Lessons I Have Learned

Marcia%20Whittington.jpgBy Marcia Whittington - Agrace HospiceCare
2015 Outstanding Fundraising Professional Award Winner

I would be remiss not to start this article without first thanking the Madison Chapter of AFP, the selection committee, and Agrace HospiceCare for nominating and selecting me as the Outstanding Fundraising Professional for 2015.  I am humbled and very appreciative of this honor.  Thank you.

When I reflect on the last 20 years of development and fundraising work in our community, a few things stand out to me as lessons I have learned and continue to live by.  The first is; be passionate about your mission and the work that you do.  Many of us in this profession have learned the tricks of the trade and know the ins and outs of fundraising, but if you are not personally connected to your mission or are not fully passionate about the work that is being done in your organization, it shows!  It may not show on the outside, but it will be self-relevant.  Speak from the heart and be open to sharing your personal belief in your mission.  Donors want to know if you believe in the cause as much as you want them to.

Second, never put all your eggs in one basket… or even two.  Too many nonprofits, whether small or large, put all of their development efforts into one big fundraising event or one major annual appeal.  While this may seem appropriate and a good use of staff time, if this one initiative falls short of budget, you have nothing to fall back on in order to make up the loss. Diversify your development plan.  A strong and successful fundraising program should consist of at least four different avenues to engage donors and raise funds.  Include annual giving (events, direct mail, e-mail, etc.), major gift solicitation, planned giving, campaigns, and board/staff or volunteer appeals along with your own organizations' unique needs and engagement options.

You don’t need to go it alone! We have all heard the saying “You’re only as good as those people that surround you.”  I believe this is true.  Even if you are a small shop with only one or two people working on development, you need to surround yourself with volunteers and board members that will assist in your efforts.  Take the time to train and teach them to see how they can play an important part in the success of your organization.  I am the first to say that I don’t know everyone or everything.  Allow those that can help you to do just that.  Introductions, history of donors, assisting with events, community connections -- these are all ways that volunteers can help YOU!  Also, if you are lucky enough to have a staff to work with, take the time to hire the right people, train them and recognize them.  Most of all, allow them to be successful in the roles they want to play.  I guarantee you that you will come out shining if your staff is engaged and feeling supported.

Finally, learn from your experiences (including your mistakes). I look at every turn I have taken in my career as an opportunity to learn.  Whether it is being told “no” when asking for a gift (yes, we have all had that happen to us) or making a major job change, and everything in between, I have learned from it.  Some days it does not feel like you have accomplished anything or you feel like everything is going the wrong way.  Step back and give yourself 24 hours.  Reflect on what you can take away from this situation that will help you in the future. Don’t forget that you are never failing if you’re learning. Thank you for this opportunity to share a few thoughts and words of wisdom from my experiences. I truly appreciate this award and look forward to many more years of engagement in our community.