[The quote by Rene Descartes is to underline the trouble to find the alleged perfection (which I think does not belong to Earth ... luckily, I would say), even regarding the professional dimension. However, talking about perfection - and this is the sense of the title of the blogpost - I have used the number 3, like the characteristics mentioned below, that, in my view, make a fundraiser a "good fundraiser.]
The end of the year is always a time for taking stock: to look back at what happened and what we did in the previous twelve months, to draw conclusions and to look ahead to the next twelve months.
As the years go by, instead of dividing time up into periods I tend to take a more fluid approach. Yes, of course, 31 December is a “symbolic” date, but I like to think of it in the context of a passage of time that doesn’t necessarily need life to be classified into pluses and minuses.
Putting these philosophical considerations to one side, however, I should like to close 2019 and begin 2020 by reflecting on a question that has given me – indeed, given us – particular pause for thought and discussion, and that is, “what makes a fundraiser?”.
Not so much in terms of a simple list of the qualities required of a professional fundraiser, as in terms of the characteristics that make a fundraiser a good fundraiser.
So for once I want to move away from the blog’s focus on Boards and fundraising, and present a reflection built up over the last few months through the meetings attended and the work undertaken during the year.
In February, I shared views on the fundraiser profession during a bilingual conversation (Italian-French) at Assif Day.
I discussed the question with the director of an international foundation we are working with to develop a plan for the introduction of fundraisers.
I compared notes with colleagues from around the world at the latest IFC in the Netherlands.
And I returned to the matter when I re-read one of the questions at the end of the session on Boards and Fundraising at the fundraising festival in May; in substance, it asked: “How does one you become a good fundraiser?”
This is a question that comes up frequently, every time we are involved in training or when we meet colleagues, especially younger colleagues. And it is a question to which, over the years, I have sought not a single, monolithic answer, but one that would reflect the multifaceted characteristics that, in my opinion, distinguish “a fundraiser” from “a good fundraiser”.
So today I’d like to identify three of the characteristics that galvanise me when I encounter them in the people I meet in the course of my work.
Being a fundraiser means, first of all, grasping the essence and the essential (of a mission, a project, an activity, an objective) and transforming them into an instrument to make them sustainable. In other words, it means being open-minded – the only thing that makes it possible to maintain an “enthusiasm” for your work on a daily basis.
It means understanding that while you have your own method (of doing things, of working, of tackling problems), other methods exist, which may be quite different but are no less valid for that. And wanting to go and see what happens if you try to shift your focus, to change your perspective.
Curiosity enables you to “be in the world”, to live it, to experience it, to let yourself be contaminated by it. This is a quality a fundraiser has to have. Because this type of work consists of daily routines, of immersion in one’s mission in relation to everything surrounding it with all its many facets.
Curiosity is antithetical to the principle of dogmas (that’s the way it’s always been done). And even more so to monads, people who live exclusively in their own world, with a sense of awareness, but independently of what goes on outside themselves.
In short, it is the desire to see what lies beyond, to broaden one's horizons in order to look for “new possible possibilities”.
- A concrete approach
I have always found fundraising’s typical mix of theory and practice to be a good combination, because I need to understand the big picture – to analyse, establish principles, identify models and formats, devise a development plan – but also to move on to a practical level, bringing all the talk down to earth so that I can generate change through action.
Recently, I have often found myself quoting a remark by Walt Disney, which I read in the very interesting book “Rebel talent. Why it Pays to Break the Rules (at Work and in Life)” by Francesca Gino. He said “the only way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing”.
That's exactly the point: we always have to reason, reflect and plan, but then we have to act too.
A good fundraiser, then, needs to get their hands dirty, to test themselves – in relations with people, with requests, when people say no, with everything that comes up on a daily basis. In their own particular area of competence, of course, but on the understanding that you get to be a good fundraiser by “doing” fundraising. This also means testing yourself against your own limits: they don't necessarily have to be overcome, but once you know what they are, you develop awareness.
- Last but not least – and without this I think being a fundraiser is inconceivable:
Of course, everyone will have days when their passion runs higher than on other days, but the desire to improve certain situations – those that form the basis of the mission of the organisations we work for – is the driver for everything we do.
The driver that keeps us stubbornly on track despite the difficulties.
That makes us say “let’s try”.
That makes us arrange hundreds of meetings or phone calls to get a yes.
That makes us angry when we hear the usual platitudes about nonprofit.
That brings us to our knees in the run-up to Christmas (usually) with all the work on the end-of-year campaigns and the checks and phone calls to get feedback on the donations coming in.
And that has us jumping for joy when we see our projects and targets getting a little bit closer, within our reach. Because that’s why we do it, isn't it?
In this year-end reflection, then, these are the three “never again withouts” I am taking with me (we are taking with us) into 2020 from all the stories we have listened to, the people we have met, the projects we have completed, those we will set up in the coming months as well as those that won’t be included – because awareness also means abandoning ideas that have no prospects.
I am aware that being a good fundraiser involves far more than these qualities – and please write and tell us about your point of view – because our job is a complex and multifaceted one (luckily for us!).
And perhaps we will come back to the question in the future, who knows.
Well, no year draws to a close without festive greetings… Happy New Year to you all – may it be a year of curiosity, concreteness and passion! - from all of us at ENGAGEDin!