Careers in Fundraising: David Lalka

Monday I focused on someone newer to fundraising, Cara Rudd. Today I’m focusing on David Lalka, from DVA Navion. David has some great words about what has kept him in the nonprofit world, thank you.- Jason

What motivates you to do the good work that you do?

Photo of David LalkaLike many development officers and consultants, I entered the field of fund-raising not by design, but by accident–and I stayed. On reflection, my primary motivation for doing this work is my strong belief in the inestimable value of not-for-profit organizations to the benefit of society as a whole and to individuals in particular. Further, this work allows me to advance the cause of “independent” solutions to personal and cultural issues over against government solutions.

What has contributed to your success as a fund-raiser?

Several things, I believe, are important for my “success.” First, I never have sought “success” but rather to fulfill my responsibilities to the best of my ability in all circumstances. Second, I believe strongly in a team concept of fund-raising. Every member of the team–support personnel, development services, fund-raising officers–makes possible the cumulative funding success of an organization. It is true: “there is no limit to the amount of money that can be raised if you do not care who gets the credit.” Next, I had the privilege early in my career to be mentored by some national leaders in the areas of major gifts and small college fund-raising. Being mentored, and mentoring others is the surest way of learning what you do not know and what is indispensable to learn. Fourth, I believe strongly in young people, and giving young people a chance to learn. Finally, I believe whatever success I may have achieved derives from my passionate belief in the missions and visions of the organizations which I have served as either the chief development officer or principal consultant.

Have you seen a change in trends or best practices? What changes are coming?

One notable trend is the targeted use of direct mail. Direct mail is effective to a degree for donor acquisition and for the reactivation of SYBUNTS (some year but not this year). Another trend is the ever more significant place of cornerstone – 7+ figure gifts – in campaigns. In some campaigns now 95% of the funds come from 5% of the donors. Yet another trend is specific to my generation: baby-boomers. We largest generation in North American culture, but we have not been great exemplars of philanthropy. When we have made charitable gifts, those gifts have often been with self-interest and with restriction. BUT, baby-boomers, with all their success, are discovering that they want to be significant. And, significance is most often linked to philanthropy–witness Bill and Melinda Gates and Michael Dell.

With regard to best practices, I find that the more attention that is paid by organizations to building lasting rather than “instrumental” relationships the better those organizations are in weathering economic downturns.

Finally, if I could see “changes that are coming” I would be a prophet and not a fund-raising officer. Seriously, I see a couple of things. First, the “elephants” in the room are two: direct mail and phoning of donor prospects. With direct mail, I, like many baby-boomers, do not read it and will not wake up one day and do so. Direct mail has a shelf life that may be ending. Second, with the increase of cell numbers as sole phone numbers, and with the near universal use of caller ID, phoning donor prospects and constituents will become ever more challenging. This change leads to a third: the increased use of the immediacies of email, and social networking to stay engaged with donor prospects and constituents.

What advice do you have for new fund-raisers?

First, I would urge new fund-raisers to recognize that the “discipline” of fund-raising is a legitimate and worthwhile career. I recall the first organization where I served as senior development officer: most people there believed that fund-raising was somehow distasteful and that one day the organization would have enough money and would no longer need to engage in such “practices.” Next, I would urge new fund-raisers to seek out a senior development professional as a mentor. Third, new fund-raisers must remember that “people give to people.” Consequently, honesty, integrity, character, and genuine regard for donors are imperative. Finally, new fund-raisers should remember that they are working for the success of the organization, and not to make a name for themselves.

If you had a choice, would you enter the field of fund-raising again?

Short answer: an unequivocal yes. Friend and fund-raising is not only a noble vocation, but it allows me to engage with people who desire to make the spiritual, educational, social, and cultural fabric of the country better for themselves and for others. Moreover, fund-raising allows me to observe first-hand the great generosity that infects Americans and distinguishes American culture. Finally, it is deeply satisfying to “work for the greater good.”

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2 Responses to Careers in Fundraising: David Lalka

  1. Adam says:

    “I worked with Amnesty International for some fund raising projects before, share deep understading with this interview. Thanks for sharing.

    David Lalka stated that people always link to Bill and Melinda Gates and Michael Dell, that’s true -today’s generation of young people all inspired by these entrepreneurs.

    I like this new moive it inspired me in business would like to share ”The YES Movie”at http://www.TheYESmovie.com. Producer :Louis Lautman”

  2. That is a powerful statement: “People give to people.” Especially in the non-profit world, you as Fundraiser are the face of your organization. Your passion connects you to your cause and subsequently to your potential donors and volunteers. People support disease research, for example, but there is almost always some personal connection happening there. They have a connection to someone who suffers from or fell victim to said disease, or they are otherwise personally involved in the issue. Be the inspiration by allowing your own inspiration to show. People are generous and willing to give; provide them with options, support and gratitude ~ they’ll share your passion!

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