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Linda-Lysakowski

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Mazarine Treyz: This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising. Today I have the honor and privilege of introducing to you and interviewing Linda Lysakowski, the author of a great many books on fundraising, she’s the Stephen King of Fundraising and she is going to be speaking at our Virtual Fundraising Career Conference on April 15th. And she’ll be speaking about how to create a culture of philanthropy at your nonprofit. Without further ado, Linda, who are you, and how did you come to fundraising?

Linda Lysakowski: Thanks first of all Mazarine, and I think it’s very interesting that the Stephen King of Fundraising is speaking to the Wild Woman of Fundraising. What an appropriate conversation. I’ve always been kind of fascinated and you’ll have to tell me the story sometime of how you became the wild woman of fundraising. I’ve been known to be a bit of a wild woman in my own right! I come originally from Pennsylvania, I now live in Boulder city outside of Las Vegas. It’s a sleepy town of 30,000 with two traffic lights, but I love living here and I love fundraising. I’ve been doing this for about 30 years now. I served as a development staff person in a university and in a museum before I went into consulting.

How I came into fundraising is actually kind of a funny story, in my book, Fundraising as a career, what are you crazy? one of the first things I do is talk about why I called it that. Before I came to fundraising I was a banker, I always describe myself as a recovering banker, I spent 11 years in the banking field and as a banker I was involved in a lot of different community activities, I found that I really enjoyed fundraising for nonprofits. I never knew that people actually got paid to do this. I was volunteering for the university that I graduated from.

At the bank, the executive vice president of the bank invited me out for breakfast one day. I thought, I’m either in trouble or he wants to ask a favor, because the executive vice president of the bank doesn’t invite you out to breakfast for no reason. He asked me if I would serve on the university’s annual corporate appeal, and I said sure, and that was my first introduction into a real full blown development office. I looked around and I said, Wow, people actually get paid to do this? This is something for me. I should look into this!

So a few weeks before my graduation I sent my resume in to the college president. Right after graduation, I got a phonecall and he said, “Would you be interested in being assistant vice president for institutional advancement”? And of course I had no idea what that was, but I soon found that development was really my field, I really fell in love with fundraising and I’ve been doing it for more than 30 years although right now my practice is more focused on teaching and speaking and writing, because I found that while I could reach hundreds of organizations through my consulting, I’ve been able to reach 30,000 people through my speaking and through my writing, who knows, thousands more. I’ve found that this is the way I can really make a difference in the world of philanthropy and fundraising is to focus more on writing and speaking, and that’s the primary focus right now.

MT: Wow. You wrote a book called Fundraising as a Career, what are you crazy?. What is that about? And why should people read it?

LL: The book is really about first of all dispelling the myth that you have to be crazy. And the reason I gave it that title is because when I left banking and went into fundraising, that was the comment I got from most of my friends in the banking world. Are you crazy? Why would you leave a promising banking career and go work for a nonprofit organization?

Because the myths about fundraising are that it’s begging for money, that it’s poorly paid, and that nonprofits are scrounging around always looking for money and they don’t really contribute anything to society. So I found that is definitely not true, and so I wanted people to understand that the career of fundraising is a noble profession, that it is a profession and a career and not just a job. So many people look at their jobs as just a job that they have to go to every day. So I wanted to talk about what fundraising is, what it really entails, what the different career paths are that brought us there, because many people like myself fell into fundraising through volunteer efforts.

Some people fell into fundraising because they worked at a nonprofit all their lives as maybe a program person or a clergy person, and all of a sudden one day the organization realizes it needs to raise money and says Hey OK sally you’re now our fundraiser!

I wanted people to know this is a career that you can prepare yourself for, and how exciting it is, and I wanted them to know that there are many different opportunities. Some people think, “I can’t be a fundraiser because I can’t go out to talk to people, but maybe they’re a good writer, and maybe they can become a grantwriter or the staff writer that makes a case for support. I can’t ever be a planned giving officer, because I don’t want to talk to people about their ultimate demise. Maybe that person is better suited to work on the annual appeal or special events. There are so many opportunities in fundraising.

