DRi recently caught up with some highly accomplished placed candidates to offer career advice in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. If you missed the column, check out their suggestions below.
DRi has worked with some of the most talented fundraisers in the business through hundreds of searches for fundraisers at all levels. We know that many people “fall” into a fundraising career and there is no one path to success. But fundraisers can and should take charge of their own career paths, bringing the same level of strategy and discipline to career planning as they bring to their fundraising program.
We recently talked with 5 highly accomplished placed candidates to get their perspectives on critical success factors: Courtney Lobel, Senior Director of Development and Communications, Relief International; Elliot Gaskins, Managing Director of Development, Share Our Strength; Gina Flores Stumpf, Managing Director, Development, The Washington Center; Amanda Marcucci, Donor Relations Manager, Carnegie Institution for Science; and Lily Nguyen, West Coast Development Officer, University of St Andrews.
From mentorship to the surprising payoff of note-taking, here are their insights.
Recalibrate your mentoring network.
Fundraisers are used to finding mentors, because “fundraising is still a place where people have to apprentice,” said Lobel.
But mentorship looks different at the senior levels. While you already know how to make an ask, you may need to learn how to forge consensus in high-level strategy meetings. Gaskins recalls, “the best mentor I’ve had was in a planning meeting one day, with all of leadership there, and in a thoughtful way I pushed back on a viewpoint he expressed. He told me later he had the utmost respect for how I had learned to do that.”
Mentors aren’t just colleagues. Fundraisers can benefit from establishing relationships with recruiters, who can help them think creatively about their careers before they’re looking for a new position and offer a candid perspective on what organizations are seeking. As a Director of Development, Nguyen knew she wanted to do frontline international fundraising, but hadn’t considered raising funds in the U.S. for an institution abroad—until she was recruited to the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
Take a close look at how you work with colleagues outside the development team.
In a recent DRi survey of characteristics sought by non-profit leaders, collaboration was at the top of the list. The chief fundraiser isn’t just an ambassador to donors, but an ambassador to every other department in an organization.
“If a fundraiser can say to a program specialist, ‘my job is to enable you to do your job with as much funds and flexibility as possible, and I want to structure all of my fundraising around that goal,’ that’s a totally different approach that makes you successful,” says Lobel. Flores Stumpf agrees that building bridges internally advances careers: “if you’re organized and take really good notes at meetings, you end up moderating people’s conversations, and that’s one way you build a philanthropic culture.”
Learn to build a team that reflects your non-profit’s values.
To be a successful fundraiser, you need to prove you can not only raise money, but also elicit the best in the people around you by fostering an achievement culture—whether you are managing direct reports or coaching junior staff.
Marcucci saw one leader foster culture in a creative way. “My CEO ran a weekly chat about what was going on in team members’ lives. I discovered it wasn’t just about being sensitive to those things—we were learning to tell stories, which was what our work was all about.”
Any achievement culture has to foster and be sensitive to diversity. Gaskins points out that “today it’s quite likely that an African-American male fundraiser will be the only person of color in donor meetings, at events, and in leadership meetings. The self-awareness and pressure that creates can powerfully affect junior staff.”
To have a one-on-one conversation about your career planning, schedule a conversation with a recruiter at [email protected].