People who are successful at fundraising develop large plans and execute the tiniest details in them, identify a target audience and tailor a unique appeal to that demographic, have excellent writing skills, a good understanding of how and when to approach people, and an unbelievable sense of organization. Fundraising on a large scale may entail up to seven different appeals to over 20,000 potential donors; fundraisers without organizational skills quickly get dragged under by the tide of material that passes through their hands. Planning and attending meetings takes up the majority of the professional fundraiser’s day. Fundraisers must remain abreast of the concerns of potential donors, be responsive to the changing needs of their institution, and build up a successful system of reaching donors. Fundraisers spend ample creative energy recreating campaigns to ensure success year after year.
While broad based fundraising (letter campaigns, high-profile events, and programs) are all important for the visibility, publicity, and support, the real work high-level fundraisers do comes through presentations, education, and targeted solicitation. Meeting skills, educational skills, and a touch of finesse are all critical to the successful fundraiser. Meetings with patrons, employees, and executives can take place after hours or late in the day. “It takes a lot of your free time and great social ability to pull it off, too,” mentioned one director of fundraising for a private school. “You have to have the courage to sell what you believe, and to not blink when you ask for an enormous sum of money,” wrote another respondent. The ability to communicate the value and the need of your employer to others is required in this occupation, and makes the difference between those who succeed and those who fail.
No specific bachelor’s degree is required, but communications, English, finance and psychology majors all are considered good preparation for entry-level positions. Aspiring fundraisers need a gentle yet firm touch to communicate a platform and a position in writing and convince people to donate goods, services and money. Entry-level applicants should be good with numbers, graphics, and design and have an excellent sense of timing, since fundraising on an ongoing basis requires knowing when not to ask for donations as much as knowing when to ask. One other requirement for this job is the ability to withstand significant rejection. A fundraiser should be able to bring together disparate elements within a community to work toward a goal. Fundraisers sometimes earn advanced degrees in finance, marketing, or public relations.
Those who leave fundraising find plentiful work in public relations (20 percent), advertising (10 percent), teaching (5 percent), and administration (10 percent). Many return to school for advanced degrees in business, education, administration, and law. Fundraising rewards communication, persistence, and creativity, traits that are valued in any people-related industry.