When I talk to people who are new to the profession, they often want to know the same thing. “I work in a small shop,” they say. “Which activities will give me the most bang for my buck, no pun intended?” I am paraphrasing, but this discussion is definitely the #1 topic that I run across. And my answer is always the same: court your major donors.
When I first started, I wouldn’t have believed it were true. I wanted to get as many people excited about our cause as possible (which is important). I also wanted to create systems that were easy to maintain and monitor (also important). I wanted to design newsletters (keeping people informed is important) and hold (eek) special events (I won’t go there). I wanted to write grants (also helpful and important). But one thing I didn’t want to do was talk to major donors. I was afraid of them, didn’t feel that I had an rapport with them, and was scared to death of messing up, so I filled my time with other important—but not necessarily as important—activities.
If you work for a nonprofit, dealing with volunteers—recruiting, keeping, and appreciating them—are probably a big part of your life. Volunteers make big things happen for many of us, and some of our best stories come from the experiences, actions and antics of our “donors of time.”
Relatedly, I often think about whether nonprofit professionals volunteer, and if they don’t, why they don’t. I used to volunteer all the time at my organization; in fact, I started here as a volunteer before I was a staff person. Sometimes volunteers make the best employees because of their passion for the cause. But over time, my devotion and desire to do good led me to volunteer for my organization outside of work hours. As you can imagine, this rapidly led to burnout. Sometimes, if the burnout is too profound, good people can be lost, be they volunteers or staff, and that doesn’t serve anyone well.
As professionals, we know full well the benefits of volunteering. We tout them everyday to others, and use them to make our cases for community involvement to our funders. When presented with volunteer opportunities of our own, however, many of us don’t take them. “I am already doing good things for the world at my job,” you may say, or “I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest between my job and my volunteer work.” I am as busy as the next guy; even I made those excuses at one point.
I won’t lie. Face-to-face fundraising can be scary at first. I am an introvert, and I avoided asking people for a long time, preferring instead to write grants and fill out paperwork and send appeal letters. But, as the cloying cliche goes, practice makes perfect. And thus it was with me.
It took me a long time to realize what my problem was. I knew lots of people who asked, and had been asking for years. They were dynamic, they were successful—what was my problem? With a little introspection, I analyzed my situation and discovered the culprit:
I have a different personality type than the other askers I knew.
Most of them were outgoing, gregarious, vibrant and confident. On the contrary, I am a relatively quiet person, who can seem bubbly amongst people I know well, or when I am “fak(ing) it until I make it.” I am at my best among my colleagues, or among people who put forth the vibe of being even more scared or inexperienced than I am. But I am also a person who needs a ton of information to act and make the right decision. I often decided based on instinct, but my instincts are formed by learning as much as I can about a topic before presenting it.
If you’re like me (and I know I am), your Sunday thoughts about work can go in two general directions as you subconsciously (or consciously) prep yourself for the workweek. On the one hand, you love your job and your career and think about ways that you can make it even better. On the other hand, thinking of Monday gives you a sick, I-need-a-mental-health-day feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Fortunately, I am currently in the former camp, but I feel your pain if you’re in the latter and have been there too. There is nothing worse than feeling stuck in a job you hate. I have found that taking the time to honestly think about the pros and cons of your situation, and to plan an improvement strategy, is always a good idea.
For those of you who love your jobs, congratulations. But don’t rest on your laurels. What’s next? Where do you see yourself in five years? As a leader in your own company? In a senior position? With a higher salary? As a consultant? There are a variety of things that you can do now to position yourself well for the future that you choose. Taking advantage of learning opportunities, learning new skills, and improving your work habits will all help you get there. Finding a mentor may also be a good choice.
What do you dislike about your current job: Your boss? Your coworkers? Your salary? Your office or cubicle? The work itself? Fortunately, these things can all be remedied by proactivity, even if that proactivity means finding a position elsewhere.
Good communication with your superior is key. If you don’t feel like you have a rapport with them, your issues may end up being irreparable. But if you’re only letting yourself think that you can’t communicate with them, then it would be worth it to give it a try, especially if there are parts of your job that you enjoy very much. They can also help you work through other problems that you are having that may stem from coworkers, work environment, lack of autonomy, etc. Above all, being able to communicate what you feel you are bringing to the table, and taking initiative to meet issues head-on, will allow you to stand out among your peers, increasing advancement opportunities.
If your situation is beyond help, however, a job search is probably in your future. Here are some nonprofit job search resources that may be helpful to you.
- Making the Jump Making the Career Jump from For-Profit to Not-for-Profit (from The Bridgespan Group)
- Start with the Man in the Mirror: Updating Your Job Search Methods Things that you can do to optimize yourself for the job search and subsequent interviews (from Nonprofit Jobs)
- A list of nonprofit job sites on Nonprofit Charitable Orgs at About.com
Any reader tips out there for advancing in your career or making a change?