Passion for the cause is a good start, but is it enough to survive all the challenges of a fundraising job? Veteran fundraiser Ewan Hastings shares his secrets to career longevity
I have been in fundraising long enough (now 22 years) to have earned ‘dinosaur’ status. While there have been many highs in my fundraising career, such as getting in a big funding grant or escorting two ski challenge events to France, I’ll admit there have been many dark, lean times too. Times where I have dreamed of throwing it all in and having a simpler working life – mowing lawns in the sun, or joining the ranks of the numerous Scotland tour guides I see standing outside tour buses on my way into work in Edinburgh’s city centre.
But, somehow, despite these lows, I have stuck in there and worked through the challenging times to a better place.
Attending Fundraising UK’s excellent Fundraising Camp earlier on this year, I posed the topic of longevity in fundraising as one of the day’s session topics, as I was interested to hear how others were surviving and thriving in their own jobs. What came shining through from speaking to the other session attendees was that passion for the cause was a major contributor to how well people thought of their jobs and wanted to stay in them.
In addition to passion for the cause, there are a few other things I’ve found that have helped me survive, and even thrive, in my long fundraising career.
1. Be your own biggest supporter
It’s useful to write down what went well for you and when, and also what you think you could have done better. Put them in a folder and review them occasionally. I like to think of the Heather Small song ‘Proud’ in these instances – except change the line in the song to “What did I do today to make me feel proud?” Keeping a note of your achievements – such as the idea you had that made more money in an appeal, or the test you did that led to more people signing up to do an event – can lead to future self-learning and a feeling of overall worth.
2. Don’t be afraid to challenge
Sometimes, when fundraising targets are not properly thought through, or you have a feeling that your fundraising appeal draft will be less successful as it gets increasingly annihilated by others, it’s time to explain (diplomatically, of course) why the other person is wrong. This can be trying, especially if it’s your line manager or a trustee you’ve got to challenge. However, you must speak out if you think the impossible isn’t going to happen.
In saying that, you need to choose your battles wisely. Make sure you let the person know that you will work as hard as possible to make what is being asked of you happen successfully, but make it clear that as a fundraising professional, you have real reservations about its success.
3. Arm yourself with good facts and best practice
One of my brothers, a few years ago, was always telling me how I should be doing my job. I never told him how to do his job. So, why do people who know nothing about fundraising feel the need to tell us how to do our jobs?
I have found that the best way to reply to people who say things such as, “I don’t like the way that you have written this” after reading your latest appeal letter, is to be sure that you have the facts and best practice to back up why you have done something in such a way. Explain to them why doing and saying these types of things in your fundraising works. Use resources such as the brilliant SOFII and other online fundraising resources to back up what you say.
Continue to learn about fundraising too. Read trade magazines, blogs and websites. Get yourself a mentor, and also invest in yourself by paying for a course or a fundraising qualification – a strategy that can pay off – sometimes financially in terms of increased salary (I can personally speak to the success of this strategy).
4. Accept that there will be tough and easier times
Realise that there are going to be hard times in your fundraising, such as working through recessions, and that these times will eventually pass and that better times will come again. Fundraising is a lifelong learning career – one in which you will improve as you gather up that body of experience, eventually getting to a comfortable point (as I did a few years ago) where you think to yourself “yes, I am experienced”. It’s a place worth working towards.
5. Know when it’s time to move on
They say you can’t flog a dead horse. Sometimes we are left with no other choice but to move on, such as when you are being asked to do something that’s unethical or against your own principles, even though you have explained why you feel that way.
As Alan Clayton once said, “fundraising is the greatest job”. So do all you can to get to that place, and don’t give up or give in too soon.
© Ewan Hastings MInstF(Dip)
Ewan Hastings MInstF(Dip) is a fundraiser with over 22 years' experience working for both local and national charities. For tips covering all aspects of applying for grant funding, download Ewan’s new ebook, Trusts and Foundations Fundraising Success Top Tips: Valuable Lessons from an Old-Dog Fundraiser, available now on Amazon.