraising was to hear from Grammy Award winner John Legend about his philanthropic work in education.

One particular lesson that he shared during his conversation with AFP Board Chair Bob Carter was about making time to be creative.  Legend said that he schedules studio time to write songs and doesn’t leave those sessions without at least one song.  I thought that this was a particularly worthwhile lesson for fundraising professionals, with the regular expectations that we produce fresh content — whether it be appeals, newsletter copy, annual reports, or anything else.

Do you schedule time to be creative?  If so, how?

How One Web Search Led to a $20,000 Gift


As International House’s Board Chairman retired last year, the Board announced that it was designating an endowed fund to  benefit programming and resident scholarships named in honor of the outgoing chairman.  In addition to the funds designated by the Board, my office was charged with raising additional monies in support of this named fund from the contingent of our major donors who are particular fans of the chairman.

After reviewing our donor files to confirm all of the recent donors who should be solicited for this special named fund, I did some online sleuthing in the hopes of uncovering a few more people who would want to honor the Chairman by supporting the fund.  After a particularly revealing search on Muckety (a useful site that details personal, corporate and non-profit relationships for some of the more connected people in the U.S.), I found a gentleman who used to work with the Chairman in one of his past careers and after confirming that he had a private foundation, he was added to the list.  Now, let the record reflect that we had not previously contacted this prospect, as he was not in our donor database which dates back to 1986.

Based on the name of this post, I think that you can see where I’m going with this . . . we sent this cold prospect an ask for the named fund and after a phone conversation with our president, he sent in a check for $20,000 from his private foundation!!  Let this be a lesson, dear reader, that a cold ask can easily be warmed up with the right relationships already in place.  It also reminds us of the value of doing thorough research before any major solicitation effort.

Do you have any success stories like this one where solid research and the right relationships made a measurable difference?  Please share in the comments!


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Quick Tip: Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story in the 990 Report


Last week, Association of Fundraising Professionals International CEO Andrew Watt participated in the New York City Chapter’s Annual Membership Meeting and had a lot of great things to say.  One of the smart and particularly easy ideas that he suggested was to ensure that the organizational description in your annual 990 report really tells your story, as many individual, corporate and foundation prospects & donors access these documents to learn a bit more about your group.

Commonly, since the organization’s Finance Office compiles the 990 report, the Development staff is not included in drafting the narrative text.  Even though my colleagues and I do assist our Finance Office with the 990 preparation, I am giving this section a special look in our most recent report and will have some edits to suggest going forward.

Do you and/or your colleagues collaborate with your Finance Office on the preparation of your organization’s 990?  Have you reviewed the organizational narrative?


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