“You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
When I was job hunting upon leaving college (in a different millennium), a couple of good friends suggested working for a fundraising consulting firm. I had never heard of such a business, let alone held any aspirations to enter the field. I was told you could travel a bit, meet interesting people and develop skills that may be helpful down the road. So I applied, and was offered the job.
Thirty-six years later I have not regretted that decision for one moment. When I started out, friends and family responded with blank stares when I told them of my business. Today, I get only slightly fewer blank looks and questions such as, “You actually do that for a living?”
As anyone who has been in the business a while understands, you do not do this work to get rich. Yet, I cannot think of more satisfying and fulfilling work.
I have sat on both sides of the table during my career. I began as a consultant and learned the trade, so to speak, and found that the basic principles of fundraising learned during my consulting days are universal:
- A compelling reason or vision for people to give;
- Leadership that is committed to making the vision a reality;
- A donor base that understands the mission and is prepared to support it.
- People give to people;
- People respond most generously to specific requests.
Everyone involved with nonprofits believes their organisation is unique and important, and can raise as much money as they need. As a consultant it was often my job to bring the client back to earth because one or more of the essential elements was lacking or missing. At times, these were difficult but necessary conversations. As consultants, we bring the power of objectivity and perspective, based on our experience that, if accepted and embraced, it can be transformational.
There is another aspect to consulting work that I have always found fascinating. We often work with powerful and influential people; people who make many complex and difficult decisions in their professional lives on a daily basis. Yet, when it comes to asking for money, or understanding what it takes to ask for money, many of these people become flummoxed.
As a staff member, I brought the same experiences to the table with, at times, different results. I found that professional advice offered as a consultant means relatively little. You find yourself caught in the culture of the organisation – “This is the way we do things here” – and find it difficult to effect change. And when it comes it’s incremental. And, of course, when you are inevitably asked to bring consultants in, you realise you are never a prophet in your own land. Which drew me back to the consulting world.
I can say without hesitation that the work I have been involved in over the years has improved the lives of more people than I could have ever imagined. Better educational opportunities, better healthcare, stronger and more viable faith-based institutions, more increased opportunities for the arts to reach more people, more opportunities for social change.
How has the business changed? In many, many good and sustainable ways. Women are a predominant force in the profession. There are many more nonprofits that are doing essential and important work, and donors are more knowledgeable and sophisticated as to how their gifts can transform organisations in ways great and small. Moreover, it is a profession that plays a vital role in creating, sustaining and reclaiming institutions that are essential to the greater good. And, as I speak with young people considering careers, I have found nonprofit work has become an important option.
I am delighted to join the roster of stellar professionals at The Halpin Partnership, to bring my skills and experiences to organisations on both sides of the Atlantic.
“I have tried to raise money by asking for it and by not asking for it. I always got more by asking for it.”
(Millard Fuller, founder Habitat for Humanity)
Jim Buggy, Halpin Fundraising Fellow