You probably know how large companies recruit junior executives fresh from a college MBA program. The perception from the outsider is that these new MBAs are immediately given a beautiful office, incentives, and perks that offer them a fast track into the C- Suite.

But what really good companies do with all their junior executives, before they land those beautiful offices, is make sure they “get their hands dirty” first. Sometimes for months or even a year.

Why do they do this? Because without first-hand knowledge of what they are doing on the assembly line or warehouse or manufacturing units, they can’t possibly be effective in understanding the business they are providing leadership and management for.

Yet, oftentimes in the non-profit space, we hire mid, major, and planned giving officers and never require or expect those front-line fundraisers to literally place themselves in the need that the non-profit is addressing.

This is a fatal mistake.

In the same way that you want your donors to understand the need and the cause of that need by taking them “to the scene,” you as a front-line fundraiser also need to be “in it.”

Richard and I firmly believe that if you are not immersed in the need that your organization’s mission is addressing, and what causes that need, you cannot be effective as a fundraiser. This may mean spending time living in the community that your non-profit is helping. If your organization is doing work overseas, it would mean you have to spend a good amount of time in that area to really understand what is really happening on the ground. In other words, yes, you must get your hands dirty. In some cases, literally.

There is no other way around it. How can you be effectively communicating to a donor about the need without having immersed yourself in that need? You can’t.

Any good salesperson will tell you that before they can sell anything, they have to know the product inside and out. The features of it, why it’s useful, what it costs, why it’s needed, etc. It’s the same for you as a front-line fundraiser.

This is one reason why we are always harping on you to get out of the office. (Well, when you were in an office). Not just to get in front of donors, but to know first-hand the need your organization is addressing.

And it goes beyond just knowing about the need – as Richard always says: “Have you been broken by the need?”

Meaning, do you feel it emotionally? I don’t care if you are an MGO for an art museum or a homeless shelter: there is a need, it’s real, and it’s emotional. You must tap into that to be effective with your donors.

Get your hands dirty by staying in touch with the need, why this need exists, and what would happen if that need isn’t met. That will make you much more empathetic, real, and authentic with your donors, and it will help them put their trust in you and the organization.


Thank you to one of our readers, Rachel, who inspired this blog topic.