By Lisa Gibert, eAdvancement Principal
Having worked in community college fundraising for more than 20 years – as a CFO and a CEO – I learned valuable lessons applicable to fundraisers and leaders of any size non-profit organization.
While fundraising at a community college (or other small non-profit organization) has its challenges, it can be even more rewarding and meaningful work if you do these five things:
- Recognize that your work is long-term. Philanthropy can quickly be reduced into data points of amounts raised, the number of donors, and constituents served. It can lead to a roller coaster ride of emotions for executives, with undue emphasis on short-term wins. To manage this tendency, I focused on the long-term, strategic “why” that integrated our work into the overall framework of the college and the community. Remember that your job is to position the institution to meet its mission…indefinitely.
- Never apologize for building a skilled team that is compensated appropriately. Just because you’re a non-profit does not mean you should sacrifice and scrimp on staffing and compensation. If we expect a nonprofit to perform exceptionally, boards, donors, and our communities must recognize that it takes expertise – a trait well worth compensating for.
- Be authentic. Share your insights, vulnerabilities, and expectations, and your team will rise to the occasion and respect you more than you may have thought possible. In addition to hiring people from diverse backgrounds, seek diverse perspectives, skills, and motivations – and celebrate those differences. Finally, hire those with a teaching and learning mindset so that continuous improvement becomes what binds the team together.
- Dare to dream. I love puzzles and challenges, and some of the fondest and most rewarding work comes when I ask, “Why not” or “What if.….” I like to start philanthropic relationships with the “why” and what objectives donors are attempting to accomplish. By dreaming big and being vulnerable with donors, your conversations can often take inspirational turns.
- Give yourself generously. Of course, you dedicate yourself to your work, but where and how do you give back your time, talent, and treasure? By being the example, you want to see in the world; you model how philanthropists can change communities and the world. In addition to making a significant difference to the organizations you serve, giving yourself generously will fill your life and work with enhanced meaning…and make you eager to start your essential work each day.
I would not be who I am today were it not for the people I worked with – colleagues, volunteers, board members, and donors – and all I learned while at the Clark College Foundation. So, my closing advice is this: Seize the opportunities you have every day to grow and learn from those around you.