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Getting to the Top in Fundraising

Most people would like to progress as far as possible in their chosen career field, whether for higher salary, prestige or countless other reasons. Fundraising is no different.

Kimberly Churches is a good example of a development professional who took stock of her current skills and set her sights on advancing. She became Director of Development at the Broward Performing Arts Foundation in Florida and then made a lateral move to the University of North Florida, where she began to prepare for an executive role.

“I knew that I had to have an understanding of the front of the house and the back of the house,” Churches told The Chronicle of Philanthropy. She studied annual giving, events, and campaign planning, as well as data, budgets and financial management and how to manage change.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy also reports that she “joined the boards of other organizations and studied their programs. She talked to chief financial officers and built networks of strategic-planning officers and general counsels. She pored over the Harvard Business Review, Stanford Social Innovation Review and other journals aimed at MBAs. She read about how organizations handled scandals and crises.” Churches is now CEO of the American Association of University Women.

A quick cheat sheet from Inside Philanthropy can help you get started.

  • Analyze how to get from your current position to a dream job;
  • Create a professional strategic plan;
  • Avoid becoming stereotyped;
  • Maintain relationships with former colleagues;
  • Don’t job hop;
  • Thoroughly question potential employers;
  • Clarify key outcomes to achieve in new positions;
  • Practice for success;
  • Commit to career-long learning; and
  • Identify and learn from mentors, but don’t rely solely on them to advance.

Another helpful checklist geared toward advancing your development career suggests ways that aspirants can hone their experience, education, passion and skill, including:

  • Gain comprehensive experience in all elements of development (e.g., grant writing, fundraising, special events, board of director’s management, etc.);
  • Earn an advanced academic degree;
  • Polish your existing skills (e.g., writing courses, budgeting for non-accountants, etc.);
  • Get involved in professional and industry associations; and
  • Bring your passion and dedication to your organization.

Networking and building successful relationships with former and current colleagues is also key, and leveraging professional organizations is a good way to expand your network further, as well as open doors for your next position.

If you feel that you need to refine some aspects of your abilities or bolster your skill set, The Chronicle of Philanthropy also recommends “21 Books to Help You Climb the Career Ladder.”

The list includes resources on tools and techniques, working with donors, time management and management and leadership. Some highlights are:

  • The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, by Jeff Brooks;
  • The Generosity Network: New Transformational Tools for Successful Fund-Raising, by Jennifer McCrea and Jeffrey C. Walker;
  • Relationship Fundraising: A Donor-Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money, by Ken Burnett;
  • Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them, by Jerold Panas; and
  • It’s Not Just About the Money: How to Build Authentic Major Donor Relationships, by Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels.

For case studies and additional tips, please read “How to Get to the Executive Suite” in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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