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23 Mistakes I Hope You Won’t Make

Misteaks by advertisingelyse on Flickr

Recently I was chatting with a lovely reader of this blog, Maureen at MEDA.org, and she advised me to be more human, and share my mistakes. I really liked that advice. And I want to keep showing you how bumpy this fundraising path is.

Remember Oscar Wilde, who said, “Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”

So without further ado, here are some of my mistakes:

  1. I was mistaken in thinking that just because I raised a lot of money for a nonprofit, working around the clock with a smile, that the boss would want to keep me around.
  2. Early in my career, I worked for $10 an hour, because I felt like I needed any job. Working for such a low wage drained me and made me totally unmotivated. This was a big mistake.
  3. When I first started fundraising, I made the mistake of thinking that fundraising was mainly getting grants.
  4. Another mistake: buying a mailing list without asking the right questions of the list owner, and none of those names became donors.
  5. Writing direct mail that didn’t focus on the word YOU or have lots of pictures or headlines to break up the text.
  6. Thinking that a free network for good salesforce database would work for our organization, when what we really needed was a database with customer support so we could all get trained on the system, which meant paying for a database.
  7. Trying to buy lots of nice clothes on credit, because my boss told me that I needed to get nicer clothes to do my work. He was picking on my fashion because I was a woman, not because I wasn’t doing a good enough job, or because I didn’t have nice enough clothes.
  8. Creating my first annual report and not looking at other people’s annual reports first to see what was possible. I ended up using stamps as design elements. It was horrendous and hilarious.
  9. When I was first becoming a nonprofit consultant, thinking I could just snap my fingers and get grants for one of my clients. Yeah… that didn’t work.
  10. Not doing donor stewardship calls every chance I could.
  11. Not insisting on monthly “check-ins” with my bosses, when they didn’t want to meet with me. I should have created my own monthly report and sent it to them and to the board.
  12. Not creating an “achievement plan” with my bosses, to show how I could move up in the organization, and what my metrics would be in the first year and in the second year working for them.
  13. Not having the “how do you like to communicate” conversation with my boss, which led to frustration because I didn’t want text messages and he didn’t want to answer his phone, read his email, or look at me when I came to see him.
  14. Confiding in board members about my issues with my boss, as they did not care and did nothing to help solve the issues, even after my boss was found stealing several times.
  15. Not insisting on a budget for my fundraising and marketing of the organizations I worked for from day one.
  16. Not starting an email list for my blog from day one, and not sending emails every month for previous nonprofits that I worked at.
  17. Thinking that time spent on social media was as good as fundraising and business development.
  18. Working so hard that I got sick with bronchitis and pneumonia.
  19. Not making sure that taking care of myself & my time with family and friends was my first priority.
  20. Not asking questions more of my peers and mentors in fundraising and in other fields.
  21. Thinking that I could really do it all in a fundraising shop, with 3 people’s jobs, when I ended up doing 10 things badly, when I could have done one or two things well.
  22. Thinking I didn’t have to visit the program site to get stories for our fundraising.
  23. Thinking I could motivate the board with my development reports, when what they really needed was for me to ask them what would make a better board experience for them.

I have made so many mistakes. And these are JUST some of my fundraising mistakes. Want to see some of my business mistakes? Hoo Boy. I have tons of those too!

What did I learn from these mistakes?

I think that’s another post. But remember another important Wilde quote: “Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more.”

What mistakes have you made?

3 responses on “23 Mistakes I Hope You Won’t Make

  1. Mazarine says:

    Dear Martha and Allison,

    Thanks so much for responding! Your mistakes inform me as well. I found this quote by Oprah Winfrey that you might like! :)

    “You will be wounded many times in your life. You’ll make mistakes. Some people will call them failures but I have learned that failure is really God’s way of saying, “Excuse me, you’re moving in the wrong direction.” It’s just an experience, just an experience.” – Oprah Winfrey

    Thanks again for commenting,

    Mazarine

  2. Martha says:

    Thinking that, because the bosses consistently sign off on your work with the comment “perfect,” they will view your job as indispensable when they have to downsize during the recession.

    Thinking that, because after breaking the news to you that your own boss was just fired, the big boss reassured you that he likes you and you will be around for a “long, long time,” he will view your job as indispensable, etc.

  3. Allison says:

    Wow, thank you for sharing this! So many aspects of your list resonated with me, in particular 11, 12, and 13. I would add:

    1. Thinking I can’t learn from program on how to fundraise. They not only have the stories, but also have great methods on how to engage, communicate, and support community.

    2. Thinking someone else is going to care more about my career than I am.

    So much more to add, but thank you for getting this conversation started.

    Allison