I spent last weekend at my alma mater, Franklin & Marshall College. I went for graduation (and meetings). I came home with more than that.
During the weekend, I had the chance to talk with graduating seniors. Each of them is bright, talented, eager – and scared. I get it – it’s hard to leave. I know I didn’t want to.
At the graduation ceremony, we heard from the college’s president, Dan Porterfield. He’s an inspiring speaker and managed to make every student and parent feel personally acknowledged. (Fundraisers take note: this is key to your success.)
He understood the day was bittersweet. He quoted Semisonic (or Seneca, take your pick): “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
I couldn’t get the new graduates out of my mind during the long trip home. I wondered what I could tell them now that 21-year-old me might have found useful.
If you’re a young fundraiser, or you care about one, this is for you.
If there’s one quality that leads to a successful life, this might be it. Curious people learn. They’re interesting because they’re interested. They push their own boundaries. They take time to think. They find insight in the strangest places.
They read. A lot. They ask questions and listen to the answers. They find opportunities to learn everywhere.
I know I write better and think better when I’m reading. For me, it’s fiction. Taking myself out of this world and into another far away makes room for those eureka moments we all want. And reading great writers trains your ear.
Look for how you can help
As a fundraiser, you’ll be more successful if your focus is about how you can help. It’s not about you. It’s not even about your organization. There are things in the world that need changing. And there are people in the world who want to help. You can put them together. And everybody wins.
Don’t get me wrong, goals matter. You can’t function in an organization just by being nice. But don’t let the weekly/monthly/yearly dollar goals blind you to what your real purpose is.
When I’m feeling a little lost, “how can I help?” reorients me.
Our graduates were urged to celebrate their unique talents. Each of us has our own experience and approach and that’s valuable. Our commencement speaker (Richard Plepler, CEO of HBO and a contemporary of mine at school) quoted Ted Williams: “Don’t let anybody monkey with your swing.”
It’s a privilege to do the work we do. But we all bring different skills and experiences to the world. That’s a good thing!
Get to know yourself. Commit to your values. Understand your worth. And then offer your gifts to the world. That’s how you’ll do amazing things.
Relationships mean so much more than money
In the coming years, there will be jobs where you want nothing more but to make a dramatic exit, stage left. The glow of burning bridges will leave you feeling euphoric for a short time.
But resist. In the long run, leaving those bridges in place as you walk away will be more useful. Because the bad stuff fades. And the good stuff lasts. And you never know when you might want to renew a relationship.
Develop relationships for their own sake, not for what they can do for you. Cultivate friendships with interesting people you admire. Understand the time and attention you give is equal to the pleasure you’ll get.
As a fundraiser, you’ll spend a career building relationships for your organizations. These are not necessarily personal friendships. (Though it happens.)
Seek out the donors on the sidelines. Listen well. What you learn will help you connect them to your organization’s work. And don’t walk away once a gift is made. Value your donors as people, not gifts. You’ll do more good and raise more money.
Chances are you won’t begin as a superstar. Your work will sometimes be boring or hard. Remember no matter how insignificant your job feels there’s always something to learn. And no matter how little experience you have, there’s always something you can offer. Want to move up? Figure out how to do the job you have better and faster. Then ask to use the spare time to learn more.
It’s a big, scary, exciting world out there. And it needs you. Come do good things. I promise, it will be worth it.