Career Keys Blog

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Whether you’re looking to start speaking at conferences to build your personal brand, attract clients, or earn your CFRE Education points more quickly (one hour presenting = two points), throwing your hat in the ring for the first time can feel equal parts exhilarating and nerve-wracking. "For first-time speakers the biggest hurdle is often feeling that you won't be good enough or experienced enough to present. It's important to remember you have as much right to the microphone as anyone else and that we can all benefit from you sharing your experiences, both positive and negative. Don't hold back," says Simon Scriver, co-founder of Everywhere+ and Fundraising ...
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As the leader, I believe it is my job to collaborate with the board to set high but attainable expectations as to how they will function. In my experience, board members want to be involved but they want staff to be in charge and guide them along the way. Fundraising is scary for most volunteers. It is a rare find to recruit a person to the board who is completely comfortable with making the ask. If you have that gem on your board, congratulations! Skills and Assets Starting with a solid nomination and vetting process is key. Taking a “skills and asset” inventory of your current board helps with recruiting. You want a diverse board comprised of people who ...
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The ol’ strategic planning exercise. That time of the year when everyone is in a room fighting for their priorities for the next 12 months. Or is it? Many strategic planning exercises tend to be no more than creating a plan in time to comply with the policy that says we need a plan. As such, they follow a template (often the last strategic plan) which can lead to a box-ticking approach. Instead, a strategic planning exercise should be where governance and leadership get together to determine a common understanding of who they are, where they’re going, each groups’ role in getting there, what it will look like when they do, and how they’ll communicate ...
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It’s no secret many nonprofits struggle with performance management and talent retention. In fact, roughly four out of five nonprofit executives say they lack a dedicated talent retention strategy. This is what makes it so important for nonprofit professionals to act as their own advocates and decisively lead performance conversations. After all, in a sector where many organizations struggle to create a solid infrastructure for rewarding and retaining talent, you may be called upon to help drive the performance management process. In particular, strategically leveraging data can have a big impact on your ability to lead these conversations, demonstrate ...
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An uncertain economy. Markets gyrating. World events looming large. It all feels like a lot. And, oddly familiar. We’ve been here before. In fact, the U.S. economy has undergone 12 financial crises in the last 50 years. That’s one roughly every four years. Whether you’re old enough to have raised money through the “Great Recession,” during the post-9/11 period of very real fear and uncertainty, or were even just working as a fundraiser through the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve been here before and survived. So, let’s not panic! As we navigate this economic period, recession or not, there are a few things I’d encourage every successful fundraiser ...
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Congratulations! Your hard work paid off. Your Chief Development Officer title is not who you are or an indication of success or failure. You were competent and capable before this promotion. Undoubtedly, you will be stronger and wiser after this commitment concludes. Yet, with this present opportunity, you will only exceed expectations with a courageous activation of authenticity. You were chosen because of your unique strengths. As you prepare to plan your work and work your plan, may these five tips broadly influence your beliefs and positively impact your behavior. For these five tips to ring true, integrate wisdom from your lived experiences, rely ...
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When is the best time to solve a problem? Before it happens. If the possibility of a looming recession and its potential impact on your career are keeping you up at night, don’t get anxious—get to work. Ready That Resume Dust off your resume or CV and update it with your recent career wins and accomplishments. As always, have a trusted friend read it over closely to check for grammatical and spelling errors. They can also let you know of any areas where you are selling yourself short. Verify past employers are still operating under the same name as when you worked there. Check you have your references’ current contact information. Level Up Your LinkedIn ...
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Just over one year ago, I found myself bumping up against a new manager who was utterly resistant to my big ideas. I had spent six years working for this charity, building their fund development program, and implementing traditional campaigns alongside new and creative digital initiatives. I loved this charity. I put my heart and soul into my work with them. Suddenly, I found myself consistently hearing the word “no.” I also heard statements like, “That won't work” and, “I would hate that if I were a donor. Frustrated and indignant, I quit in a blaze of glory. She wasn’t even a CFRE! In hindsight, I should have managed things differently. In ...
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Motivating employees who have lost the pep in their step is an exercise in patience, tenacity and flexibility. We have all journeyed through these uncertain times. Even the most dedicated employee has felt unmotivated for days or weeks at a time. Managing people has changed and thank heavens! Punitive, shaming and heavy-handed boss tactics have been replaced with servant leadership. Servant leadership combines listening, empathy, stewardship and collaboration. Those leaders who encourage diversity, create a culture of trust, foster leadership in others, and make the work less about themselves as the leader and more about the work are witnessing firsthand ...
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Over the last few decades, I’ve spoken with a wide variety of fundraising leaders about what they see as key components of their department’s success. Invariably, the topic of supporting professional development for fundraising team members comes up. Some leaders quickly dismiss the value of professional development, seeing it as a “nice to have” rather than a “have to have.” Others are pessimists worried that fundraising professionals who have opportunities to learn will simply take that knowledge and head out the door with the next new employment opportunity that comes along. However, the leaders I’d characterize as exceptional—those who build strong ...
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Before You Leap...

