As fundraisers, we often refer to ourselves as “development professionals” or “development pros.” I like this terminology, because at their best, fundraising staff members, consultants, and development directors are professionals. But it got me thinking… in terms of fundraising, what exactly does it mean to be a “pro?”
To many people, the term professional just means someone who is paid to do something, or someone who has been doing something for a long time. For example, when we say “sales pro” or “professional poker player,” we often mean someone who is experienced, and who is paid a living wage (or better) for what they do. I find this definition severely lacking, however… we all know people who get paid for what they do, or who have been doing it for a long time, who are anything but professionals.
The True Development Pro
To me, a true development professional is defined by two things: a commitment to the profession, and an ethical and mission-based approach to fundraising. Much as with the cream of the crop in other true “professions,” such as doctors, lawyers and teachers, the best development officers and managers make a long-term commitment to fundraising, and exhibit true passion for what they are doing.
Let’s take a look at each of these two components of professionalism to see how they apply for modern fundraisers:
A Commitment to the Profession
True development pros see their profession as a “calling,” and make a long-term commitment to the role. They don’t see this as a “job,” they see it as a “career.” They learn, attend seminars, find mentors, read books, and figure out ways to become better fundraisers and better non-profit employees.
Likewise, they try to advance the profession by getting involved in professional organizations, mentoring other, younger development staff members, and being not just good, but phenomenal representatives of their organizations and their profession to the curious public.
An Ethical and Mission-Based Approach to Fundraising
The best development professionals uphold high ethical standards in their fundraising work. They play by the rules, because they know the rules work. They respect donors, because they know that disrespecting donors hurts not only their organization, but other non-profits as well.
Similarly, fundraising pros bring a mission-based mindset to their work. They know that their non-profit’s mission matters, and use that mission as the basis for all of their prospecting, cultivation, and appeals. For them, fundraising isn’t just a numbers game, it is an effort that has a very real and very positive effect on human lives.
It’s Time to Step Up to the Plate
Here on A Small Change Fundraising Blog, Jason often highlights development professionals in his Featured Fundraiser posts. I love these profiles, and often find inspiration in the work of others in the non-profit field. Use stories like these as inspiration for your own work and career.
If you haven’t yet made the commitment to becoming a true development pro, now is the time to step up to the plate. You may be hoping for a 40 year career in development, or you may be looking for a “2nd act” of 10 years in fundraising before you retire. Whatever your career path, now is the time to make a commitment to the profession. Start learning, networking, and growing, and bring your love for your organization’s mission into everything you do.
Joe Garecht is the creator of The Fundraising Authority, a free source of fundraising advice and tutorials for non-profits of all sizes.