It’s easy in these moments to keep going with the status quo. Even if you’re not feeling fulfilled by your work, your boss is terrible, and your hours are long, the easiest path to take is staying put.
In the nonprofit sector, we’re all working like crazy. Sometimes I get to the end of the day and think, what did I accomplish today?? Of course, the actual answer to that is a bunch of stuff, but sometimes the time just flies by. And before you know it, it’s time to go.
We’re all working at 110%. Which is why it’s super important to be mindful of how we talk about that fact. It can be easy to default to complaints:
“I worked 12 hours yesterday, and 11 the day before. This is too much! I just have so much work to do. I’m exhausted and by the time I get home, I don’t want to spend time with my family, I just want to go to sleep. Also, I just gave my first born baby to my boss!”
OK, that last complaint went too far, but you get the picture. And I’m not downplaying the work that anyone is putting in. But I am saying that the way we frame the hard work we are doing makes a difference. It’s very likely that someone heard that venting session and thought to themselves,
“Well gosh. I only worked nine hours yesterday and a measly eight hours the day before! I feel bad, my colleague is working her butt off and I’m sitting around eating bonbons. I’d better work longer hours and put in more time!”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Your colleague working longer days does not mean that your day will be any shorter. In fact, it will probably just make the mood more miserable, since everybody will be stressed out. Instead, I’d recommend framing your feelings this way:
“Because of the board meeting yesterday, I worked a pretty long day. Sometimes things like that happen. I’m planning to leave early tomorrow to make up that time.”
Boom. No additional explaining, no apologizing for leaving early. Of course, you might want to frame this as a question if you’re talking to your boss. But if it’s a colleague, just leave it at that. It’s no one else’s business if you’re working more than eight hours a day. I’d argue that it’s usually something within your control. So, keep it to yourself. And be mindful of your vibes. They really make a difference.
Today I’m celebrating ten years of working in the nonprofit sector doing fundraising for nonprofit organizations! When I think back on all of the experience I’ve gotten over the years, I am overwhelmed and humbled by all I’ve learned, as well as the people who have helped me learn it.
I thought I’d celebrate today by sharing the top ten lessons I’ve learned over these past ten years. Hopefully some of these tidbits can reinforce what you’ve been thinking or allow you to consider a new idea. Because that’s the thing about fundraising – we are never done learning about it.
1. While fundraising might be our world, to most people, it’s a small piece of their lives. We might toil over a fundraising letter, spend hours hundreds of hours working on a three hour fundraising gala, or write a lengthy grant proposal. While the work we are doing is important, usually, the details matter less and the intention matters more.
2. We are not fundraising for the nonprofit organization, we are fundraising for the cause. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the nuances that your organization offers, and the activities it is doing. But in the donors’ eyes, they don’t care about what you are doing, they care about why you are doing it. They care that because you exist, the world is a little different. And that’s what we’re working for.
3. Donor centric communications and activities are key. Being wrapped up in the organization you work for can easily lead to communications and activities that are full of organization-specific jargon. As often as you can, take a step back from your communications and read it with fresh eyes. Remember, donors just want to change the world. Your organization is just the way to do so.
4. It’s all about the relationships. Maintaining relationships with donors is just like maintaining relationships with your friends or loved ones – it’s important to keep them updated through the good times and the bad. No friend is going to stick by your side if you ask for a favor every time you call them. Cultivation and stewardship should make up 90% of your communication with a donor – solicitation should be 10% at most.
5. Fundraising is not a dirty word. Society has made us scared to talk about money. Many people think there are power dynamics at play when it comes to money, so they think of fundraising as begging. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Every organization, nonprofit or otherwise, needs money to function. Donors know that, and they want to be part of the change.
6. Fundraising is a two way street. We need donors just as much as donors need us. Fundraising is an equal exchange, where donors get just as much out of the relationship as nonprofit organizations do. There are a plethora of benefits that donors enjoy in making a donation, everything from changing the world to public recognition to tax benefits.
7. There is always more work to be done. There are always more donors to thank, prospects to find, research to do, solicitations to be made… the work is never done.
8. Fundraisers need to take care of themselves. Since the work is never done, it can be easy to burn out. Expectations just keep growing higher and needs of program staff just keep increasing – which is great – but, we need to remember that we are not all miracle workers. We must do our best and accept that it is enough.
9. Fundraisers need to take care of each other. We are a community. It is time to band together and support each other in the work we are doing – whether through professional associations or informal meet ups. We are our best allies!
10. The learning is never done. As I mentioned in the beginning, there is always something new to learn. The field is always changing and it’s imperative to keep up. That’s part of what I love most about fundraising – it’s always changing.
I am tremendously grateful for all of the experiences I have had and the people who have been part of my journey. You know who you are! Here’s to the next ten years – I have a feeling I’ll be impacting even more nonprofit organizations through my work!