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Several times in my career a new job looked far more appealing than staying in my current role. The thought of another fiscal year with ever-increasing revenue expectations and largely the same plot and cast of characters left me deflated. Early on I had heard that fundraising is difficult. Turns out, it’s true. I watched development colleagues change jobs—some frequently. I learned fundraising is a team effort dependent on executive leaders’ attitudes, clear organizational vision, board members, volunteers and adequately budgeted resources. In several positions, if one or more of these supports were lacking, I tried to fill in or work around ...
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At the age of 12, I was convinced I was going to have a fruitful career as a world-renowned actress. I have a very clear memory of practicing my Academy Award acceptance speech in the bathroom mirror, proudly gripping a shampoo bottle as my coveted Oscar. Shockingly (or not), the universe had other plans for me—and I’m so glad it did. The work of a fundraiser is unique, strategic and deeply personal. I’ve also learned our profession is often misunderstood. How many times have you heard the phrase, “So, you just ask for money?” There can be moments our work can feel incredibly isolating. My 15+ year career helped me build an internal framework for growth ...
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When you’re a fundraising professional, there’s no shortage of weird, wacky, and off-the-mark advice on how to perform your job. Here, several CFREs share with us some of the not-so-great fundraising advice they’ve received during their careers. Need to vent about questionable advice that has come your way? Tell us in the comments. Dane Bland, CFRE Toronto, ON Canada The worst fundraising advice I think I've heard - and I hear it often! - is trying to decide FOR your donors when and how they'd like to give. As fundraisers, let's give our supporters the opportunity to choose how they want to be engaged... let's not choose for them! Clare Bridle, CFRE ...
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Remember how upside down you felt the first day of a new job? Or how long it took you to find your footing when promoted into a new role with more responsibilities? A simple way to make new development team members feel welcome is to serve as a mentor. While you may feel pressed for time, the hours you put into nurturing up-and-coming talent pay off. In the corporate world , 37% of professionals have a mentor and 97% of them say those mentors are valuable. Even if you doubt you have sagacity to pass on, your years of experience and know-how can be incredibly helpful to those starting out. What feels straightforward and intuitive to you, may not be so to someone ...
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Colleagues and friends, It has quickly become apparent we are in for another unknown year ahead. And yet, reflecting, when has this not been the case in our careers? Yes, 2022 seems to be looming as another high-turnover year, dubbed the Great Resignation . In fundraising, sadly, this has been the practice since I started in the field. “Doing more with less” has been the industry standard. With versatility and adaptability as core job expectations, we are up for it. The tools of donor engagement, while ever-changing, are built on core processes we helped write. If like me, you are closer to 50 than 30, you may recall learning typing in a class, with a ...
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Picture it—you’re at that stage of interviewing for a fundraising job when the person on the other side of the table asks, “So, what questions do you have for me?” This is an unmissable opportunity for you to pose those questions that will help you make an informed decision on whether or not the organization is a match with your needs and values. We asked CFRE certificants around the world to share what their favorite questions are to pose when interviewing for a new fundraising job. Read on to find out what your peers ask. Jennifer Atkinson, CFRE New Westminster, BC Canada I would recommend to someone interviewing for a new position to ask, ...
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Working in a fundraising department is not always the easiest department to work in on the best of days. It is important to be able to work with everyone, which, unfortunately, can be easier said than done. While you may show up everyday with a smile and enthusiasm, you may encounter those curmudgeons who have decided to sprinkle extra stress into your day. In our personal lives, there is greater agency to end toxic relationships and walk away from those people who create more issues than they solve. However, in a workplace, we can’t fully avoid those problematic colleagues bent on bringing us down. In my role, I regard everyone I come across as a potential ...
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Whether we like it or not, 2022 will ring in a new year of the same old COVID drama. While we have the advantage this isn’t our first COVID rodeo, many of us are feeling our motivation and balance erode as the pandemic drags on in a disheartening shuffle of one step forward and one step back. Labor markets worldwide continue to tighten, impacting nonprofits severely. The third sector has oft struggled to lure and retain motivated, savvy employees. This can be witnessed in staffing throughout nonprofits where churn is high and morale routinely crashes for a host of reasons. Personally, I’ve never seen so many people in my LinkedIn network posting job vacancies ...
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You’ve launched your first annual giving fundraising appeal and it was a success. Now what? Every nonprofit organization wishes for the large gifts that will fund mission-critical programs. So why don’t all organizations move forward with a major gifts program? The answer is simple. Developing a major gifts effort takes focus and time. Many organizations aren’t sure who to approach or are nervous about making the ask. However, with the largest source of charitable giving from individuals (Giving USA), major gift fundraising is an essential part of any nonprofit development plan. Here’s a simple step-by-step approach to creating and implementing ...
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What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? If it won’t cause a PTSD episode, think back on why it made you miserable. Now, let’s make sure you never feel that way again. Be picky Finding a role that you’ll thrive in begins with deftly assessing the job description. Be choosy and avoid the crop-dusting approach of firing off your resume to every position you feel moderately qualified for. Where do you want to go? Are you looking to make a leap up the career ladder? Climb one rung? Or are there circumstances that make a lateral move more attractive? Once you’ve determined this, it’s easier to narrow your search. Consider the causes that make you want to pop ...
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