A friend of mine has been a professional fundraiser for over 30 years. She has worked for many nonprofits raising millions of dollars. When she got her first fundraising job, her father said to her “They PAY you to do this?!!” Yes, they paid her. It is a profession. There are university degrees in Philanthropy as well as fundraising certifications. My friend has her CFRE, which means she is a Certified Fund Raising Executive. It took her 5 years of being in the profession before she could even take the exam. It cost hundreds of dollars and several hours to take the exam, not counting all the classes, seminars, webinars, conferences and experience she had to have before she took the exam.
What do you think of when you think of fundraising? Children selling candy bars for school activities? Running in a race for pledges to support a local charity? A golf scramble? A chili cook-off? A dinner and auction? This is what most people think of and events are a way to raise money. They are also a nice way to ‘friend raise”. A nonprofit raises awareness of their mission through fundraising events. They increase their donor base and fundraising events are fun!
We may like to attend events but have you ever thought of what goes in to making them happen? It takes many hours to plan, organize and put on an event. There is physical work involved as well as coordinating many different aspects of an event. Events are a fragile way to raise money. What does that mean? Well, think of it; what if people don’t show up, the weather is bad the day of the event, or people don’t support the event for one reason or another? There are costs associated with events such as paying for the rental of the venue, food, speakers, licenses, alcohol and prizes. The return on investment can be low because of this. Don’t get me wrong, events are very important to a nonprofit.
Fundraising is more than events
Fundraising is so much more than events. It is cultivating relationships with individuals who give to your nonprofit. It is displaying good stewardship to these donors by recognition, appreciation and heart felt gratitude. Direct mailings, major gifts from individuals, corporations and foundations, capital, special and endowment campaigns, and planned giving through estate or bequests are all a part of fundraising. There is an art to fundraising and it is not for the ‘faint of heart’. It is not easy for everyone to ask for money. That is a very important part of my job and of every fundraiser’s job. All of these avenues take dedication, commitment, and a passion for a nonprofit’s mission.
I am a professional fundraiser. I have over 7 years of experience in this field, and have worked at two nonprofits including Wings of Hope Hospice. I also am responsible for fundraising for a separate nonprofit, the Wings Home. I oversee the Development program at both agencies and am responsible for making sure over $650,000 is raised each year.
As a professional fundraiser, I am conscious of increasing my knowledge, especially in regards to my chosen field. I have attended numerous classes, seminars, webinars and conferences. I have successfully completed two courses through The Fund Raising School, a professional development part of The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. I would like to complete two additional courses to attain my Certificate in Fundraising Management through this school. I am studying to take my CFRE exam. I want those letters behind my name! More importantly, I want the respect that I hope will come, if not from the general public, at least from my peers. I want that sense of satisfaction that I have accomplished a goal that I have set for myself. I also want to know that I really do know what I am talking about when it comes to fundraising!
There are many great avenues for a professional fundraiser to gain more knowledge in their field. One of my favorites is The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy. This academic center of Grand Valley State University is located in downtown Grand Rapids. They use original research, tools, trainings, and more to provide guidance in the field of philanthropy. Classes and seminars are held on campus and in various other venues as requested. The classes are affordable, interactive and I have found them to be very beneficial as well as enjoyable.
The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) “fosters development and growth of fundraising professionals and promotes high ethical standards in the fundraising profession1. I am proud to be a member of the West Michigan Chapter of AFP. With over 230 chapters worldwide AFP is making sure that the art of philanthropy is being advanced. They offer education and certification programs such as the CFRE certification. I especially enjoy National Philanthropy Day where philanthropists are recognized and honored.
The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University was founded in 1987. Led by the Center, Indiana University established the field of philanthropic studies; established the nation’s first bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in the field. The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indiana was established in 2012 and was the first school of its kind solely dedicated to the study and teaching of philanthropy. Going to this school would be a dream come true! As I have to work full time and do not want to leave my current job at Wings of Hope it is not in my future. I do hope for the day when I can get an online degree from this school. What an accomplishment that would be. Who knows! Someday I my even try to get a PhD in Philanthropic Studies!
Are you interested in a career in fundraising? Do you want to do research on philanthropy or get a degree in nonprofit management? Check out your local colleges and universities and ask about what they have to offer.
The friend I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? She now has her own consulting business. She shares her 30+ years of expertise with agencies who respect her knowledge and experience. Her father is no longer alive, but she still faces the question, even if it is not spoken, “we have to pay you to do this?” Seriously!? Seriously.
Here is to a better world, where the passion we have for doing good in a nonprofit setting will be recognized, appreciated and respected. Where would these nonprofits be without a dedicated fundraising professional? Look around you. Do you know of a nonprofit that is struggling? Do they have a professional fundraiser? If not, they should. Show them this blog. Tell them to call or email me. Or show this blog to your Director. Find out how much good a professional fundraiser can do for your nonprofit. Fundraising is an exciting and fulfilling job. It is a profession. I am so happy that it is my chosen profession.
Betty Jo Ferry
Director of Development
Wings of Hope Hospice/Wings Home
1Retrieved from ww.afpnet.org
Photo credit: Craig Gardiner Photography