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Next Level: Setting up your first fundraiser to succeed

14 January 2016

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 January 14, 2016
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Linda Lysakowski

This is the second part of my interview with Linda Lysakowski, principal of Linda Lysakowski consulting, on how to make that first fundraising hire and set that fundraiser up to succeed.

MT: Let’s talk a little bit about hiring your first fundraising professional, because you’ll also be talking about that at the conference. I actually just presented on this topic yesterday for Meals on Wheels, and it was tricky, I have to say. There were different kinds of people in the room, some people who had never hired someone before. People who had hired someone before and it hadn’t worked out, so they’re trying again. So have you helped non-profits make their first fundraising hire before?Linda-Lysakowski

LL: I have, and even probably more than that, what I’ve helped them with is what to do when they made a mistake because they didn’t hire somebody to help them hire their very first development officer, and they didn’t really know what to expect from a development officer. So I’ve helped some organizations hire their very first person. I’ve also helped some organizations find that they actually had a person internally that was perfect for this job. I remember one organization, they took out ads and they were interviewing people and they just couldn’t find the right person, and I said to them one day, ‘You know, what about so-and-so?’ This was an employee of theirs. They said, ‘Oh my gosh, you know, you’re right. I think he’d be perfect for the job,’ and he worked out fantastic.

So sometimes it’s overlooking the obvious, and you think you don’t have anybody that can do fundraising. Sometimes the opposite happens where someone will hire somebody because, well, I remember one private school hired somebody because she sold a lot of candy in our candy sale. Her kids go to school here, so she’s a good fundraiser. It turned out she knew absolutely nothing about fundraising and they really had the wrong person in the wrong job. So sometimes it’s helping them discover that they don’t have people in the right job, and sometimes it’s helping them discover that they have people who could do that job very easily. Sometimes it is starting from scratch and looking for what is the ideal person. But a lot of it is educating the boards and the executive directors on what it really does take to be a good fundraiser. Sometimes it’s not the things that they think it is.

It’s not the good salesperson always. Certainly sales background helps. I came from a sales background myself. But it’s not the only answer. When I started in fundraising more than 30 years ago, I came from a business background. I spent 11 years in banking, and I thought, well, my business background is really going to help in the non-profit sector, and it did. But I also realized on day one when I walked into that job that I knew nothing about fundraising and development. So I was very fortunate to have a boss that said to me, ‘You’ve got to join AFP and get involved, and I’m sending you to this conference. Here’s the books and resources and periodicals that we subscribe to.’ So I think a lot of it comes down to not only finding the right person, but giving them tools to succeed, too.

MT: Definitely. I mean, when it comes to the important things to consider when you’re making your first fundraising hire, I was working with a non-profit that was an orchestra. The board chair was sure that we needed to hire this marketing person because they played the clarinet. I was just like, that’s not really actually a criteria that we should be considering. As nice as it is that they do play an instrument, I play an instrument too. You need somebody who actually can do the work. And so they just wanted to hire somebody they knew, you know. So I really feel like people should understand that, that the business background is important, but also their willingness to learn about fundraising and their background in fundraising.

LL: I would have been in trouble with that agency because all I can play is the CD player. So I’d never be able to work for them.

MT: No, just as well. But that’s the thing, people don’t know what they should be looking for, and I think that’s really a good thing you’re going to be getting across in this presentation. So you talked about how to set them up for success. What kind of support should an organization provide for a new fundraiser?

Next Level Fundraising Conference

LL: Well, I think it’s really important that first of all, the fundraiser is not expected to sit in their office all day and sit behind a computer, because they’re not going to raise money unless they’re out there in the community. So I really believe staff support, even if it’s a part time clerical support person, is absolutely essential for a successful fundraiser. Then I think they also have to give them the budget for those tools that they need, a good software system, the books and the seminars and the training and the conferences, and if you don’t have that kind of a budget, if you just expect the fundraiser to come in there – and you’ve probably heard this a million times too. Well, how long is it going to take before this fundraiser is earning their salary? My answer is always to them, well, do you hire other people and expect them to earn their salary? If you’re a social service agency and you’re hiring a caseworker, do you tell them they have to bring in x number of new cases every week to pay their salary? Or do you hire a chief financial officer and tell her or him that they have to cut the budget by $80,000 because that’s what their salary is, so they have to cover it by cutting the budget?

But for some reason, organizations get this feeling that the fundraiser has to earn their salary, and that’s really not the way to look at it. You have to look at that person’s salary as an investment in your organization, and I think one other thing that you must provide is support of the staff, and I mean the entire staff, and the board and volunteers. The fundraiser isn’t going to come in and wave a magic wand and make all this money pop out of a hat. You’ve got to give them the support that they need. The CEO has to be involved and it has to be a team effort, or it’s never going to succeed.

