An Open Letter to Young Fundraisers.

Dear Young Fundraiser (you know who you are),

I want to let you know that you are valued.  I work with all kinds of major gift fundraisers, many of them with 15-20 years of experience, and most of them don’t have your drive, enthusiasm and passion.

Thank you for choosing a career that is more than just a job.  You actually have the ability to change the world!  You could have done something else, but you chose a profession that, quite frankly, is not going to make you a millionaire or let you retire early…that’s pretty cool.

As you know, there has been a lot of talk about you.  The older fundraising managers are trying to figure out what makes you tick…or better yet, what makes you STICK!  You see, you don’t seem to stay with an organization for very long.

You’re restless.  You want more responsibility, you want to make an impact on the organization you work with, RIGHT NOW, and you don’t want to wait!

I understand.  Really.  I’m not blaming you for your restlessness.  In fact, all of us should be celebrating the fact that you want to take on more responsibility.  You have so much to offer.

For all the times you didn’t get the training you deserve or recognition that you could take on more work than you were given…we’re sorry.  Throughout history it seems that the older generation has a tough time with the younger one.  It’s hard for us to be open to new ideas, new thinking and all that energy.  I don’t know, perhaps we’re envious, but whatever the reason, we need to do better.

So, here’s the deal.  We all WANT you to SUCCEED.  It’s true.  But, to be honest, not all of us older fundraisers have complete trust in you yet.  I’m going to list a few things that will endear you to my generation and allow us sleep easily at night.

You can take this list and do one of two things:  1) become defensive and tell us we’re out of touch, or 2) open your palms, listen to us and work with us so you can get to where you want to go.

  1. Deliver.  It’s quite simple.  Show us that you can meet goals and deadlines and keep your promises and we’ll heap a ton of responsibility on you.  We’ll promote you, give you more money and sing your praises, but you have to earn that by delivering.
  2. Establish trust.  This is very closely related to delivering.  If you can establish trust with your manager because you have delivered, then you should be allowed as much freedom as you need – flexible hours, personal time off, work from home, whatever it is.  Remain trustworthy to your goals and deadlines and your manager will want to make you happy as a clam.  I promise.
  3. Form strong relationships.  I want you to know how important it is for you to help create a strong sense of team in the workplace.  Managers don’t like lone wolf types who go out on their own, thinking they don’t need anyone else.  The fact is, you do need others to help make your department and YOURSELF successful.  I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not just about YOU.  Here’s another thing – if you have a problem or issue with someone, whether it’s a co-worker or boss, talk to that person – no gossip, no going behind his or her back.  The right thing to do is to talk with them.  Yes, I know it’s hard stuff.  But that is the only way to grow as a team.
  4. Take risks.  If your manager or executive director is any good, he or she will foster a workplace that allows you to take risks and make mistakes.  But, here’s the deal – don’t keep making the same mistakes or it’s going to be hard to gain that trust we have been talking about.  The idea is to learn from your mistakes and get better at this job.
  5. Seek mentors.  Hey, I know that you probably have a degree in non-profit management or maybe even a master’s degree…but you need to seek us out and let us help you.  We older fundraisers want to mentor you.  We’ve learned a lot over the years that we can pass down to you.  It will make you better.  Really.
  6. Do it for the team.  I like this to be a rare thing, but sometimes managers are going to ask you to work late or even on the weekends.  Trust me, good managers don’t like to ask you to do this, but sometimes, it’s going to happen.  Can you do it with a willing spirit and an attitude of, “this is what the team needs and I will gladly do it” ?  Gosh, that would go such a long way.  Good managers will reward you with extra time off, a comp day or something else to thank you. 

I really believe that if you can hear these few things and take them to heart, your manager or executive director will allow you to shine by giving you more responsibility, more pay, and more influence in the organization.

However, if you run into one of those managers who is stuck in his generation, who doesn’t see your value after you exemplify all these qualities I just mentioned…GET OUT FAST!

Hopefully, that will be rare.  Talk to your boss.  Let him know if you are unhappy.  Tell your boss what you need.  Be honest, though, with yourself.  Are you delivering, establishing trust, being a team player, building your colleagues up and seeking out a mentor from whom you can get advice?  If you are, great. If you’re struggling…figure out why you are and work on it.

Thank you again for choosing this wonderful profession.  You are going to be awesome and I will be your biggest cheerleader.




About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Development Directors, Hiring, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to An Open Letter to Young Fundraisers.

  1. Natalie says:

    Jeff Schreifels, you are the best and this is my favorite industry blog! I’m fairly young in my development career and I can always count on you and Richard to be informative, insightful and to provide practical information I can use in my daily tasks. Thank you!

  2. Natalia says:

    Thanks Jeff! I know this is an open letter and we do not know each other, but your words and encouragement were just what I have been needing to hear lately. I feel a bit better about being in this fundraising career (with an english master’s degree) that I really just “fell” into.

  3. Peggy says:

    Jeff and Richard,
    Thank you so much for this article! It was the best thing for me to read as I start another work week. I’ve been fighting the restlessness and desire for more responsibility recently. I’ve started and stayed with one fundraising organization (4 years) but often wonder if my manager values me.

    I’ve printed this and framed for my office wall.

  4. Megan says:

    I’ll third how much I enjoyed this post (as well as many others).

    Any advice for a young fundraiser on how best to give notice while remaining constructive? I have consistently stated my opinion regarding the small ROI for our events and telemarketing programs that have high overhead and other expenses (which don’t even factor in staff time). My organization has had 3 Executive Directors in 6 months and there are some significant infrastructure issues preventing me from delivering. I want to ensure my resignation is substantiated without sounding too negative.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Megan. I don’t even think you have to get into any of the negative reasons you are leaving. I would just stress that a new opportunity has come up for you and you are taking it to advance your career. You never want to burn a bridge or have sour grapes. Sometimes you just have to shake the dust off your feet and move on to something more life-giving. So, in short you’re leaving for a new opportunity. That’s all you need to say.

  5. B. says:

    Reblogged this on Life as a Grown Up?! and commented:
    Yes, I’ve been a bit behind on blogging- training for a half, planning a wedding, and work have taken over my life! I’ll post very soon, but for now, I wanted to re-blog this incredible post by my favorite fundraising blog! Some incredible advice and insight for young fundraisers!

  6. Jules CFRE says:

    Hi Jeff
    How very succinctly put, I have been in Fundraising for 15 years and I have never stopped learning, engaging and networking. No one person knows everything. We older fundraisers may be technologically challenged at times but we sure do know our craft.
    Great job

  7. Thank you so much for the affirmation and it’s so good to hear from a young fundraiser who loves what they do! Yes!! That makes me so happy. BTW, not sure if you knew this but our new blog site is just click on the blog. Thanks for reading!

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