Be nice, it’s your job!

For years I raised funds from major donors and legacy donors. “Relationship manager” my card said. I raised money and made friends. I still remember the personal stories donors told me, their motives to donate, and the name of their pet. They remember me too, because I still get postcards, phone calls and warm greetings from some of them, although I have been working for another charity for almost 2 years now. It was my job to build a long lasting relationship between the donor and the charity and I delivered. They still donate to MSF.

This year I coordinated a fundraising event around the Amsterdam Marathon. I raised money and made friends. Where long lasting relationships were the key to funds in major donor fundraising, this was something else. I raised funds with crowdfunding and by selling Golden Laces to marathon runners. The donors were virtual or in a hurry. So the new friends I made were not the donors, but the people who were responsible for the marathon-expo, the printing of the flyers, the parents of a student who was running the 21k for the first time. We became friends because we spoke about personal things. And this made me wonder: is relationship management my job or my personality? Am I different from, let’s say, a DM fundraiser? Do we need different characters for different ways of fundraising?

I searched the internet for fundraising vacancies. DM, TM, MD, corporate: according to the job description, (almost) every fundraiser needed to be analytical, strategic, independent, persuasive and persistent. No excel-lovers or fans of elderly people needed. If the skills were right, the person was right. Right?

I spoke to David Heyer, who is responsible for all the fundraising activities at Hospitaalbroeders. DM, TM, special appeals, major donors, corporate partnerships, you name it and David is your man. But can he be every fundraiser he needs to be? David, who is personally inspired by the visits to the projects in Sierra Leone, is at his best when he can translate his own experience in a DM campaign. Storytelling, on paper but also in a personal conversation with a major donor, works best for him and his financial targets. But he also needs to run the TM-agencies and the donor database. He ends up focusing on the things he does best by nature, he told me.

I also spoke to Gerbren Deves, corporate fundraiser at MSF. Gerbren’s situation differs totally from David’s, because he works in a team where every expertise has a different fundraiser. Gerbren would miss the personal contact with the donors too much in case his job was D2D, TM, DM. In his opinion, direct response-fundraisers are more experienced in negotiating with an agency instead of a donor, with the focus on concrete results week after week. A major donor could be cultivated for years before a first gift is made. Where a F2F fundraiser is not afraid to be harsh to the agency when they don’t deliver, Gerbren would not be harsh to a major donor if he does not donate and deliver.

I’ve been working in both worlds. In a fundraising team I have seen DM fundraisers terrified by the long phone calls I made with some of the elder donors, and I was surprised to hear the tone of voice of TM fundraisers negotiating about retention rates. And working in a very small team trying to cover it all, I tried to pay attention to major, middle and one-time donors, but forgot about the database. But are we really different, and, do we need to be? Do relationship managers need to love people? Do corporate fundraisers have to be interested in financial newspapers and the AEX index? And do loyalty fundraisers only think in numbers? TM, DM, F2F fundraisers adore excel, it’s their middle name? And third party event-fundraisers are creative and nice to kids?

Being the only fundraiser in a charity, you have little choice but to do it all and be every person you need to be. But a fundraising team can be even stronger when everyone is doing the job that fits him best. Too many people with the same character can lead to a strong focus on the same work, and some of the work may not be done, and funds are not raised.

“High score on building relationships” was the outcome of my assessment this summer. It still did not answer my question, is it me or is it my job. But it helped me realize that I need to get out of my comfort zone every now and then. Do we choose to be the type of fundraiser that fits best with our personality, or do we become the person we are when we’re raising funds?

What do you think?

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