Thursday, March 03, 2011

Certified Confidence

I rarely write in detail about my work on this blog. In part because I am required to keep my client work confidential and more importantly because it just seems like an area that, in order to remain professional, is generally off limits on a personal blog. If you read this blog at all though, you probably know that I work in nonprofit fund raising, which means I have the pleasure of working with a variety of clients on exciting things like grants and marketing and donor databases and my favorite, special events. I get to attend these great events, and on a daily basis lend my expertise and support to help further the missions of some really spectacular organizations. And as part of my Bravely Obey in Action Life List project, I've wanted to add some further fund raising education to my resume. So I did. I attended classes, did my homework, raised my hand in class and earned my Certificate in Fundraising from UMKC over the last several months. My executive director asked me to write a post for our company blog on just that topic. So here it is. It was actually quite hard to write with my own voice, but in an entirely professional and not-sharing-embarrassing-details-of-my-personal-foibles-like-I-do-here kind of post. I did my best, see what you think!

In the more than ten years that I’ve worked for or volunteered with nonprofit organizations, I’ve struggled to find my place. As a social worker and case manager working first with children transitioning out of foster care and then with adults with developmental disabilities, I loved the feeling of making a difference in my clients’ lives everyday. That sense of giving back to the community and helping those with real needs feel safer, more independent and confident carried me through the crazy hours and often chaotic family struggles. But the emotional impact and stress of that work was not something I could tolerate for the long term. I think I’ve always known that my career would include working for nonprofit causes, but where did my skills best fit in this vast and varied nonprofit community? Then in 2007, I joined Support Kansas City.

Hired as Client Administrator, my duties included database management and fund development support for a variety of nonprofit clients. During the first couple of years here, the majority of my continuing education came from mentoring, coaching, and working along side older more experienced fund development specialists. These women were talented grant writers, special event planning gurus and had the wealth of experience in major giving and capital campaign fundraising that I hoped to gain myself. Under their tutelage and with the ongoing guidance and support of Debra Box, our executive director, the last four years have been filled with quality hands-on learning experiences, dedicated clients with vital missions, and the strong realization that after almost ten years in the nonprofit sector, I’ve found my niche right here in fund development.

 Debra, my boss, and I at our 10th Anniversary Luncheon last year.

In 2010, as Support Kansas City focused on growing our fund development department, I decided to take my education to the next level and pursue a Certificate in Fundraising through the University of Missouri Kansas City’s Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership. This program is composed of two core required classes, Organizing for Successful Fundraising and Creating and Implementing the Annual Development Plan and two chosen electives, and includes more than 96 hours of coursework. After completing the coursework and earning my certificate just last month, I walked away with some powerful new information to impart to my clients, renewed confidence and new connections in the community.  

The strength of these classes comes from three central components: First, the vast wealth of knowledge and experience of the two instructors, Senior Fellows with the Center, William Bergosh and Robert Buchanan. These two gentlemen are great teachers, utilizing decades of experience to impart their war stories, examples of their own mistakes and grand successes. They are open and approachable, with their main goal to empower each student to understand the core principles of fund development. And to impart the fund development director’s role in the planning and organized decision making processes that every successful nonprofit must undertake with their leadership and staff annually.

Secondly, the carefully structured and hands-on curriculum of these courses are designed to be studied and immediately implemented within a nonprofit organization. The ask techniques, annual fund plans, special events worksheets, gift charts, direct mail guidelines and specific well-tested major giving methods are easy to understand, simple to customize and literally can be put into practice the next day.

Finally, the networking benefit of enrolling in these courses is invaluable. Fund development at its core is about relationship building. And that is exactly what these classes help students to achieve. My classes were filled with foundation staff and leadership, fellow fund development staff, executive directors and program coordinators from nonprofits all over the area. The laid back atmosphere of the classes encouraged constructive feedback and discussion after presentations, open dialogue regarding the struggles and challenges of nonprofits both large and well-established and those grassroots, brand-new groups. That open dialogue ensures that my fellow students and I will develop ongoing relationships in the close knit community that is Kansas City’s nonprofit sector.

The combination of ongoing hands on experience, strong mentoring from talented, mature fund development directors, and now the addition of the Certificate in Fundraising course work, I feel more prepared and confident than ever in our ability to help nonprofits increase their fundraising dollars, develop cohesive and targeted fund development plans that align with budgeted goals, and create compelling and engaging marketing materials to increase awareness about their organizations, raising both funds and friends. Through board and staff training, annual fund implementation and capital campaign planning, I feel like I’m making a difference every day, giving back to the community by helping people find the best ways to raise the funds and engage the public in the valuable work they’re doing, serving Kansas City and fulfilling their mission. That’s my mission, and our mission at Support Kansas City.

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