Over the last two years, I’ve gotten to speak with fundraisers from all over the world, and there’s something they all have in common that resonates with me.
Every fundraiser I've met has a reason for doing the work they do.
My behaviorist psychology professors in college would say “Of course, we all have reasons for everything we do!” but it’s deeper than that. It’s beyond circumstance, compensation, or natural skill sets (though those things do matter).
Fundraisers (and nonprofit workers in general) are some of the most intrinsically motivated people I’ve ever met.
Behind the career of nearly every director of development, major gifts officer, fundraiser, and database administrator is a story about why they work in the not-for-profit sector. A personal story that drove them to reach higher in their career. To aspire to make an impact. To change the world for the better.
“When I was 14, my friend Val was diagnosed with Leukemia. Val was kind, smart, artistic, just an amazing human being. Val died a few short months after being diagnosed. I felt so angry, so powerless. But then I started raising money for cancer research. It gave me something positive to do, to remember her. I will never be an oncologist, or a researcher, but fundraising is something I CAN do to make the world a better place. I am a fundraiser because I want to give the donors I work with the chance to do good in the world. Because I know how great that feels.”
Understanding this is central to understanding the not-for-profit world; that there is something to work for beyond profit and personal gain.
Unfortunately, many people use this as justification for underpaying (see: undervaluing) what nonprofits do. This is manifested in the standard overemphasis on low overhead, and hand-wringing about CEO pay, but also in the way we (often condescendingly) offer advice to nonprofits and tell them to “act more like a business.”
“I work in fundraising because it makes me fire on all cylinders. I get to be creative – thinking about how art can inspire philanthropy. I get to be psychological – using copy to pull on heartstrings and motivate donors to take action. I get to be strategic – who should I contact with what message through what channel and why? I get to be innovative – with so much noise in the market, what can I do to break through? And most importantly, I get to do good – I get to help organizations changing the world to do what they do.”
Yet it’s businesses that are now falling over themselves trying to align with missions beyond maximizing shareholder value. It took them awhile, but they’re starting to come around to the idea that this might help them retain talented workers, endear them to customers, and you know...be good for the world in which they also must exist.
This is something that nonprofits (and fundraisers) figured out a long time ago.
“I'm a fundraiser because people look for meaning in life, and philanthropy is often an expression of meaning and values. I also enjoy been big a matchmaker between dreams of a better world and people who are willing to do it.”
-Beth Ann Locke
Nonprofits in general don’t get the recognition they deserve, but I feel like this is doubly true for development workers. They’re often behind the scenes, juggling multiple responsibilities, and building relationships that keep the organization afloat. They have to be keen observers of human behavior, expert relationship builders, organized, and efficient workers. So often, they’re pulled in multiple directions by boards, leadership, and donors, yet they power through and keep the mission at heart at all times.
“Perhaps it's cliche, but I’m a fundraiser to pay it forward. I know the profound impact philanthropy has played in my life.”
-Adam Clevenger, CFRE
It’s a privilege to work alongside passionate people like this, and one that I don’t take lightly. Every fundraiser’s story is a challenge to me to step up and do things the right way. It’s a reminder that the stakes are higher in this community than they are in others. That even in my small role, fundraisers deserve my very best effort.
“I fundraise because I want to ask on behalf of those who are too scared, timid, or for whatever reason can't ask on their own, but need to.”
So why do fundraisers do what they do?
To turn the pain of loss into the power of change.
To connect with others on a level unmatched by any other profession.
To challenge themselves, and the world, to dig deep and do more than survive.
To repay the generosity they were shown in the past.
“I fundraise because I lost my brother to cancer, and it changed my life.”
-Bryn Warner, CFRE
Above all, I’d argue that fundraisers fundraise because they have a deep sense of duty and obligation. They see wrongs in the world that we all know should be made right, and they feel a duty to make that happen.
“I fundraise because nonprofits are engines of change and it's an honor to tell stories that inspire donors.”
Diseases that cut a life short. Injustice committed against a fellow citizen. Opportunities denied to marginalized people. Educational institutions fighting to enlighten the next generation. Carelessness that threatens our environment.
“I fundraise because it allows me to help individuals transform their wealth into real societal change. Whether it is their first charitable gift or their 100th, their joy at making others' lives better is palpable and deeply rewarding.”
Fundraisers step up to make change in a real, tangible way. They make it their business to change the world. That kind of deep dedication and “give a crap” attitude can seem rare in today’s world, where many seem satisfied with commentating from the sidelines. But it’s there, working in development departments all over the world. Working hard, day in and day out, to make a difference.
Here’s to you, fundraisers. Thanks for making change your business.