Fundraising Generalist or Practitioner

People have different skills. I’ve found that I have a knack for major gifts fundraising and getting to know people one-on-one. Through my blog I’ve also learned about social media, where I enjoy building online community and online marketing. These skills will occasionally overlap when I’m doing prospect research or networking but, for the most part, they are two entirely different “camps” of fundraising.

We live in a time where this is the story for more and more people. Some fundraisers become brilliant generalists with skills that help in several fundraising disciplines; others become experts in specific genres, like major gifts or annual fund. Historically, skills were developed in a more singular way. Development Directors and Vice President’s of Advancement benefit from being expert generalists, knowing about each area of development, allowing them to lead a multi-tiered development program. Major Gifts Directors and Annual Fund Directors benefit from the ability to be an advanced practitioner of their specific discipline.

Today, many people have developed these satellite skills; skills that don’t necessarily fit their everyday work. I meet more and more people who have an area in which they work, like Major Gifts, and have developed a hobby area in their free time through volunteering or personal philanthropy. It will be exciting to see how this interdisciplinary approach to development advances the fundraising profession.


6 Responses to Fundraising Generalist or Practitioner

  1. BelieveJay says:

    Great thoughts! I have always looked up to the people who had a singular path. I thought that they had it easier because they knew for instance what they wanted to do and how to approach it. I felt that being singular would contribute to my security. Growing up, this was very difficult for me. I really wished I could figure it out and absolutely know what I wanted to do and be specific. In the end, I am a generalist. With that, I am more of a consultant and can see things in an overall sense – I have many areas of interest. This means that often times, I do not know everything about a particular subject in depth as someone with a singular focus would. I pick a few areas to focus on of course but I am not the best in the world at them. So my point is that the world requires both types of people and that they contribute to each others success. I believe that the specifically-minded accomplish certain goals but not the same ones as the generalists. Thanks for the opportunity to respond. Enjoy your blog. Thanks!

  2. […] A Small Change… Fundraising Generalist or Practitioner Jason at A Small Change muses on thoughts that, even if you’re not in fundraising, have […]

  3. PlanoPride says:

    One thing I have found about the profession. Even though a candidate may have extensive experience in major gifts and annual campaigns does not necessarily translate to success within various types of organizations. Many college development/edvancement offices will not hire a major gifts candidate from the health care development side. Apparently there is a lot of weight placed on “education” contacts even though they are usually the same donors as those in healthcare, social services, or churches.

    In an ideal world– only those with 7-10 years of experience in the “fill-in-the-blank” development department would apply. As a matter of reality, many well-qualified candidates often become discouraged and seek other careers in place of fundraising.

  4. Mazarine says:

    Well, it seems to me that people who start at small nonprofits are going to have to become generalists. And since the vast majority of nonprofits in America are small nonprofits, we are going to find a LOT of generalists. And to me, that’s a good thing, that helps a fundraising leader know about each aspect of fundraising, and learn how to manage expectations around different direct reports. I do wish that more executive directors had this Development Generalist background.

    People who start at large nonprofits (like universities and hospitals) are going to be more highly paid specialists. There is already an established system in place, so they can lean on this, and have the luxury of just doing Major Gifts or Annual Giving. Having never worked in one of these offices myself, I can’t speak to whether these people gain the same level of personal and professional satisfaction from their specialty or niche roles.

    I do know that more and more nonprofits are looking for fundraisers with Major Gifts experience, instead of wanting to train people to do major gifts. And I think that is a shame, because a job should be a place where you’re allowed to learn, allowed to make mistakes.

    It may be a class divide in fundraising. What do you think?

  5. PlanoPride says:

    Mazarine- The larger development offices have the luxury of hiring Major Gifts people in their departments because they have the money to be able to do so. They also have no intention of hiring “outsiders” for their positions. They are content appointing someone from within even though the only experience they may have is one or two years working in the Annual Fund. Seems a shame to “train” these people when their mistake could cost losing a “Major Gifts” donor.

  6. Jason Dick says:

    Great comments, really interesting insights. Most of the fundraising that I’ve done has been in a mid-sized shop where you have to do a little bit of generalist work but there is enough staff that you are specializing a good bit.

    I certainly think you can have just as much job satisfaction in a big shop as you can in a little shop. I don’t think satisfaction is about the size of your shop as much as if you enjoy the work you do and the people you do it with.

    I agree that work should be an environment where people have an opportunity to learn. But I can also understand that with the amount of turnover in the nonprofit world they’d rather have someone come in with the skills able to do the job than train them for a couple years and then they leave to go somewhere else. I’ve also found that many organizations don’t want a Major Gifts person that is too skilled as that means they are set in their ways and they can’t mold them to their way of major gifts fundraising.

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