Fundraising isn’t a cakewalk. It takes determination, self-belief, and patience to persevere. While there are tough days, there are also jump-for-joy victories that create measurable change for our communities and causes we serve.
Here, CFREs from around the world share with us their advice for someone just starting out in their fundraising career. In the comments below, feel free to share your advice for new fundraising professionals.
Jennifer Atkinson, CFRE
New Westminster, BC, Canada
“There will be moments as a fundraiser when you feel like you’re pushing a boulder up a hill. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Focus your energy on building meaningful and authentic relationships with your donors. Remember to listen, ask thoughtful questions and share the value & importance of their commitment.”
Harvey Green, FAHP, CFRE
Washington, D.C., United States
“In the early stages of my fundraising profession, I realized the value of modeling success. In our work, we think we have to struggle and ‘go at it alone.’ The reality is this: there are great people who have already created a clear path for success. These are the people that we should emulate. Practicing what has worked—rather than re-inventing the wheel—can save you a lot of time and contribute to faster growth.”
Kimberly Karol, CFRE
Spring, TX, United States
“To get more and the most out of your fundraising career, always ask yourself what more can be done to advance your organization’s mission and then do it (using your best judgement, of course).
"Remember that just doing the work is never enough---you need to create opportunities---especially in a world where more is always needed. Proactively identify areas where you can leverage your strengths and passions to make a meaningful difference, and you will get noticed.”
Zahra Karimi, CFRE
Milton, ON, Canada
“Being a Millennial major gifts fundraiser, my biggest challenge was connecting with donors in an authentic way. I spent endless time crafting emails, and yet, most went unanswered. My supervisor gave me a transformational piece of advice: “Pick up the phone, and give them a call.” The idea of calling someone out of the blue terrified me. I was certain I’d upset many long-time donors. It’s been over a year of following her advice, and not only have I closed several six-figure gifts, I’ve built more authentic connections with donors than I ever could via email."
Shelley Keach, CFRE
Christchurch, New Zealand
“The key things, for me starting out, was joining the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand (FINZ) and attending conferences where I met other fundraisers. Within these networks I found guidance, colleagues, and friends who all helped me on my way.
“I would also encourage anyone to get some qualifications. By studying and therefore learning the art of fundraising, you become more employable. An employer sees you as legitimate and you have qualifications which show you are a professional fundraiser.”
Vincent Law, CFRE, MInstF(Dip)
“No matter how new or experienced you are as a fundraiser, there is always new knowledge to learn from others. Be humble and willing to help others. Others will always come back to help you. Trust other team members. Team successes are greater than the sum of individual ones.”
Betsy Mehlman, CFRE
Bet Shemesh, Israel
“Connect with professionally-minded peers as soon as possible. There are excellent associations that offer fantastic resources and a willingness to share expertise and knowledge freely. It's a great way to supplement your learning as you become familiar with the organization you have joined. A focus on best practices will build your confidence. While pursuing your CFRE may appear like an ambitious goal when you first start out, it's never too soon to think about investing in your own professional growth.”
Graham Papenfus, CFRE, F.IDPE
Bath, United Kingdom
"As someone new to fundraising, everything is new and everyone wants everything yesterday--sound familiar? The biggest challenge I have always faced starting in a new position is managing expectations--from the Headmaster, Governors, Senior Management, Common Room, volunteers, donors, and your team.
"Talk openly about what is expected and manage these as your program grows! Nothing can kill a program more than unrealistic expectations."
Brenda Ray Scott, CFRE
Portland, OR, United States
“Early in my fundraising career, I was encouraged to build trust by taking initiative and following through with colleagues, donors, and volunteers. Later, I was able to take that concept further by having a growth mindset to be a connector, to be a builder. Think opportunity and abundance. That mindset will keep you focused and encouraged when things are going well and even when they are not.”
Pamela Sutton-Legaud, MBA, CFRE, FFIA
Williamstown North, Victoria, Australia
One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a mentor to: "know my numbers." She advised that if I can’t explain my projections or results in financial terms, I will lose many in my audience who, for the most part, don't understand fundraising. The second piece of advice is "get a mentor." Someone you trust who will give you "real" advice that will help you progress. I am forever grateful to my usually non-official mentors who have helped me along my career journey.
Tycely Williams, CFRE
Springfield, VA, United States
“Give yourself permission to rest. Building relationships, closing solicitations, and hosting events is hard work. If you want to succeed, you will need more rest and less work. As you plan the work and work the plan, incorporate daily breaks. Step away from your laptop, power down the cell, and silence social media. In the still of life, you’ll find the pathway to peace and a needed connection to clarity.”