Let’s face it – we all need a little help now and then. And after decades as a staff fundraiser, there are a few small things I learned that I wished I had known at the start. Maybe they’ll help you. (And please add your own tips in the comments!)
1. Keep a jacket on the back of your door
It never fails. The day you were sure you’d be working on juicy project by yourself in the office is the day a major funder wants to see you. A suit jacket in a neutral color can save your day.
Keep a scarf or tie there, too. And a decent pair of shoes. It’s amazing how dressed up a pair of jeans can get with the right accessories!
You could decide to dress up every day. But I’m a fan of being comfortable for as many days as possible. So wear the jeans when you can. But be prepared for a surprise.
2. A little organization today saves you so much angst tomorrow
It’s so very easy to feel every day is an exercise in putting out fires. But if you can manage to tune the frenzy out, do it. Make a plan. Then follow it. Be wary of attempts to pull you away from it.
Set your priorities for the year. Then plan from there. It’s easier to be drawn off-track if you don’t have a strong sense of where that track is. You were hired to lead. That starts with a plan.
3. Invest in your staff
Learn together. Fight for the budget for seminars, webinars or workshops. If there’s a good conference you can attend together, even better. (Relationships with colleagues can be valuable!) If a learning budget is impossible, there are still free resources online. Sign up together. Spend thirty minutes discussing what you learned together. We all have work to accomplish. But the chance to use our brains – to be creative – is valuable.
Support one another. Everyone needs help sometimes. So pay it forward, even if it’s not your job. Last minute mailing? Dig in and stuff. Family emergency? Cover – no guilt, no anger. The loyalty you build by being understanding and supportive will pay you back many times over.
4. Set boundaries right from the beginning
Make it clear that you’re professional and capable – but that you also have other parts of your life that are valuable. It’s harder to reclaim your time than to begin with good boundaries.
You can produce great results without the “face time” some leaders demand. In fact, as a fundraiser, you should be out of the office often.
Set goals for yourself and share them with your executive director. If you create the goals first, you have the chance to define how you’ll be evaluated.
Remember that the organization and the cause never owns you. There is nothing wrong with carving out the time for a life outside work.
5. Refuse the savior mantle
It might be pleasing to be told you save the organization. But that’s a burden you don’t want to bear. Philanthropy is a team activity. Lead the team, but be sure everyone in the organization knows they’re part of it.
Celebrate with everyone, too. You know how hard you’ve worked. But sharing the kudos helps everyone feel invested in your results.
Allowing yourself to be the savior leads to burnout and sleepless nights. No matter your cause, it’s not worth that. And you can’t be your best when you’re working under that kind of pressure.
6. Build relationships, inside the organization as well as outside
Donors matter a lot, of course. But the little things you do to maintain good relationships with co-workers, your boss and your board members will be crucial to your success and sanity.
It doesn’t take that much more energy to be nice. Think of it as flexing your thoughtful muscles – the ones you’ll use with donors. And just as you can’t thank donors enough, thank your colleagues at every opportunity. Make it a point to thank your staff every day as work ends.
Your job is tough. Your cause is important. But – voice of experience talking here – you matter, too.