Fundraising: the rules of survival

Leesa Harwood provides an insight to fundraising.

In 1991 I accidentally became a fundraiser whilst looking for something else to do. I arrived in my new job with bright eyes and bright ideas. I wanted to change the world. I wanted to change lives. I had a superpower, it was fundraising.

It turned out that I didn’t have a superpower at all. I had to learn the ropes just like everyone else. There were successes, failures, soaring highs, crushing lows and always lessons to learn. Before long I began to understand the rules for survival in the world of fundraising. Rules that have served me well as the world of fundraising has transformed around me.

Fundraising today is a world away from my early days, before e-mail, the internet and social media. But what strikes me is that the rules for survival are still the same. Here are my top tips:

  1. Be curious – ask questions. Never be satisfied with the status quo. Never stop asking why. Never stop learning. The world is changing, and a sense of relentless curiosity will serve you well as you navigate the relentless transformation.
  2. Be emotional – you will meet people who tell you that fundraising is about the numbers, ratios and the bottom line. They are wrong. These are by-products of a human compulsion to make the world a better place. Understand the emotion and humanity behind donating and the rest will follow.
  3. Be connected – the charity world attracts some of the most incredible people you could hope to meet. You will forge lifelong friendships and develop incredible networks. Cherish them, nurture them and enjoy them. These are the people who will teach you more than you ever imagined, pull you back up when you fall over and celebrate with you when you succeed.
  4. Be humble – no charity has a right to exist and no fundraiser should expect to generate income on that basis. We do not have a right to work in this field, we have a duty to prove our worth.
  5. Be adaptable – fundraising has transformed beyond recognition since I started in 1991. It’s important to let go of aspects of your role that become obsolete and grasp opportunities that take your role off in a different direction. The world will change beyond anything you can imagine. Change with it.

A career in fundraising isn’t for the fainthearted. The next 5 years will see a transformation in the sector the likes of which we have never seen before. It will be exhilarating and terrifying. Our charity world is changing, and we must change with it. It has never been more important to face the future and embrace it. Set your rules for survival and then use them to guide and support you through what is an extraordinary and fulfilling career.