As development professionals, most of us have heard those words –and the accompanying eye twinkle– before. As a mom, I would estimate that I have seen that eager look in the eyes of scout leaders, pastors, dance team sponsors and PTA volunteers somewhere around 100 times.
It seems that, once word gets out that you are a “fundraiser,” the radar immediately goes up. You could be just the person needed to coordinate the next candy, cookie or pizza sale. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly what we mean when we say fundraising.
So….where does that leave us as moms and dads and church and community members? How can we help without being overwhelmed by expectations, and without wondering “what were they thinking” when someone made the decision to sell those candy bars?
After many years of struggling with this phenomenon, I have finally come to a comfortable strategy of dealing with this. For those of you who may just be embarking on this path, i.e., parents of now-school aged children, you may find these insights helpful. Here is my three-step plan for addressing this situation:
- DON’T TELL!: Or, more specifically, don’t use the term “fundraiser” when explaining what you do. We all have seen that glazed-over look when we say we work in “Development” or “Advancement” so it can be easier to just say we are in “Fundraising.” However, this is often the quickest way down that black hole of being asked to chair the next bake sale. Maybe it isn’t a bad thing to not have others understand what “Development” means! These days, when asked what I do, I say that I assist non profits increase their philanthropic support. It’s specific enough to answer the question, yet vague enough to keep the candy brochures out of my mailbox.
- PARENT FIRST, FUNDRAISER SECOND: This may sound odd, but what I mean is, when asked to volunteer for any type of “fundraising” effort, I simply do what a non-development person would do. That is, exactly what is asked, without increasing expectations because of what I do for a living. If the request is made on heels of discovering that I am in “fundraising,” I politely mention that my expertise is in individual solicitation, not sale-related efforts. This usually elicits a disappointed sigh, but also quells expectations. My rule of thumb is this: If I have time, I say yes. But I don’t say yes because the person asking thinks I will “be a pro” because of my job.
- GO EASY ON THE COMMENTARY: This is closely related to #2, but may require a bit of a personality adjustment, especially if your normal mode of operation is to offer your advice. I have realized over the years that most individuals coordinating fundraising activities aren’t looking for suggestions. They just want someone who can run a heck of a candy sale: Someone who is organized, detail oriented and has the time to follow through. They don’t need to be told that maybe there is a better way to raise a few thousand dollars. Case in point, last year, at a parent meeting for our church’s Youth Group, the discussion focused on raising funds for a mission trip to Turkey. Ideas were flowing freely: concession stands, car washes, candy sales, etc. I boldly raised my hand and mentioned that there might be some local funding sources we could explore, given the humanitarian nature of the trip. The stares I received can only be described as cold. Not one person wanted to learn more about what I had said, and I quickly saw that I had cast myself as an outsider, perhaps even one unwilling to pitch in and get my hands dirty at that car wash. A few weeks later our pastor consoled me over coffee saying, “I was so excited by what I heard you say, and I think that would be cool to consider. But, I don’t think this group is ready for that.” The bottom line is, even if you think you have a great idea, others may not agree. In this instance, I found out it was better to simply volunteer and keep my words of wisdom to myself.
The lesson here is simple: as a parent, church member or community volunteer, you undoubtedly have many opportunities to lend a hand. The fact that you are engaged in assisting a non profit organization in securing funds does not have to define how you accomplish the goal of helping out. In this case, remember that you are the volunteer, not the staff member, and commit to becoming the absolute best volunteer you can possibly be. In other words, show up, work hard and do what you are asked to do. It may not always be the easiest thing to do—especially if you are thinking, “You know, I could go out and find a donor for this.” But, it will most likely endear you to the others committed to the cause.
*Laura Worcestor is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at email@example.com