How do you respond when someone asks about your profession – what you do for a living? While it can be tempting to offer a knee-jerk and readily-understood response such as, “I’m a fundraiser,” please don’t.
For the sake of our authentically-transforming work, just don’t.
Fundraising is the transactional, point-in-time act of donating. Think of the Salvation Army’s red kettles outside of shopping centers before Christmas. Think of crowd-funding competitions at college football games. Think of point-of-sale donation drives at department stores.
Such fundraising strategies are not bad or unhelpful. And, being employed to plan and implement such strategies is not ignoble work. To be certain, transactional fundraising can raise significant sums of money!
But, that is exactly the point of why you should never refer to yourself as a “fundraiser.”
When you do this work well, it’s never about the money. Significant giving almost always follows time — and it always follows values and beliefs. Therefore, far from focusing on money, we should be focused on creating consequential donor engagement opportunities. Our work’s focus should be on inviting donors to better understand the need, to meet those our institution serves (if at all possible), and to vividly animate the overlap between our donor’s values and beliefs and the needs met by our institutions.
At its core, our work is about transformations, not transactions. Through engagement we invite others to join a meaningful cause. Through their acceptance of our invitation, the institutions we serve, the people our institutions serve, and the donors themselves, all are transformed.
Some years ago, I suggested that all development and advancement professionals should refer to themselves as “stewards.” Stewardship brings with an understanding of serving, protecting, and extending something good and bigger than yourself. I think that insight has worn well over time and today, I would certainly prefer that title over “fundraiser.” Having said that, there certainly are other more-apt descriptors to replace the ubiquitous “fundraiser” title.
You are engaged in an honorable, compassionate, encouraging, and virtuous profession. You do big things, even when working on modest scales. You build. You lift up. You bring good news and aspirations. You help nurture and grow programs that help others. In the end, you help transform individuals, communities, and the world by inviting others to express the most generous side of the human spirit.
Simply put, you are not a fundraiser. You are so much more.