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A Day in the Life of a Fundraiser/Institutional Solicitor

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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Present and Future

Fundraisers have existed since there have been causes that required funding. English private schools long relied on charitable donations from their alumni to support them in times of low enrollment. Orphanages and food houses in early America solicited donations of food and services from local merchants and wealthy patrons. Those who first became professional fundraisers were the wealthy in America who were connected with other wealthy patrons, and who could encourage them to donate to specific causes. These used to be called “benefactor” positions. As annual, regular fundraising became significant, they became known as “fundraising” positions. Job opportunities in fundraising should increase through the end of the decade, and very likely beyond. With dramatic cuts in federal and state funding for many not-for-profit organizations, private donation solicitation will become increasingly widespread and important. Specialization will be the wave of the future; those who have unique skills in mail solicitations, phone solicitations, organizing fundraising events, or campaign tracking will be hired for discrete fundraising tasks under the umbrella of a generalized fundraising coordinator.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Long hours, hard work, little free time, and an entire fundraising system to learn make the first few years difficult. Responsibilities are limited; tasks might include proofreading, tracking mail, entering computer data, making phone calls and arranging meetings with donors. Do not expect to attend these meetings or have any impact on policy. Input can be offered and accepted, but those who expect to make an immediate splash in the fundraising pool should be aware of the limited role these first few years offer.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Lifestyles for five-year survivors are significantly different for those fundraising for smaller, more specific organizations than those fundraising for large, extremely hierarchical organizations. Those in small companies become associate fundraisers or head fundraiser, depending on their success and available opportunities. Many remain with their original organizations if advancement opportunities exist. Five-year fundraisers meet with large, individual donors, propose new audiences to appeal to, devise and organize seasonal campaigns, and make presentations on goals to executives at their company. Those in larger firms have less responsibility but more defined areas of control. A typical five-year at a large firm may be in charge of Northeast solicitations for the twenty-two-to-twenty-eight-year-old age range for those who graduated college with liberal arts degrees. Duties might include purchasing of mailing lists, coordinating production of solicitation materials, and tracking responses. Salaries and hours increase. Many fundraisers work as fundraisers for fewer than three years or more than ten; roughly half leave between years three and six.

TEN YEARS OUT

By this point, fundraisers have most likely held a number of positions at two or more companies, led and directed successful fund drives or annual campaigns, and reinvented themselves with the times. Experienced fundraisers often take on challenges of a different scale, such as moving to a much larger organization or heading a department. If you’ve lasted ten years in this profession you are statistically likely to last another fifteen to twenty-five years in this challenging, exciting, and difficult job.