We have been spending some time recently trying to find out how to become experts at fundraising. This research was prompted by our 6 month review and was in part to find out what Effective Fundraising should do next. There were two main questions we wanted to answer. What are the different approaches for becoming good at fundraising, and which is the best for learning how to become good at fundraising?
We have tried a few different ways of finding information on how to get better at fundraising. We used three basic steps to gather information on this topic: online research, contacting experts in the area, and reviewing books on fundraising and related materials.
Finding the different options for how to get better proved very easy. They basically break down into four main options:
However, it was very difficult to determine which of these options was best. Many of the answers we got from experts seemed somewhat biased. The majority had no strong preference, despite being asked specifically which strategy would be most effective. Additionally, few were able to give any strong reasoning or evidence behind their thoughts. There were a couple of exceptions who gave good reasoning, but given the relative lack of scientific evidence in the field they were based on personal experience.
One option that came up was taking classes or formal schooling. There are many fundraising classes and courses although the ones that offered previews looked more basic or similar to the online information and information contained in books.
A few of the fundraisers we contacted mentioned that formal education was not available for fundraisers until relatively recently and thus many experts in the field became good through experience not education. One thing that makes us wary of education as a recommendation is that many of the fundraising experts who recommended classes ran paid courses themselves, creating an inherent bias.
Another way of getting better at fundraising is learning online. This was mentioned as a good method by many online blogs and in the strongest response we received (from a consultant who is more familiar with our situation). This also seemed like a way that could be combined with other methods of learning.
The most common recommendation was working in fundraising. Getting hands-on experience was mentioned by virtually every expert we talked to and all of them had become experts via this method. Very few made distinctions between different ways of getting experience, such as working with other experts or doing it on your own.
It was mentioned that for getting a more general sense a small nonprofit might be better than a large one, because you would learn many different things at a shallow level. However, if you want to learn a more specific fundraising skill, bigger organizations would be better, such as universities, hospitals, and global NGOs.
The final way of learning that was recommended was getting a mentor. There are some mentoring programs available for a small fee although many have specific start dates that have passed or are not coming up in the near future. This seemed like an extremely promising option since it’s quick tailored advice given for free, so it has a low time and monetary cost. However most mentorships did not meet often enough to be the sole way of learning, but rather as a complementary strategy.
Another alternative would be a consultant, which would be similar except considerably more expensive. This would be an option if the mentorship approach did not come through.
In conclusion we are not confident about which options are stronger than the others. Our tentative steps forward are to continue to work in fundraising, read, and find a mentor, and if these do not seem to be working, to try the other options.
If you are aware of any other options or know somebody who would be interested in offering us advice, please contact us or leave a comment.
You also might be interested in our operations blog that details: our month to month organizational progress, the more technical ideas we have, and our board meeting minutes