I came across this fascinating post in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Nonprofits Need to Give Workers a Sense of Purpose and thought, as many others likely did, what the heck? What’s more full of purpose than showing up to work and having every task, even the most menial, work toward a larger goal of helping others?
I read the piece and realized: this is a different kind of purpose. And I’m totally for it.
The author defines a purpose-oriented worker as the following:
“This group defines work as being about relationships, having a meaningful impact, and personal growth. They see work as a means to serve others and grow themselves. They need to get paid and be acknowledged, but that’s not what gets them out of bed each morning.”
Pay close attention to the inclusion of self-growth in this definition: that’s what is often missing in others, and that is what is a key takeaway here.
The author writes that 45% of all nonprofit workers land in this category, and they are exceptional. We should do all we can to encourage this attitude: one of personal growth and employee fulfillment. This is the way to attract and retain good employees, not just by giving raises across the board (although that helps too!). Investing in our people is the most important thing we can do as nonprofit leaders to ensure the success of the nonprofits of the future.
I encourage you to take a look at the piece – it’s a great read and a good reminder that no matter what sector we work in, taking care of ourselves is the most important thing.
Five years of blogging as Nonprofit Chapin! You know what that means – a complete blog overhaul. New layout, new photos (courtesy of the supremely talented Krishna Patel), new About Me page, even some new stuff on my Twitter page. It’s a new year and time for a refresh. Let me know what you think!
Professionally, I have grown a tremendous amount this year. I moved from a Donor Relations Manager role, where I was focusing mostly on direct mail, grants, and donor database management, to an Associate Director of Development role, where I am in charge of a fundraising team while there is no Director of Development. I am jumping head first into some meaty management issues and getting a ton of great experience thinking about how to be strategic with my energy and efforts. With managing a department comes a variety of different types of tasks, and it can be tough to manage my time without working 12 hours a day. But I’m learning it, and gaining a lot of wonderful experience.
If you (or someone you know) has found yourself at a loss of how to move forward with your development team, I would love to help. I have gained so much great experience that I’d enjoy working with other nonprofits to reimagine how their team might work best. Feel free to contact me on my About Me page or by leaving a comment here, and we can talk about working together. I’d love to be of help, wherever you are!
Here’s to another five years!
Here I am again, another two months after my last post. And while it really hasn’t been that long, there have been some changes at my new job that are allowing the space for me to really, I mean really, spread my leadership wings.
One thing’s for sure – I’ve spent the last few months steeping myself in nonprofit staffing issues. Whether it’s hiring new staff, appreciating more seasoned ones, or thinking about division of duties and workloads, the human resource discussion in nonprofits is as important as ever. Now more than ever, as I manage a team of development staff, I think about the ways we can make sure our nonprofit employees are satisfied in their careers and lives. What’s my role in making sure this happens? At the moment, it’s with my own team and at my own nonprofit. What is my obligation to make change on a deeper level? I consider these questions as I move through my changing role.
I hope you also think about this as you do your work. How are you modeling behavior that your nonprofit peers can appreciate and emulate? Do you have clear goals and expectations in your role, and are you being fully appreciated for them? For that matter, are you being outwardly appreciative of your colleagues? We should all shower each other with a little more love! No matter where you are on the totem pole, you can make a difference with your actions.
Thanks again for your patience. I assure you, something big will come out of these changes. And I’ll try to be better about bringing you along with me. Because I’m learning so much, and what’s the point of that if I’m not sharing my learnings with you?
Happy working, my nonprofit friends!
It’s been some months since I’ve blogged – I’m sorry about that! But I promise there’s a good reason: I’ve been busy learning and growing in a brand new role in a brand new city. I accepted a new position: Associate Director of Development at a theater nonprofit. I started there on August 19 and have been getting to know the ropes and my role in the development team.
I was attracted to this position because I was ready and craving the next step in my career. Over the past few years, I have gained multiple direct reports and realized that my favorite time at work was working with these folks. I really enjoy thinking about how development teams work and I was looking for a new step that would allow me to contribute to that most thoughtfully.
And that’s where my current job comes in. This brand new position was created to inject capacity into a department where everyone is working at 150% and no one is able to step back and plan (sound familiar?). I am able to serve as the liaison between the development director and the rest of the development staff, manage daily operations, and assist the development director with department strategy. I was excited that this nonprofit identified the need for this kind of role and happy I could fit in to help.
I am learning a tremendous amount at my new job, and the possibilities are endless about what I could write about here. In addition to the development operations, I get to focus on developing the people in our department, which I love – a nonprofit is only as good as the amount of happy people working for it.
So thanks for being patient with me, and I hope you’ll read the coming posts as I navigate through my new role. It’s not always going to be pretty, but it’s always going to be honest. I appreciate you understanding that.