Old Dog Learns New Tricks: Eight Compelling Take-Aways

Old Dog New TrickBy A.B. Orlik - Lussier Community Education Center

Ever attend a workshop or conference where your notes sit in a pile for weeks afterward and you wonder why you took the time to go? 
Me, too, but not lately. 
I’m what they call a “seasoned” nonprofit professional. I served as executive director of a startup organization in the 1990s. I spent 11 years as a consultant in governance, staff development, identity and communications. Before September of last year I’d never been a development professional, and I’ve been insecure about my ability to deliver—while at the same time clear that people’s jobs and futures are on the line. So I’ve been eager to learn.
Enter AFP’s Fundraising Fundamentals series and a generous scholarship from our local AFP Chapter. After three days I walked away with a clear set of high-priority actions, and I started taking them the next morning.
Six weeks later I was at the UW’s Fundraising and Development for Nonprofits Conference with a scholarship from the Madison Community Foundation. Thanks to Don Gray’s “green sheet,” I organized my thoughts before leaving the building, and I refer to that sheet several times a week to guide my work.
What words of wisdom from others am I putting into practice? Here’s the list. I hope it’s useful for you, too.
Share the full fund development cycle (especially all that happens before and after an “ask”) with our board and fund development committee. Assure them that variety is the key to success, and that there’s a role for everyone in fund development, regardless of personality type. Help them find their niche and experience success.
Write to engage everyone—numbers people, photo people, and story people as well as the range of long-time supporters to those who are first interacting with us through this communication.
Add zip to grant proposals. Include a clear statement of the change we’re out to make in the world and a compelling case for why we’re best positioned to do that. Use photos and quotations to break up (and back up) all those words.
Add zip to grant reports, too! Those who fund our work stick their necks out to support us. They deserve to celebrate their success.
Find a volunteer infographics geek, talk a staff member into learning, or add this to my skill set. Infographics are effective. People expect them. We’ve got to deliver. [Note: I created my first two infographics last week! It wasn’t as hard as I thought.]
Get to know individual donors. Set up coffee dates. Find out how they found us, what they appreciate, what we could do better. Send anniversary cards, especially at one year after a first gift. Send quick, unexpected notes of appreciation whenever the mood strikes or when a donor is in the news.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. When asking for a major gift, lay a solid foundation, make a clear request grounded in what will bring that giver joy, and then shut up. Learn to be comfortable with silence. 
Expand the notion of planned giving beyond “gifts after death” to “every contribution that takes time and planning to give.” Honor the effort that such giving can be—and the commitment behind it.
Make the most of our big annual event by sending a thank-you to everyone who came, sharing how much was raised, and including photos as keepsakes.
Attend Fundraising Day Wisconsin on August 18, and invite a board member or two to join me. There’s magic that happens when development professionals new and old get together, and we just never know what connections we’ll make.
With big thanks to AFP Wisconsin, Greater Madison Chapter, and the Madison Community Foundation for their commitment to our professional development and the advancement of this particularly rewarding field of work. Thank you!
To learn more about AFP Madison scholarship opportunities please visit our Scholarships Page
A.B. Orlik serves as Development Director for the Lussier Community Education Center, a green-built intergenerational hub of community life on South Gammon Road in Madison. Originally founded as the Wexford Ridge Neighborhood Center in the late 1970s, the LCEC continues to bring together people of all ages and walks of life to care for one another and create a more just, healthy, and vibrant community. Find out more at LCECmadison.org.