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No One Belongs Here More Than You: How Fundraising Professionals Can Fight Imposter Syndrome

By Juliana Weissbein posted 02-22-2021 08:09


We’ve all had that sinking feeling before. You just nailed a presentation to your board of directors or submitted a perfect grant proposal, yet you can’t quite seem to shake the feeling that you could have done more or that someone more qualified could have done better.

If this sounds familiar, you may have experienced impostor syndrome: the low, constant rumbling of insecurity that strikes even the most successful among us. It’s the feeling that you are not good enough, you don’t belong, or that you aren’t worthy of the gift you asked for in that grant proposal.

It is important to acknowledge that the symptoms of impostor syndrome may be exacerbated in fundraising professionals who belong to underrepresented populations within our field.

People of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, or anyone else who may not readily have a role model in their workplace with whom they can identify might feel inadequate, despite having strong qualifications and accomplishments.

For fundraisers in these populations, impostor syndrome can complicate an already challenging trajectory in which feelings of isolation may be in play.

To help combat impostor syndrome, it is crucial to validate these feelings and seek out mentors with whom you can identify. Conversely, if you hold a senior position, or you identify similarly to the majority in your community, it is critical to create space and opportunities for colleagues by actively recruiting, promoting, and retaining members of underrepresented populations in all areas of the nonprofit sector.

One of the best ways to work through impostor syndrome is to seek out leadership opportunities and network whenever possible. Is there a board on which you can serve? Does your local AFP chapter offer professional development opportunities? If not, can you approach the board to take the lead in developing the content?

Another way to combat impostor syndrome is to pursue professional development opportunities that will distinguish you from your peers and prove that you are a dedicated, well-rounded, and competent fundraiser. Examples include attaining your CFRE certification, starting a fundraising blog, presenting at conferences, contributing to the advancement of our profession by volunteering with your local professional organization, or pursuing a master’s degree in fundraising or nonprofit management.

No matter your method, taking a strategic approach to your fundraising career empowers you to leverage your skills, shift in new directions, and excel in the field.

The validation you will receive after a job well-done will be verifiable proof that you are the best person to do this work. The more opportunities you give yourself to succeed, the sooner the feelings of impostor syndrome will dissipate, and you will recognize that you are capable and worthy of the success you achieve.

Juliana M. Weissbein, CFRE

Associate Director, Development Operations

Planned Parenthood Federation of America




03-15-2022 15:24

Thank you for this post! I am currently our community health organization's Interim Executive Foundation Director. Our organization is a start-up- so aside from being new at this role, we are learning to establish the brand, strategy, grow a board, and operationalize. I have only recently come to realize that despite my experience in fundraising, board development, community impact, and volunteerism, imposter syndrome is actually my biggest challenge. I appreciate your words of wisdom and especially the advice at the end of your post.
On a personal note, I decided to sit down with a mentor (retired and very admired Executive Foundation Director) last week to get some perspective. I felt a little more comfortable and- dare I say confident? Then, I was off to lunch to have a learning conversation with a Board Member....Let's just say that the learning curve from the many hats I have worn prior to this position is certainly steep.
Thank you again.

02-24-2021 19:34

Thank you Juliana for posting this topic.  I find the more I delve into my philanthropic career the "imposter" feelings come up.  I started late in life almost 50 when I found out how much I love fundraising.  I also have disabilities (not all seen) and those contribute to the feelings. 

This was the second type of message in as many weeks.  Time to stop thinking of "faking it till you make it" and instead OWN IT as you make it.  We are in our positions because we have skills and something to bring to the table.  Time to start believing in ourselves and not comparing ourselves to anyone else.