Advice to a Young Fundraiser on His 23rd Birthday
The older I get the more grateful I am for the mentors I had when I started fundraising.
More and more, I find myself remembering their advice and understanding why we did things the way they did, lo, these many decades ago.
Those of us that have been doing this for awhile (remember 3 x 5 cards and carbon paper? Good times, good times) have, I think, a responsibility to pass on what we’ve learned and encourage young fundraisers as they advance in their career.
So, when a friend posted that all he wanted for his 23rd birthday was for people to share what they’d tell themselves at the same age, I had a few thoughts:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
— Samuel Beckett
The successes you have will inform how you do you work in the future, but you’ll learn more from your failures. Embrace them. Success makes you complacent. Success leads to “This is the way we’ve always done it” because you just keep repeating the steps that made you successful. Your failures hurt, but growth ALWAYS comes from pain.
Read. A lot. Everything You Can.
There’s a lot of REALLY good information about fundraising in print. Read it. Learn from it. Sure, I’m gonna offer my own list of favorite books as a starting point, but there’s a ton of great information out there. Dig in. Ground yourself in the solid principles of the profession – then break the molds that created them.
Learn The Alternatives
It’s not all about gala tables and silent auctions and grant writing. It’s also not all about data sets and direct mail. It’s about all of those and everything else. It’s a big, beautiful, wonderful profession, full of great people doing amazing things in a million different ways. Experiment.
Go Ahead and Do the Stupid Thing
If I could do anything over again, it would be to do the things I DIDN’T do because I was too scared, too conservative, too worried what people might think. You won’t regret the things you did do – you’ll forgive yourself for those. It’s the things you didn’t do that will keep you up at night in your 40s.
Love Wildly and With Abandon
Fundraising is about relationships. To paraphrase RuPaul, if you haven’t learned how to love people how in the hell are you gonna learn how to love a donor?
” . . . love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.”
—Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage), Moonstruck
Let your heart get broken, let friends disappoint you, be betrayed – but don’t let it make you hard and cold. Let it open your capacity for love even further.
If You Love Something Else More and Can Do It Better, Go Do It
This is why I’m a RECOVERING actor. Best advice I ever got. I found something I could do better and loved more. Is the thing you love ridiculous and doesn’t pay well? Do it anyway. You’ll be so much richer if your soul is happy.
You Will Have Multiple Careers
Don’t pigeonhole yourself now. Learn as many skills and gain as much experience in other things as you can. Your values won’t change – unless they need to – but your interests and your passions might. Be prepared. I failed college math . . . twice. Now I’m kind of a reluctant data geek. What a world . . . .
The world is an amazing, wonderful, messed up place. We fundraisers get to see a lot of sides of it – some good, some bad, some ugly, some beautiful. Never become complacent in your amazement of the world around you and the people you encounter. Be a part OF it, don’t just observe it.
Call Your Family, Drink Lots of Water, Use Sunscreen, Eat Well
All that stuff they tell you to do like eat healthy and get lots of exercise and, whether or not they drive you crazy, love on your family? Yeah. Do that. It’s high price to pay later on if you don’t.
You think you have time right now. You don’t. That thing you want to do but you’re putting off until you have a better job, more money, more time . . . you never will. Do that thing now. You’ll have PLENTY of time to find the perfect job, the better car, the dream home. (You won’t have plenty of time to save for retirement — start doing that now. Srsly.)
The world has plenty of people who punch the clock and get the job done. What we need are dreamers, the big idea makers, the challengers, the rabble rousers, the ruckus-makers. And the dreamers who aren’t afraid to fail.
With all of that said, if I could say ANYTHING to my twenty-three-year-old self — and what I say to you on your birthday?
You got this. You’re awesome. Stop worrying so much. Go do the thing.
Happy Birthday, friend. Here’s to many, many more.