Why did you become a fundraiser with Mike Sweitzer-Beckman, CFRE
This month we asked Mike Sweitzer-Beckman, CFRE, Associate Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Edgewood College in Madison and our newest President-Elect of AFP Greater Madison, to share his fundraising journey and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
We hope his story motivates and encourages you.
What inspired you to become a fundraiser?
While in grad school in Berkeley, California, I thought I wanted to be a campus minister. But after a year, I realized it wasn’t for me. Fortunately, the career development director at my school noticed I was passionate about different causes and a strong communicator. He encouraged me to pursue fundraising. I finished the program, moved back to Madison in 2008, and landed a job a couple of months later as an entry level fundraiser.
Were you always interested in fundraising? If not, when did you decide to follow this career path?
I’ve always been interested in nonprofit work. During my first job out of college as an executive assistant and coordinator of a summer intern program, I realized all great programs need financial resources. Both of my parents were CPAs, so I felt comfortable navigating spaces of wealth and building bridges to connect the resources with the needs of the community.
What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
I’ve been fortunate to travel to about 25 states on behalf of Edgewood College, and everywhere I go, I come across people who live out the mission and core values of the school. I enjoy building relationships between supporters and Edgewood College, and especially between supporters and our students. I don’t always get to see the reactions of the students who receive scholarships. Sometimes, I’m able to make introductions between a supporter and the student who received an award. It’s always beautiful to see that connection formed.
If you could share one piece of advice or the most compelling lesson that you’ve learned during your fundraising career, what would that be?
There are so many. It’s all about relationships; that will always ring true.
My advice is to be patiently persistent in a polite and compassionate way. Don’t let lack of response get you down.
I remember trying to contact an alum for over a year. I kept calling, emailing, or dropping a note in the mail about once a month, just to see if I could reach him. He never answered the phone. He never wrote back. But he kept giving a modest donation by mail a couple times a year.
After about 15 months, he answered the phone. There was no acknowledgement of me trying to reach him for so long—it was as if it was the first time he had heard my name. I asked if we could get together, and he agreed. During our first meeting, he told me he was redoing his will, and wanted to leave Edgewood College a percentage of his estate.
Most people want to hear from fundraisers and engage in improving their community, but often it comes down to timing. The challenge becomes remaining persistent during the periods of non-response, and remembering not to say, “No” for a supporter.
Another lesson I learned on the road is to try not to lose the keys to the rental car! But that’s another story.
What motivated you to become a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE)?
A team member at Edgewood College suggested I pursue the CFRE as a way to stay current on trends and best practices in the industry. I’m glad I did. It motivates me to engage in professional development opportunities. It’s also a way to be part of a wider network of professionals in an industry that is becoming more formal. Since becoming a professional fundraiser, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many people who came into the industry from a different career or course of study. Now people are pursuing degrees in nonprofit studies and earning more formal certifications.
What do you wish you had known when you started as a professional fundraiser?
If I could go back, I wish I had pursued more support for face-to-face relationship-building earlier in my career. There’s so much philanthropy that happens through in-person connections.
Early on, I built a lot of technical skills related to mass mailings and emails, website optimization for receiving donations, and special event coordination. I had a decent budget for these activities. However, I had almost no resources to take someone to coffee and learn more about them personally and what drives their passions and philanthropy.
At first, I usually paid for lunch or coffee on my own, which was a deterrent for building in-person relationships.
Looking back, I wished I had advocated for resources and pursued more meaningful connections with philanthropists in the community as a younger professional.
Thank you to Mike Sweitzer-Beckman for taking the time to share his story with us this month.
If you are considering CFRE certification, AFP can help you prepare. The Fundamentals in Fundraising class is a two-day class crammed full of information. AFP also offers a CFRE Refresher Course. AFP ICON will offer both as two-day courses this year on April 14 and 15.
Our goal is to publish personal stories like this each month in the AFP-Greater Madison newsletter.
If you’d like to share the story of your fundraising journey in an upcoming newsletter, please reach out to AFP-Greater Madison’s Communications Committee Chair, Max Nguyen at email@example.com or committee member, Patricia McMurtrie at firstname.lastname@example.org.