Get Your Hands Dirty To Understand Your Mission

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By Jeff Schreifels

You probably know how large companies recruit junior executives fresh from a college Master of Business Administration program. The perception from the outsider is these new MBA graduates are immediately given a beautiful office, incentives and perks that leads them to a fast track into the C- suite.

But what you probably don’t know is that, in reality, what good companies do is make all their junior executives get their hands dirty before they land those beautiful offices — 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, warehouse or manufacturing units, they can’t possibly be effective in understanding the business for which they are providing leadership and management.

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

This is a fatal mistake.

In the same way that you don’t take your donors to the scene to understand the need and the cause of that need, you, as a front-line fundraiser, also need to get your hands dirty.

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

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.

I mean 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, not just knowing about the need, but as Richard always says, “Have you been broken by the need?”

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

Get 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.

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