MT: I totally agree with you. Speaking of support, what kind of budget should you have for this fundraising person?

LL: Well, I think that depends a lot. I mean, I know agencies that are trying to hire a development person for $30,000 and I know agencies that are paying $60,000 to $80,000, and I know agencies that are paying $150,000 to $200,000. I think a lot of that depends on the type of agency you are, the geographic region you’re in. Obviously if you’re in a city like San Francisco or New York or someplace where the cost of living is hire, your budget is going to necessarily be higher than it may be in a small, rural community. There’s some good sources, though, that people can tap into such as the AFP salary survey to get an idea.

But I think the most important thing is to look at other people that are on an equal level. Like if you have a vice president of programs and a vice president of development, they should probably be on equal terms as far as pay within your organization. So I think that’s the best way to do this is to look around in your own community and find out what other people are paying. Look at national statistics and see what people are paying, and then see what’s reasonable within your own organization. But make sure that the person that you hire to do development is on equal footing with probably your CFO and your chief program officer, and that chief development officer should be getting the same salary range.

MT: I really appreciate you saying that. I think that’s a really important point, and what you said about organizations having a feeling that the fundraiser has to earn their salary, and how that’s really not a reasonable thing to expect from someone. I completely agree, and you know, having that just be the yardstick by which they’re measured is excellent. Just looking at what the other VPs make. That is a revolutionary idea for I think a lot of people. So what’s reasonable to expect in the first 90 days with a fundraiser? If you hired them and they have a good background and you’re giving them that support. What can you get in 90 days?

LL: Well, I don’t think we should expect miracles. As I said, the fundraiser isn’t going to come in and wave the magic wand. Again, it depends on your organization. Do you already have a donor system in place? Do you have donors who are cultivated and already supporting your organization? Or is development totally brand new to you and this is the first person that’s ever doing it? But I think within 90 days, no matter where your organization is, you can expect a good development officer to have developed a plan of action to have at least a one year development plan. I think the other thing you should expect from them in the first 90 days is that they take that time to really get to know your organization and the people in it.

So getting out and talking to other staff members, talking to the board members, talking to volunteers, talking to donors. That way they understand what they’re raising money for and spending some time with your program people understanding your programs, because they can’t go out and make a good case for support to a donor unless they really understand what you’re doing. So the first 90 days I would look at as a learning experience for that new person and also a planning experience, that they can develop their plan within the first 90 days. I think that’s a reasonable expectation, and not so much giving them dollar goals. Everybody gets so hung up on dollar goals, and they forget there are other goals that you should have in place, too.

Next Level Fundraising Conference

MT: Absolutely. I totally agree. That is really, really smart, and I think that’s where a lot of people fall down. They think that people just need to be raising money right away, and they absolutely cannot until they know who you are. So thank you so much for sharing this, Linda. If people want to learn more about you or the book that you mentioned about how to be a fundraising consultant, where should they find you?

LL: Okay, my website is lindalysakowski.com, and if you can’t spell that, it sounds like the way it looks. L-Y-S-A-K-O-W-S-K-I. The books that I have are all listed on my website as well as on Charity Channel Press, which is charitychannel.com. Both the book on the non-profit consultant’s playbook and also fundraising as a career is listed on there. That’s what I’ll be basing a lot of my talk, on hiring your first fundraising professional in that book. So both of those books are available either on Amazon, Charity Channel Press, or my website.

MT: Oh, wonderful. Thank you so much, Linda, and we will have links to these books and the Charity Channel and your website at the end of the transcript today. Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I think that your sessions are both going to be extremely informative for people, and I’m just so excited to have you there. So thank you for doing that.

LL: Thank you, and I’m looking forward to it also. I think it’s going to be another exciting conference. I’m so grateful that somebody is focusing on the career of fundraising, because we don’t focus on that topic nearly enough.

MT: Oh, thank you so much, Linda. I totally agree. I feel like people need to steward their careers the way they steward their donors, and a lot of times we put ourselves last and we need to start putting ourselves first. So I’m glad we’re doing it now, and thank you, thank you again.

Click here to register now for the Next Level Conference 2016. The early bird price of $218 ends on January 30th, 2016. It’s virtual, we will record every session, and you will have access to all of the recordings after the conference is over!

Next Level Fundraising Conference for Senior Nonprofit Leadership

Join Linda at the Next Level Fundraising Conference April 4-5, 2016

Who else will be speaking at the Next Level Conference?

How to take your nonprofit to the next level, with Molly Ola Pinney, CEO and Founder, Global Autism Project

John Urschel, educator from Bay Path University will be speaking about how to grow your major gifts program

Tycely Williams, Chief Development Officer of Red Cross Capital Region will be speaking about her research on truly effective fundraising

Hamlin Grange will be speaking about the importance of diversity in your nonprofit fundraising team

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