This is part three of a three-part blog series: Warning, There’s a Gap in your Fundraising Knowledge and Experience.

To be an effective non-profit leader, manager, or consultant, you need to have experience with a wide variety of different types of non-profits.

In my last two blogs, I wrote about having a complete understanding of the donor pipeline and what to avoid in consultants. I wrote about the knowledge gap that Richard and I see in the industry among this group of professionals.

Today, I want to talk about the experience gap.

Too many leaders, managers, and consultants have only worked in one area of the non-profit space. This is damaging to the space they are in, and when they finally venture out to lead, manage, or consult in a new space, they won’t have the necessary breadth of experience to help others be successful.

Let me tell you a story.

Several years ago, Veritus worked with a Chief Development Officer for a university. We did our free donor file assessment that we always start off with before engaging with a client and found a mess. All the MGOs working under the CDO were carrying portfolios of 250-350 donors each. Well, wait, that’s not quite true. Many were not even donors, just alumni with high wealth ratings. The CDO had spent his entire 20-year career in higher ed, bouncing around between different universities. All he knew was how universities do major gifts. Which, in our opinion, is terrible.

So, to be clear, this is why working with only one type of non-profit hurts you. You have no other frame of reference on how you could be more effective.

Now, fortunately, this university hired us to help them turn this around. So, we did our thing: we qualified donors, assigned no more than 150 donors per portfolio, tiered those donors, set goals, created strategic plans for every donor, etc. Then, of course we met with the MGOs every week to keep them accountable and focused. Ten months into the engagement, we were already ahead of goals and projections. But, then the CDO met with us to say how thankful he was for our work, what an amazing job we had done, but now that he knew what to do, he’d decided to end our engagement after 12 months. (We’ve heard this reasoning before, many times.)

One year later, the major gift program landed back where it was (a disaster) and the CDO was let go.

Then we found out the CDO had taken another job as CDO of an international relief agency. Obviously, a completely new type of non-profit. Apparently, he didn’t take what he learned from us and applied his narrow higher-ed experience to this non-profit. Within 12 months, he was let go because his staff revolted, results tanked, and he was completely ineffective trying to apply his higher-ed experience to this new non-profit.

This story is one of many that Richard and I could tell you.

Whether you are early in your career or seeking to make a change, and you see yourself leading, managing, or consulting someday, know that having experiences across all types of non-profits is crucial in providing effective leadership.

Yes, of course there are some universal fundraising truths, but each type of non-profit has nuances that will help you as you develop vision, strategy, and new thinking to your work.

I’m not encouraging you to change jobs every other year, but you can still expose yourself to a wide variety of organizations by:

  • participating on non-profit boards,
  • attending conferences outside your non-profit’s area,
  • developing mentee relationships with other development professionals that work in a completely different area than you,
  • subscribing to fundraising publications that specialize in a different non-profit space,
  • and always, always be curious.

As a non-profit leader, manager, or consultant, a wide range of knowledge and experience matters.

Knowing the entire donor pipeline and working with different types of non-profits allows you to be more creative, provide solid strategy, and more importantly, show empathy toward others who are following your leadership.

Empathy allows you to show compassion. From compassion, you can lead and manage others with confidence and care.


This is Part 3 of a three-part blog series: Warning, There’s a Gap in your Fundraising Knowledge and Experience

Read Part One: To Be a Great Leader, Know Every Aspect of the Donor Pipeline
Read Part Two: 4 Reasons to NOT Hire that Outside Consultant