No matter how much fundraising experience you bring, starting work for a new cause will make you a rookie once again. So how do we survive the potential confidence knock? Matt Cull offers some reassuring words
You may have noticed itís quite hard being a fundraiser these days. It can also be really hard developing your career. Some people make it look easy but for most of us it can be a bit of a bumpy ride.
I have loved my career as a fundraiser and I have had the privilege of working for several fantastic causes. I have been lucky enough to work in the arts, international development, disability and health. In my current role at Blue Cross I am relishing the chance to raise money for animal welfare once again for a charity that makes it possible for thousands of people to have pets in their lives. The way Blue Cross approaches the work we do is inspiring and I am proud to be a part of it.
From expert to novice
Moving from one cause to another presents all sorts of challenges. You go from being an expert to a novice, which is always disconcerting. You go from knowing everyone to knowing no one. Your natural ability to answer any question put to you changes to not being able to answer a single question. This can be a blow to your confidence, to put it mildly. Fundraisers like to know what they are talking about. To suddenly realise you canít is not nice.
To be at your best as a fundraiser, your enthusiasm at sharing the great work of your organisation needs to be sincere and natural. On a bad day you can fake it. You can draw on experience, your instinct kicks in and you get through a conversation that starts badly but somehow you manage and ride it out. But if your subject matter isnít sitting right in your mind on a daily, weekly or monthly basis it just doesnít work. Itís exhausting and depressing.
It does not mean you donít care if you find yourself working in an environment that fails to fully inspire. It could be an area too close to home. That might have been the very reason you wanted the job in the first place. A lot of us have been there. It happens.
Many of us leave an organisation we have loved in order to develop our career, and regret it almost immediately. I know a whole bunch of former colleagues who will be nodding their heads if they ever stumble across this article.
ďLike treading on a garden rakeĒ
Realising that you donít find it as easy or even as satisfying to raise money for your new cause as your old is a bit like treading on a garden rake in the dark. It comes as a bit of a shock and it makes you feel a little foolish. But donít worry about it. You just wandered into the wrong garden thatís all. Who hasnít done that late at night?
I know that on a good day I could sell anything to anyone, but that is just not the point of doing what we do. I was an encyclopaedia salesman once. Truly, they do exist. But I lasted three days; I seriously couldnít stomach it. It was awful. Apparently, Iím not as shallow as I thought. What you sell matters, and for a fundraiser this is of paramount importance.
Being a fundraiser is about soul. It really doesnít matter if you find one cause harder to fundraise for than another, because realising that is good for you. It teaches you about yourself, your abilities, your limitations, your intuition and your skills. Recognising your personal limitations actually improves your professional capabilities and hones your skills.
Embrace your imperfections
Letís face it, nobody is perfect. You never will be, so embrace that and get better and better at what you are good at, and work on your weaker attributes as they will improve over time.
It doesnít mean you should avoid risks. If you are up for a new challenge go for it. You may just be about to start the role of your working life. How exciting is that?
I have learnt I find health-related charities much harder to fundraise for because the subject matter affects me so deeply. I know I donít want to ever fundraise for a cancer charity again because it upset me too much to talk about comfortably, and if a fundraiser is uncomfortable the donor will be too. My admiration for fundraisers who have great success in the cancer field is immense.
What is without doubt is, wherever you end up working, you will meet and work with some extraordinary people because this sector is amazing. In every position I have held, I feel I have played a small part in making a difference; sometimes a very small part.
If you have already found the charity you want to work with for the rest of your career, then thatís great. This article is not really aimed at people like you; provided you keep setting yourself new challenges and review what you do and how you do it. I know dozens of fundraisers who have been at the same cause for 10 or even 20 years. Some even longer, and they have achieved some great things.
Move on, move up
For some fundraisers, to progress in your career you have to leave and go somewhere new. It can be really heartbreaking to make that decision, but often the potential to stay and grow within your team is extremely limited, if non-existent.
And so begins a challenge that can be stressful, maddening and really, really tough. Set yourself goals when you start a new role. ďI just want to do my bestĒ doesnít really cut it. Youíll be given objectives youíll be judged on; set some for yourself too. It is pretty likely that the things you want to achieve will be good for your charity too.
If you are not happy or comfortable in a role: leave. You must look after yourself and, like it or not, what is best for you is probably best for the charity you leave behind. We are all allowed glitches in our careers.
Everyone makes mistakes. In all fairness, you might learn more from making a Ďwrongí move than a Ďrightí one. You may even learn more from a bad experience than a good one.