Do you need a new attitude…or a new job?

April 17, 2017

Do you remember Stay or Leave? Pros and Cons of Changing Jobs? If you’ve been in the sector for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced the following…

  • Locking down the ideal job, and then, as if out of the blue, having a micromanaging boss arrive on the scene.
  • Or coping with a cut in state funding.
  • Or learning that you’re not the first in your job. You’re the fifth — in three years. Yikes!
  • Or expected to be a miracle worker, without any support whatsoever
  • Then are the bad vibes that hit you as soon you walk through the door. The demoralization and dysfunction is so thick you can almost cut it with a knife.

Is there hope? Is it curable through time and dedication? Truth: the responsibility can’t be all on you. Donor-centered fundraising isn’t a one-person job. It’s a mission taken head-on, organization-wide, with joy and enthusiasm.

So back to this NonprofitPro article. A fundraiser named Kathleen had inspired me to write it. She emailed me and was seeking some guidance. A supporter of mine, she had begun her job as a fundraiser for an institution of higher learning less than one year ago. She was grappling with their inability to think beyond tired templates and refusal to use donor names, signatures, or personalization of any kind. Virtually every hallmark of donor-focused fundraising was noticeably absent, and this deeply troubled her. She knew the university needed to make a change.

I felt her pain right away. And then I suggested she stay on board. Kathleen had a confidence about her. She knew what to do and had an idea of what the university, who’d only broken even for the last few years, needed to do.

Tom, on the other hand, pointed out that Kathleen’s job was in itself a learning experience. He revealed that his experiences in academic fundraising paralleled what she was going through, indicating that “fundraising ignorance” was the norm in these spaces. He bluntly ended with, “Get out. Get on with your career.”

So what did our dear writer do? Recently I heard back from Kathleen when she updated me on what was going on with her job. The route she went after receiving advice from the both of us may surprise you. I’ll let her tell you her story…

Last fall, I wrote to you about my internal struggle of whether to stay or leave my position at a university that didn’t have a great track record of donor-centered fundraising. You and Tom Ahern wrote this great piece that really helped me figure out what my next move should be. I can happily report that I took the advice of both of you!

I took on a new attitude. For the next month, I worked to be extra grateful and appreciative to my development team. I re-wrote all of our thank you letters. I found a great story about one of our students to use for our next appeal. I sent out a communication survey to the team so I could figure out how to be the best teammate. I stayed late and arrived early and got my hands dirty.

Unfortunately, I was asked to resign at the end of December 2016. The thank you letters were seen as “too much”, the communication survey “unnecessary”, and the appeal “too much time spent”. I was heartbroken–more for the donors than for myself. I spent the next two months actively looking for my next position at an organization where donor-centered fundraising was at the center. I asked specific questions about everything from the culture to the stewardship practices to their favorite donor stories.

As a result, I started a new position a month ago. During my first week, my manager gave me a copy (unprompted) of Penelope Burk’s Donor-Centered Fundraising and said we’d be attending three of her upcoming webinars. There’s an emphasis on storytelling, mission-driven content, and more importantly, the power of thank yous.

So, a big, huge, amazing thank you to both you and Tom for your guidance. I wouldn’t be here without it.

Ahhh, where do I start? I hope that Kathleen’s happy update was as inspirational for you as it was for me. In fact, her email may have even made my week! I was glad to see that both Tom and I were able to provide useful advice. Kathleen’s persistence carried her from a toxic workplace and culture to a healthier nonprofit ripe with juicy opportunities that she can really sink her teeth into.

And I have to tell you that hearing about her manager’s gift of Donor-Centered Fundraising was music to my ears, because Donor-Centered Leadership is the very book much of my programming is centered around. Without question, it’s a happy sign of much this new organization cherishes donor-centered fundraising and the best practices of direct response. Notice how Kathleen asked the right kinds of questions in order to figure out whether the organization was a good fit (maybe they’ll help you). She was totally proactive and took initiative by the reins, scoping out a position that was right for her and what she wanted to do.

She is now in a place where she can be the change, in a culture where she is supported. What about you?

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