7 Ways to Learn About Fundraising

After Rory Green asked me on Twitter yesterday about the best ways to learn about fundraising, way too many ideas came to mind that I could not get them all out of my head and into 140-character sections to answer her question.  In an effort to make it easy for you, dear readers, I have compiled a list of the top seven ways to deepen your fundraising knowledge:

1.  Do the work: If you are currently working in non-profit fundraising, the best way to deepen your knowledge is to take on stretch assignments.  Not only will you demonstrate your value to your boss and co-workers, but you will also have something substantial to add to your resumé.

2.  Engage with mentors: An easy way to build up your knowledge of fundraising is to identify and engage with a few seasoned fundraisers as mentors; these professionals will be able to help you develop professionally, serve as a sounding board for ideas you may have and generally help guide you through this work.

3.  Join a professional association/networking group: Whether it’s the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Association of Donor Relations Professionals, the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning, or a Meetup group, you should take full advantage of opportunities to engage with fellow fundraisers.  You never know what you may learn and who you could meet.

4.  Volunteer: Some say that the best training is through trial by fire.  If you volunteer with a group that you are already involved in to help out in fundraising, you could end up learning about more grassroots fundraising, how to craft sponsorship proposals for the business leaders in your community or anything else on the fundraising spectrum.

5.  Read industry publications: As you build a career in fundraising, it is absolutely imperative that you stay up on the current trends and happenings in the field.  A great way to do this is to subscribe to and regularly read at least one of these publications: The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Fundraising Success Magazine, Advancing Philanthropy (a subscription to which you get as a member of AFP), Planned Giving Today, and The Non Profit Times.

6.  Attend workshops & seminars or enroll in formal certificate/degree programs: A few times a year (time and registration costs permitting), you should be sure to attend a workshop or seminar related to your area of fundraising; these are usually a good combination of professional development and networking.  If you are in the Greater New York area, my two favorites are the New York Philanthropic Planning Symposium and Fund Raising Day in New York, sponsored by the local PPP and AFP chapters respectively.  If you live near one of the regional offices of The Foundation Center, they consistently offer interesting sessions on diverse topics in fundraising and philanthropy.  To take this a few steps further, you could also consider a graduate degree or certificate program in fundraising, philanthropy and/or non-profit management (in a later post I will share why I pursued a graduate degree and how it led me to my career in fundraising).

7.  Engage on social media: To take your learning to the next level, you should be actively participating in the conversations occurring on Twitter and the multitude of blogs and websites focused on fundraising (like this one!).  I am continually surprised and impressed by all of the people that I have been able to engage with and learn from through these media.

I hope that you find these strategies useful and that you will put them to use in your career.

Does this list reflect your experience?  Did I leave anything off my list?

Photo credit

Seminar Recap: Ethics & Stewardship in Planned Giving

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the last session of the Philanthropic Planning Group of Greater New York‘s The ABC of Gift Planning seminar series, which focused on ethics and stewardship in planned giving.  The seminar was facilitated by veteran fundraiser and consultant Davida Isaacson; you can read Davida’s full bio (and more about the seminar) here, but let’s suffice it to say that she is one of the big names in the field especially after her amazing tenure at WNET/New York, where she helped raise $30 million in planned gift initiatives for the $65 million Campaign for Thirteen.

I learned a great deal in this session and want to share with you some of those lessons that may help you in managing your planned giving program (or serve as points to consider as you add planned giving to your fundraising program):

The primary ethical issue for fundraisers in planned giving is the tension between who’s interest are you serving — the donor or your organization?
As a fundraiser, you likely have a long and trusted relationship with your planned giving donors, but you also have a responsibility to secure gifts for your organization that will help support its mission for the foreseeable future.  When a donor wants to make a gift that may be more beneficial to him/her and not as useful to the organization, on which side will you fall?  [This is when Davida would start advocating that every non-profit organization compose its gift acceptance policies, which would provide a clear understanding of what gifts will be accepted; the processes of evaluation, valuation, disposal, etc.; what gifts you will not accept; etc.]

Planned giving is more vulnerable to ethical issues.
“Why?” you may ask, well you are usually dealing with older donors, with whom you and/or your organization tend to have longstanding relationships and are likely to trust you.  One particularly interesting issue that can arise in this work is the mental competence of the donors making these commitments.  How would you deal with a donor who is showing signs of dementia but wants to make a planned gift?  Is it even your place to bring this up?

Access to your fundraising database usually presents an ethical issue.
Have you considered that volunteers using your fundraising database could access all sorts of private information on your donors, board members, etc.?  Only because this came up while managing interns have I given this some thought before.  You should set up restricted access logins for your volunteers and anyone else who may need to access a certain part of your fundraising database; if this is not an option, you need to set some office policies in place about how information is provided to volunteers.

Your gift servicing operations must be viewed as a part of the stewardship process.
Providing tax reports, copies of completed agreements, endowment reports, acknowledgments and the like are another way to solidify the relationship with your donors.  By getting documents like these to the donor in a very timely manner, they are more likely to trust you and may even consider making another gift (especially when this is paired with more ongoing stewardship activities).  Be sure to review these processes in your organization and assure that there is a maximum turnaround of a few days.

A few other quick tips:
-When making calls to planned giving prospects or donors, do not get into too much detail if you have to leave a message.  Davida made a great point that the spouse or family of a donor may not agree with his/her intention to make a planned gift and may not pass on the messages if they know why you are calling.
-Use a gift disclosure form like this sample that Davida provided in the seminar materials.  A document like this gives you and your organization some extra protection in the case that the family or other potential heirs of your donor want to contest the gift at a later date.

Have you thought about any of these issues before?  What changes would you make to your planned giving program in light of these points?

P.S.  If you would like to see Davida in action and live in the NYC area, you should join PPGGNY or keep your eyes open for the class schedule at NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy & Fundraising.

Photo credit