Some people behave as though they were natural born fundraisers, confidently approaching and bringing in both big and small donors with what looks like total ease. Most people working in the non-profit sector, however, have to work hard at acquiring the skills that make them successful at asking for donations. They read books, go to seminars, and take classes to hone the skills necessary to make fundraising a more profitable and manageable endeavor.
For anyone who’s looking to go back to school for advanced coursework or to finish a degree that got sidelined years earlier, there are many aspects of higher education that actually prepare you for fundraising, especially if you intentionally orient yourself toward that end. Here are 6 aspects of an advanced degree that — if you let them extend beyond your schoolwork — can get you ready to fundraise.
1. Relationships Are Key
One of the best parts of higher education is the development of relationships with peers and faculty. Far from just being interesting and stimulating, however, these relationships can hold the key to your success as a student. Your peers can encourage you and challenge you to work harder and learn more, whether you’re working to finish up a degree online or you’re taking classes at your local community college.
Likewise, interacting with professors can help keep you on track in your classes, especially when it comes to negotiating difficult assignments. In a similar way, developing and maintaining relationships are vital to fundraising success.
2. Always Show Up
Attending every class and study session is an easy way to put yourself on the path to a successful higher education experience, and that same rule of thumb applies to fundraising. Every meeting, every conference call, every email, every phone call, every quarterly report — the most successful fundraisers always show up, every time, with their work in hand and completed.
This practice, which can be honed with an advanced degree, allows them to always be where they need to be when the opportunity to develop a relationship, ask for money, appeal for help or otherwise advance their cause, arises. Good fundraisers, like good students, do the work in front of them every time.
3. Learn to Listen
Listening is one of the most essential skills a good student must practice if she is going to enjoy a high level of learning and the good grades that usually accompany it, and a good fundraiser does the same. Far too often, fundraisers assume they are the only ones with information that needs to be heard and acted upon.
While it’s true that information must be disseminated, donors and potential donors have their own stories, concerns, and ideas that need to be listened to as well. Successful fundraisers — like the best students — listen more than they talk, because they know that valuable information lies within the people whose help they need, and the only way they’ll be able to ascertain it is through listening.
4. Hard Work Pays Off
Finishing an advanced degree takes a lot of dedication and hard work, but it really, really pays off. People with college degrees have more employment opportunities and make more over the course of their careers than with just a high school education. Working hard as a fundraiser really pays off, too, albeit in different ways.
Fundraising is difficult. The hours can be long, and the work can be complex, but without the hard work, you won’t raise the funds your organization needs. The key is to keep your eye on the end result — the same approach good students take when working hard to finish a college degree.
5. Preparation is Essential
If a student doesn’t properly prepare for quizzes, tests, presentations, and projects, he’ll quickly find his hopes of attaining a college degree dashed. Preparation is essential in all aspects of higher education and fundraising is the same. Do your homework before every cold call, presentation and email newsletter.
Without proper preparation, your efforts will inevitably fall short — just one more way in which a solid run at getting your degree prepares you to fundraise well.
6. Don’t Get Behind
One of the ways in which students trying to get their degree routinely sabotage their efforts is by falling so far behind in a class that there is no way to meaningfully catch up. As a fundraiser, your calendar will be even fuller and more demanding than it was when you were finishing your degree, which means: Putting anything off will result in your falling behind. Don’t skip or delay making phone calls, doing research, planning meetings or attending conferences. Unless you stay on top of your own schedule, the work you’re doing will crumble.
Becoming a successful fundraiser takes a lot of work, training and dedication, and one of the most natural ways you can get some of the characteristics it requires is by finishing up or advancing beyond a four-year degree.