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How Nimble are Your Development Skills?

Can you take your skills into the 21st century?

Last week I attended the RISE Austin conference. One session I attended was with Manuel Zarate, President and Founder of Mr. Zarate is a serial entrepreneur who also has a foundation, and the title of his talk was Act Short, Think Long.

He started out by asking us what country we lived in. I said, the USA. So did nearly everyone there. He challenged us to understand that we were not living in the USA. We were living in a country whose borders were defined by technology. He encouraged us to think globally. So… um.. my country is the internet?

We are redefining our civilization. Borders are defined by technology. We are living in a symbiotic society. Social Media and Social Entrepreneurship are coming to the forefront of nonprofit technology. We live in an Age of Ubiquitous Communication, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. To see a fascinating interactive graph on how internet use has increased over the past 12 years, go here.

He said, look, half of the jobs out there today didn’t exist 10 years ago. And in 10 years we’re going to need more people who need to know how to do different things. You need to train in complementary competencies, not core competencies. That means you need to look beyond the traditional value chain.

So here’s how you can apply this to development. Today you learn a program like Raiser’s Edge. So what? Can you learn Donorperfect? Can you learn Salesforce? Can you learn the next big database that we’ll all be using in the next 10 years? Can you help shape new technologies with your feedback today that will give us a better database, an even better way to run reports?

In my opinion, your complementary competencies are

1. To have a good tolerance for ambiguity. We just don’t know what the next big technology is going to be. But what if it’s gaming? Perhaps this industry that is driven by creativity and causing a cultural shift will provide a new revenue stream for your nonprofit. Maybe you can’t see it today, but consider it.

2. Learn new technologies quickly. Whether it’s mobile giving or using an RSS feed on your nonprofit website or blog, you need to be constantly creating more value for your nonprofit and your position.

3. To always be able and ready and willing to learn from anyone. This means looking at stories in the news, seeing how other nonprofits are successfully fundraising, and copying that. This means asking your volunteer, your intern, your SCORE mentor, or even fundraising blogs questions.

Are you defined by passion and effort or effort and risk?
What this means is passion is why you got into this field in the first place. Maybe you volunteered and wanted to have a bigger impact by becoming a fundraiser. Maybe you were on the program side and decided that your skills were more suited to fundraising. Maybe you’re a reluctant fundraiser, but just need to be reminded of your passion to know why you do this. Remember your passion. Remember the stories that you have are almost as important as asking. Your stories will keep both your team and your donors going.

When you are only thinking about effort and risk, you’re not passionate about your mission. Risk is necessary. Especially now, when the models are breaking down, and when the very structure of our system is breaking down. We need to collaborate, redefine, together, what will make nonprofits succeed in the 21st century.

Don’t forget to enjoy yourself in pursuit of a goal. Can you meet with a nonprofit mentor or fellow struggler in your cause this week for coffee? Renew yourself. Reinvent yourself. Get nimble.

Want more free advice on fundraising? Follow me on twitter @wildwomanfund

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