Edie Boatman left a for-profit career for fundraising just as the economy crashed. With irony and humor her First Person Nonprofit essay reflects on her sense of timing and what she's learned so far.
August of 2008: Just one month before the economic meltdown . . . my first day begins on my new job as Director of Fund Development for a small nonprofit focused on arts and literacy with inner city kids. At 43, after a career in corporate marketing and publishing, I had to ask myself: What did I know about raising money? Nothing, outside of managing a few appeal letter projects. What did I know about the economy? Nothing, other than having a belief things would start to change for the better after the election.
If I had known then what I know now, would I have jumped into a job with no experience during the worst slump in the economy since the 1930s? You betcha! And here are the top 5 reasons why:
1. More support than a Sleep Number Bed
In all my years in corporate marketing and publishing, I've never felt as supported as I have been since Day One in the nonprofit sector. A small grant from a local nonprofit fund allowed me to connect with a fundraising coach. She met with me regularly and coached me through everything from how to make a follow-up phone call on a proposal to the nuts and bolts of planned giving. I felt comfortable asking her all the stupid questions I would have been embarrassed to ask my boss.
I also benefited from one-on-one training in our fundraising software and generous offers from seasoned fundraisers to meet for coffee and advice. As a result, I became more productive and confident much sooner. (And I slept much better, too.)
2. No more awful corporate TEAMwork(TM)
At a large financial institution where I worked, break room banners proclaimed such hackneyed wisdom as "Together Everyone Achieves More!" And one of my bosses was always urging us to don our "collaborative corporate hats." This all felt forced and fad-driven, and usually failed to produce anything resembling teamwork.
Here in the nonprofit world, my colleagues and I regularly function as a team. Maybe it's because we're all just wacky idealists, but everyone is committed to what we are working for. To a nonprofit neophyte, the feeling is remarkable, refreshing, and rejuvenating. All these idealists in close quarters are bound to get carried away occasionally, but I like it so much more than trying to wear that uncomfortable "corporate hat."
3. Barbra Streisand was right
Barbra Streisand famously sang, "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world." I'd say: Fundraisers who need donors really are the luckiest people in the world. Every day in my job I get to meet some of the most interesting, giving people on the planet. Even if they aren't all interested in my particular program or project, they all want to use their money to make things better. Their stories are fascinating, and I get paid to get to know them better. (Heck, I'd do that for free, but don't tell my ED.)
Though the economy has cut the flow of money down to a trickle, I've found that potential donors are still willing to take the time to meet with me; many make some financial commitment or a valuable introduction. Times may be tough, but these giving people regularly restore my faith in others. Sing it, Barbra!
4. ROI is spelled Meaningful Impact on Lives
Measuring ROI (Return On Investment) was murky enough when I was trying to quantify the value for a client of garnering two column inches of publicity in the local paper. In my current job I get to measure the impact our program has on people's lives - in my case, children's reading and writing skills. How awesome is that?!
5. Having my say-so
As a rather opinionated person, I like to have a say. And in my new position, I get more than a say - I'm actually consulted (and not just because it's a small office and I ply my co-workers with brownies).
While the program is the heart of the organization, the ability to fund that program is crucial. My take on whether or not an initiative or project might resonate with our mission and donors is important. I have a voice in the direction of the organization and that makes me look forward to coming to work. After all, I wouldn't want to deprive them of my opinions.
Finally . . .
The past year has gone by in a blur. I enjoy my job far more than I expected to, but not because it's been an easy year. Finding funds has been tough, but then again, this is my first job in fundraising, so I don't know how it used to be. Which brings me to Reason No. 6: After this past year, I have nowhere to go but up!
Edie Boatman is the Director of Fund Development for SHARP Literacy, Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her previous marketing work has been with M&I Bank, Wisconsin Electric, and Wisconsin Lutheran College. She is a volunteer board member at the German Immersion Foundation and TEMPO Waukesha (a professional women's organization). She knows all the words to "People."