Nonprofit Fundraising – 10 Things I’ve Learned was written by Jim Eskin of Eskin Fundraising Training. Let’s see what he has to share.
For more than 15 years, I’ve dreamed of becoming a fundraising trainer/consultant. In May 2018, we took the plunge and launched Eskin Fundraising Training. This is for sure: It’s keeping me busy and I’m enjoying every minute. Over that period, I’ve led close to 100 workshops and board training sessions for non-profit staff, board members, volunteers, donors and friends. Anyone who has joined us knows that I embrace the concept of a learning community. In other words, I and other subject matter experts have knowledge and insights to share, but so do the non-profit representatives who comprise the audience. We all learn from one another. To borrow a favorite expression from my lifelong friend, Dr. Chuck Pozner, the answers are nearly always in the room.
The last 18 months have been an extraordinary experience in making a wide range of new friends throughout the non-profit sector. It also has provided an extraordinarily rich laboratory to observe, learn from, and be inspired by non-profit leaders.
Here are some of the primary lessons I’ve gleaned:
- There is immeasurable passion and energy in the non-profit sector. This is in evidence from the commitment and determination of both paid professionals and board members and volunteers who contribute so much without being paid. In fact, typically these board members and volunteers are generous donors to their organizations.
- The secret behind this immeasurable reservoir of energy is that both staff and volunteers are so personally and profoundly lifted by the various causes they serve. They’re not drained by these labors; quite the opposite they emerge refreshed and stronger to meet the daily challenges of their personal and professional lives. What most impresses me is their boundless optimism and infectious attitude. Such conviction and positive attitudes drive successful fundraising as much as anything.
- Confucius was right a long time ago when he observed: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I might remember, involve me and I will understand.” We make our training experiential and as interactive as possible by role-playing the ask and overcoming objections, practicing elevator speeches, identifying prospects and other learning exercises.
- I admit I’m guilty of using too many clichés, but this one is so true: If you want something done, assign it to a busy person. Time after time, non-profit leaders somehow find and make the time for an endless list of projects, activities and to-do items.
- You don’t necessarily need an extra-large army to drive the mission and make a difference. Give me a small but fully committed and unified board, committee or task force and it’s amazing what can and will be accomplished.
- While humility is a virtue, it can and does sway judgment. For example, I know many donors who stretch their budgets to make $1,000 gifts, but don’t consider themselves philanthropists. They think that lofty title is only for billionaires who can make mega-gifts. They’re wrong. A philanthropist is anyone who voluntarily donates money, regardless of the amount and/or time to improve the lot of others.
- Non-profit staff and volunteers consistently show an insatiable appetite to learn more. Most of those attending our workshops recognize their fundraising limitations. They show up on time and stay until the end, listen intently, take notes and ask great questions. I welcome their candor. Too many times, administrators and board members don’t admit a lack of fundraising confidence, and that can be a huge hindrance. To overcome the fear of asking for a gift, you need to put such fear on the table and know that it’s perfectly normal and shared by most people.
- After my work with hundreds of fundraising newbies, I’m more convinced than ever that we can take a non-profit professional or volunteer who has the Jeffersonian virtues of a knowing head and an honest heart and is willing to learn, and turn them into a productive fundraiser. We wipe away the fear of the unknown and replace it with comfort and confidence.
- Keep in mind that people can contribute mightily to resource development success without ever having to ask for a gift themselves. They can play indispensable roles by introducing prospective donors from their personal and professional networks to their favorite causes. When the time is right, staff and other board members can step in to make the solicitation.
- Fundraising is a creative endeavor constantly changing and evolving to meet requirements of different projects, organizations and donors. We teach principles, strategies and best practices, but one size does not fit all. Success is fully achieved when our lessons are customized and adapted to meet each challenge at hand.
This is very much a work in progress. We’re learning every day how to best prepare non-profit friends to be more effective fundraisers. I’ll return to my opening comments … I’m loving the journey!
Jim Eskin’s leadership roles span more than 30 years in fundraising, public affairs and communications in the San Antonio area. During his career, he established records for gifts from individuals at three South Texas institutions of higher learning. He enjoys training non-profit boards on fundraising best practices and overcoming the fear of asking for gifts. His consulting practice Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his fundraising workshops and provides the training, coaching and support services that non-profits need to compete for and secure private gifts. He has authored more than 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers and business journals across the country, and publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription. He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which was recently released and can be purchased here.
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