How did you get your start in fundraising?
The new edition of Contributions Magazine is out. In it you’ll find my latest article, “Getting your Start in Fundraising.” For the article, I asked a few fundraisers I know how they got started and what advice they would give to those entering the field. Unfortunately, Contributions doesn’t put all of the articles online so you’ll have to wait a few weeks to read it if you aren’t a subscriber. I’ll post the article to the TOOLBOX section of our website.
How did I get started in fundraising? I was an activist volunteer with the RI office of the American Friends Service Committee back in the mid 70s. Most of the local offices received a very small budget (about $3,000 per office) to run their programs. The RI office had an agreement that they would raise their own funding. Through a combination of program events, spaghetti dinners, some literature sales and a bit of direct mail, the office raised about $20,000 a year and I got to help. Through that organizing, I cofounded Women for a Non-Nuclear Future and continued to assist in grassroots fundraising activities as a volunteer.
Around 1983, I saw a newspaper ad and applied for a job with Foster Parents Plan (now PLAN USA) . I was hired in part largely gbecause of the fundraising skills I had acquired as a volunteer that fit with the PLAN fundraising approach …? I could write compelling copy — which, as a national organization with over 70,000 donors, was a big part of the fundraising job. PLAN invested in my professional development and there I learned heavy duty marketing, advertising and organization development … including direct response fundraising through mail, print, TV, planned giving, donor stewardship, communications, branding, corporate identity, fundraising analytics, strategic and business planning, research, budgeting, etc, etc. I was responsible for raising about $3 million in additional [child] sponsorships and special contributions annually from our current donors.
It wasn’t until I joined Save The Bay that I really learned and refined face-to-face cultivation and solicitation (individuals, businesses and private foundations) and special event organizing. While I wrote my first successful government grants at PLAN (3 for 3 🙂 , totaling about $750,000), I really honed that skill, including program development, at Save The Bay.
Along the way, I had great teachers — from the activists at AFSC to the professionals we were surrounded with at PLAN (staff, board, colleagues and some pretty amazing consultants and vendors), to the really fabulous volunteers and philanthropists at STB. I also benefited greatly from my colleagues at the Association of Fundraising Professionals, in which I’ve been a member since 1988.
How did you start? Who helped you along the way?