by Kimberley Mackenzie
Almost 20 years ago I was a passionate volunteer for a charity that had made a huge difference in my life. My voluntary work turned into revenue for this organization, so they offered to start paying me on a part-time basis to do more. As an at-home mother of two, a little bit of extra money was very welcome. That was my first fundraising job.
My work began reaping some serious returns. The charity shifted from operating at a deficit to a surplus. So I just kept doing my thing.
WHAT WAS I DOING EXACTLY?
Sitting in my first home office, with my baby at my breast, I was forging connections between people who shared my passion for the cause and wanted to have an impact in their communities. Those connections advanced the mission AND as a side bonus… raised money. That was it!
Later, we decided to send out a letter asking for donations. So how did I do that? Honestly, I had no idea. Back in 1999 Google was only one year old and Yahoo left a lot to be desired. I popped my baby in a sling and went to my local library. The librarian helped me order a book by a man named Mal Warwick called: “How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters.” Three weeks later that book arrived, and I learned that this “thing” that I was doing…was actually a THING! I was a “professional” fundraiser.
AN ACCIDENTAL CAREER
Many people my age are “Accidental Fundraisers”. We fell into this work through our passion and learnt from each other as we went along. I describe my education like twisting a rope as I climb the mountain. Fast forward twenty years, my children are starting their own lives and I am an international speaker, certified fundraising executive and a trusted consultant. For better or worse, I am very much a “professional”.
SUITED UP ROBOTS?
Unlike other professions, fundraising is constantly under scrutiny; we always have to prove ourselves. What it really takes to raise money is grossly misunderstood. We have to combat this perception every day and honestly, we can’t afford to mess it up. But, does that mean that we need to behave like suited up robots? I think not.
Recently, I was in a meeting with an influencer, who I hope will help my client with a very ambitious capital campaign. He is a prominent leader in his community, on the boards of several large organizations and knows literally everyone. His response to our request was:
“For goodness sake, whatever you do don’t stick me in a room and make me look at spreadsheets! I can’t stand that!”
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that was exactly what I was hoping we would do together. What the heck? How did I get from making authentic connections between people who are passionate about a cause to sitting down with spreadsheets boring people to death? I must have been taught that’s what it meant to be “professional”.
ARE WE BECOMING LESS HUMAN?
I am worried that in our sprint to “professionalize” ourselves we may alienate our communities. I’m worried that we have lost authenticity at the core of what we do and who we are. We must then ask the question:
“In our quest to become more professional we are becoming less human?”
Fundraising isn’t a transactional business – like banking or insurance – it is a passion-driven sector. We open our hearts to donors, share our experiences, connect people with shared passions. The best way to make this connection is to be authentic, candid and human.
Posing this question about being “too professional” in no way suggests that we need to become less legitimate. I am deeply grateful to all of the educators I have had the privilege of learning from during my career. Organizations like the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), The Resource Alliance, and Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) work to try and ensure that we all operate with a high degree of accountability.
Those of us who are members of these organizations have made a commitment to conduct business within an ethical framework. Associations whose mandate it is to advance our sector by advocating for good government policies and greater awareness do us all a great service.
CONVERSATIONS NOT SPREADSHEETS
We need to remember how our sector started. All around the world, groups of passionate people came together to ask how they could address a need in their community. At its very core, that is still what our donors, volunteers and our organizations want. Sometimes that may mean leaving the spreadsheets at home and simply having a meaningful conversation.
Fundraisers are connectors; we are the folks that build bridges and create alliances. This can happen on a nature walk, cooking food, building a playground, or handing out sandwiches. So be sure to engage in the work of your organization beyond spreadsheets and keep connecting your donors, volunteers and board members to your mission. Make their work meaningful.
Continuing to do our work authentically with an open, loving and joyful heart is what I think it means to be a “professional” fundraiser. I’d love to know what it means to you.
Kimberley Mackenzie is an award winning fundraiser, Certified Fundraising Executive and AFP International Master Trainer. She works as a consultant with a variety of organizations to advance a culture of philanthropy and create transformative results that raise more money for their missions. A sought after thought leader, facilitator, speaker and trainer Kimberley has been in the fundraising trenches since 2001 and was a driving force in the early days of SOFII.org. Kimberley has also served as Editor for Hilborn Canada’s eNEWS – a weekly publication send to over 14,000 fundraising professionals every week – was a member of the Advisory Panel for the Rogare Think Tank at Plymouth University and an executive member of the Planned Giving Council of Simcoe County.