Do You Really Have What It Takes to be a Successful Fundraising Professional?

If you want to be a successful fundraising professional, you need to constantly expand your knowledge and develop your skills. Great fundraisers are not born. They are created through hard work and dedication.

However, if you want to be a truly successful fundraising professional, you’ll need more than knowledge and skills. You need passion. You need passion for the profession, your organization’s mission, and for improving society.

One way to supercharge (or recharge) your passion is to remember what first attracted to the fundraising profession or what first inspired you to make a charitable donation. In my case, both are wrapped in the same tale. Here’s my story:

Little Michael at age 8.

My passion for fundraising and philanthropy began when I was eight years old. You see, I wanted my parents to buy me some comic books. My mother said that she would get me any ‘‘real’’ book I wanted but, if I wanted comic books, I would have to spend my allowance. Well, in those days, an allowance was not an entitlement; I had to earn it by doing household chores. Sadly, I was already at my maximum earning capacity. And I had no more money for the latest edition of Superman.

Because I simply had to have the latest Superman comic book, I asked my mother if I could sell my old comic books and open up a lemonade stand to generate some quick cash. Fortunately, she granted her permission.

My first entrepreneurial effort was a terrific success. I generated what in today’s dollars would be about $150. As an eight-year-old kid, I was rich! Recognizing that I did not need to buy quite that many comic books, my mother suggested I give half of it away to charity. She further said that, if I agreed with her suggestion, I could pick whatever charity I wanted.

At the time, our local newspaper operated a fund to send “poor inner-city” kids to summer recreational camp. I grew up in the suburbs. However, my cousin grew up in the big city. I knew how miserable summertime in the city could be for a kid. I knew how good I had it, even with our meager working-class lifestyle. I wanted other kids to enjoy the clean air and open spaces that I enjoyed. So, I took my coffee can with half of my earnings and marched into that local newsroom.

The editor was so moved that he had my picture taken and put me on the front page! My little eight-year-old ego swelled. I was inspired for each of the next several summers to run a front-yard fair for that summer camp fund. The only changes were that I gave 100 percent of the revenue to the charity and the event got bigger each year. It even inspired similar efforts in other neighborhoods.

I can trace the roots of both careers I have had in my adult life — journalism and development — back to that little boy’s experience. I learned a great deal about fundraising in those days, especially about what it takes to inspire donors to support a good cause. I also learned how good it feels to be philanthropic.

Philanthropy is a learned behavior. At MarketWatch, Kari Paul’s article “Want Your Children to be Charitable? Do This” opens with this sentence:

If you want your children to be charitable, show them how it’s done.”

As adults, as fundraising professionals, we would do well to remember the first time we were zapped by the philanthropic spark. And we should teach philanthropy to the children in our lives.

When it comes to fundraising consulting, knowledge, skills, and passion are just as important. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful mentors who have helped me grow in all three areas. Along the way, I’ve been able to assist others pursuing a consulting career.

Most recently, I shared bits of my consulting story and tips with Tim Chaten at MarketSmart for the How I Built My Fundraising Consultancy Podcast. He’s put together a series of recorded interviews with leading consultants. The insights and tips he’s accumulated will help fellow consultants and anyone thinking about becoming a fundraising consultant.

I’m delighted to continue my fundraising journey at ML Innovations, Inc. I enjoy providing fundraising and marketing services to nonprofit organizations as they strive, in various ways, to make the world a better place. If you’d like to explore how I might be able to help you reach or exceed your fundraising goals, or if you just want to know what the “ML” stands for, please contact me.

Finally, I encourage you to take a moment to share your own philanthropy or fundraising origin story below. You’ll help inspire others and, quite possibly, you just might kick your own passion up a notch.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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10 Comments to “Do You Really Have What It Takes to be a Successful Fundraising Professional?”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post, particularly because we share something else in common besides helping others find joy by giving to others. That commonality is comic books. I was a huge comic book reader and they are responsible for building the large vocabulary I employ in my own writing about philanthropy.

    • Richard, thank you for your comment. In retrospect, my mother’s idea was not entirely wise. I never should have sold my comic book collection. Imagine what it might have been worth today! Oh well. Things worked out. 🙂

  2. Very good post, Michael. It was also good to listen to your interview on “How I Started my Fund Raising Consultancy.” Best

  3. Michael, thank you for the invitation to share my own fundraising origin story because it made me ponder why I do the work I do. For me, it is about helping. When I was 12 or so, my uncle came to live with us. He had cancer, and my mother cared for him until he died. I helped with my two younger sisters. My mother’s example of caring for someone and allowing my uncle to be as independent as possible taught me the importance of sacrifice and being other-focused. My nonprofit work has been focused on vulnerable people and adding dignity and hope to their lives. The fundraising part of my work is giving people the opportunity to be generous and to have have a role in the work.

    • Madeline, thank you for sharing your fundraising origin story. Probably without even realizing it, your mother certainly embraced the true meaning of philanthropy. When we give of ourselves to help enhance the lives and dignity of others, we are being philanthropic. Philanthropy means love of humankind. You and your mother live that. Your story of the gift of inspiration your mother gave you is a touching.

  4. What a lovely story! Bless you and your continuous endeavors to help others. May your passion continue to soar high! Looking forward to more informative and helpful fundraising tips!

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