How to Succeed in Fundraising

15 tips to help you work better, raise more money and find greater satisfaction.

By Tom Harrison

Whether you work at a nonprofit organization or at an agency partner, would you like to know the secret to being more successful in your job and your career?

Of course you would … so here you go.

Let’s start with the assumption that you’re honest, smart, always learning and a hard worker. That you have persuasive communication skills. That you’re driven to succeed for your organization and your own career.

If you don’t have that, there’s not much that will help you.

But assuming that you have all that, assuming that you’re honest, smart, hard-working and a good communicator, there are a few other things that can really help you.

My 15 commandments

1. Learn your organization’s business (and your clients’ business if you’re at an agency) more thoroughly than your boss. Know the terminology, the history, the revenue, the programs, the issues and the people. Don’t just know your area of responsibility. Learn the big pic­ture and how what you do fits into it. Pay attention to the details so your boss won’t ever want to go into a meeting with­out checking the facts with you.

2. Know your boss’s (or clients’) likes/dislikes, problems and objectives — and deliver. How does he or she want to be briefed? In writing? Graphs? Verbally? Be super-organized when coming to your supervisor. And get it right! When your boss asks for information, don’t guess. Your boss can guess — probably better than you can. Always bring accurate information or a well-thought-through point of view.

3. Know your boss’s boss’s likes/dislikes/priorities so you understand your supervisor’s needs. You gen­erally have to be responsible for the details, but make sure you understand the big picture of how the details are used. You’ll do a better job. And you’ll learn. And learning is always key to success.

4. No surprises — warn your boss, or client, well in advance if you’re going to miss a deadline or are having a problem. That way there’s time to adjust the schedule or your workload or bring in additional help, depend­ing on priorities.

5. When you go to your boss, or your client, with a problem, have your recommended solution. If you just come with a problem, your supervisor will, thanks to experience, usually know the answer. And it’ll sound logical, even obvious to you. If, instead, you think through the problem and a solution on your own be­fore you come to the meeting, you’ll either be right (which is good) or you’ll be wrong and learn where and why you missed the mark (which is invaluable to your career growth).

6. Get some quick successes. I call that the “bank ac­count model.” Doing things well is like making a deposit into your bank account. Making a mistake is equivalent to making a withdrawal. If you make a bunch of depos­its first, when the day comes that you make a mistake (it will), you’ll have sufficient “funds” to cover it.

7. Be objective, results-oriented, strategic and metic­ulous. Make sure you understand the real objective and why. Your job isn’t to be busy — it’s to meet objec­tives. You can’t do that if you don’t understand the objectives, so ask. Put ev­erything in writing (sta­tus, vendors, deadlines, budgets, approvals). One of my colleagues used to have a sign on her desk that read, “Don’t tell me about your efforts; tell me about your results.” I agree! It’s not about trying hard — it’s about meeting the objectives.

8. Work hard — longer hours than your boss — and enjoy it. If your boss is working longer hours than you are, something is wrong. If your boss notices you working too hard and tells you to go home, that’s bet­ter, isn’t it?

9. Have a positive, can-do attitude. Don’t com­plain. And stay away from negative people who do. Be enjoyable to work with. People work with people they enjoy.

10. Never say anything bad about anyone. Believe me, it’ll get back to that person. Don’t say anything bad about your boss, client, competitor, co-worker. Say good stuff — assuming that it’s true. (By the way, that will get back to them, too.) If there are problems, deal with them honestly, but not behind someone’s back.

11. Ask for more work. Obviously, you have to be handling your current workload effectively. But then branch out by offering to engage on an extra assign­ment where you can learn something new, or partici­pate in something that’s important to management.

12. Request quarterly review sessions with no mon­ey attached. Make it a discussion with your boss on what new things you need to learn to continue growing. That way, when it’s time for your annual review, you’ll have a solid track record of learning and growth.

13. Be loyal to your boss, your organization, your donors and clients.

14. Engage in our industry. Get involved in the DMA Nonprofit Federation and Association of Fund­raising Professionals. Attend the conferences. Learn the issues. Volunteer to be on a committee. Network with other professionals.

15. Inspire confidence. Make sure everyone sees that if he or she gives you an assignment, it’ll get done right, be well-thought-through, and finished on budget and ahead of deadline.

Skills are important, but understanding is even more vital to your long-term success. Skills change, but the abil­ity to think analytically, create strategically and commu­nicate persuasively will always be key to your success.

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