My Personal Principles as a Fundraiser, by Tanya Pietrkowski
My website is a work in progress, just as my consulting business is. Thanks to my daughter who noticed that the template language was showing in the Blog section. As a result, I decided to write my first blog and solve that issue on the website. I welcome a dialogue and this is my personal opinion. You can reach me at email@example.com.
1. The relationship comes before the money
Maybe you’ve heard the adage that “friends give to friends” and that is absolutely true. My recommendation is remember the relationship first and the money will follow. We often get hung up on having the perfect ask or elevator speech, when it mainly comes down to who is asking. If the solicitation is done well, the ask is seamless. And keep in mind, that the ask is only 5% of the fundraising process.
Rather than go further into fundraising theory, I want to reference a conversation I had with my board (along with many fundraisers) in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. So many of us saw a large drop in our corporate funding and had to cancel our fundraising events. I told the board that we needed to remember our relationships and keep our family of supporters updated and close to the organization's work that has been so impactful during the pandemic. The important thing is to groom your organization’s family of support for when that reinvestment comes and things normalize again, hopefully.
2. Money will be left on the table at times and that is just fine
Based on my relationships with donors, I do not always ask for the most I could get, but rather what strategically makes sense for the agency and the donor. It’s a partnership investment that requires listening and thoughtfulness.
3. People see authenticity
I have heard other fundraisers send birthday cards and gifts. I do what feels genuine for me such as sending along a note on an article that will interest them, personalizing gift acknowledgment letters, attending important occasions, sending annual reports, and more. However, I don't usually reach out to my extended family on their birthdays, so why is that better for me to do on behalf of donors? Don’t be afraid to be authentically yourself, in a professional way, of course.
4. Don’t judge the quality of a fundraiser by the size of their budget
There is an assumption in the fundraising world that your talent is based on your job title and institutional prominence—it can be a prejudice that determines job opportunities. Yet, some of the most talented fundraisers I have encountered come from small shops where they have to cover all facets of the department. At times, the miracle is getting tasks done and every dollar raised is celebrated.
Every frontline development professional worth their salt can creatively ask for money. It’s just that some asks are bigger than others. Fundraisers need to be able to sell their mission in a motivational way that can excite a room on the vision.
Inclusive fundraising appreciates the wide range of experience to be gained in our field and respects fundraisers as skilled, regardless of the size of their operation.
5. Be fearless
It’s easy for a board or executive director to be nervous about pursuing the unknown when it comes to raising new dollars for new projects. They might be naturally risk-adverse, afraid of rejection, be unsure of the organization's vision, or hold a dislike of fundraising. As fundraisers, we have the opportunity to provide reassurance and strategically address these challenges while pushing to be unafraid to embrace the future. Changing minds might entail multiple conversations, utilizing a consultant, building consensus, drafting several iterations of a case statement, and projecting the funding possibilities (which can feel like a shot in the dark, if we are being honest). On the other hand, if the organization leadership is unrealistic on what is possible, having the ability to gently confront those expectations is also important.
6. Have faith
Believe in the possibilities of what you are capable of doing, even when you don’t know how you are going to get there. Your optimism will be infectious. And, even with the giving pyramid, the path will be unpredictable and wonderfully surprising. Leave yourself and your organization open to the unexpected—regardless of disappointments.