I always liked being the generalist, doing the special events, the grantwriting, the major gifts, the planning, the implementation of strategies, those things really excite me. I wanted people to know what career paths are available, but also how to prepare themselves for a move. Some people are happier in a small office where they can do a variety of work. whereas other people might be happier focused on major gifts, grantwriting or special events. I really wanted to let people know what’s available, how to best prepare themselves, and what the qualities of a good fundraiser are.

This book is also a good book for executive directors or board members who are hiring a fundraiser so they know what to expect, because so many times CEOs and boards have so many unrealistic expectations about what the fundraiser is really going to do and what the focus is. So that’s why I wrote the book and a little bit about what’s contained in it.

MT: Thank you, I love that. I think it’s important to remember that fundraising is a profession, and there are many ways to be in fundraising, not just one way. And that’s one of the reasons we’re having this conference, and that’s why I’m so grateful and glad that you are presenting. You’re going to be presenting on how to create a culture of philanthropy at your nonprofit, but what is a culture of philanthropy and why is it so important?

LL: This is really a good question and I think truthfully this is why most fundraisers either fail at their jobs or find themselves moving on.

The length of time that people spend at a fundraising job in any one organization is pathetically short, sometimes down as low as a year and a half is the average time that people spend, and I think they get frustrated because organizations for the most part do not understand philanthropy, and they think of fundraising only in terms of how many dollars is this person going to bring in?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard as a consultant, well we’re going to hire a development director, but how soon will it be before this person is raising as much money as we’re paying them? and that is not the way to look at fundraising, it’s a process, it’s not just coming in and going out to ask for money, it’s a process, there’s a lot that goes into this process, and this is the reason that most development people don’t stay long in one job, because their organizations don’t understand the process of philanthropy.

Just as an example I’ll tell you some thing that I have seen, I’ve walked into a development office and seen that the development officer is in a glorified closet because they didn’t have anywhere else to put them. Or they’re in a room they’re sharing with 6 other staff people and they expect them to raise major gifts. Is a major donor going to want to come into a room that a development officer is sharing a room with six other staff people? Probably not!

A lot of times people look at fundraising as a means to an end, we’ve got to raise the money to make our programs work, but fundraising should really be looked at a program itself.

For an organization that has a good culture of philanthropy understands that for example the development officer should have the same title as other people within that organization have who are doing similar positions. If other people in a similar job is a vice president, but the development person is called director instead of vice president, that immediately sends a message that the organization does not value philanthropy.

And the public picks up on these messages, we might not think they do, but the public will be well aware of the job title, of the location of the office, what the office looks like, is the development director expected to sit in their office all day long, and yet go out and raise major gifts. Those are the kinds of things that are really important to creating a culture of philanthropy, and in most cases it is up to the development person to create that culture of philanthropy, because the organizaton doesn’t know what a culture of philanthropy is all about

One of the biggest jobs that we have as development people is to educate the CEOs, the board members and staff people in our organization about what we really do.

MT: So on that note, what do you know personally about creating a culture of philanthropy?

LL: One of the things I really want to share with people in this conference is how to create a culture of philanthropy among your board and CEO and also your staff people. Most organizations don’t have a clue what development staff people do. In fact I have a good friend who for years was an accountant at a nonprofit. One day she said to me, You know maybe I should look into this development work, Carl seems to have a great job, all he ever seems to do is to take people around on tours and having lunches. So I sat her down at lunch one day and told her what Carl’s job and other development officer’s jobs were really about, and she said at the end of lunch, you know what, I’ll stick to accounting. Because she had no idea what a development officer does.

I said, he was up at a 7am chamber meeting making contacts and I know he’s working on a phone appeal tonight, and I started telling her all the things that were involved, and I think that’s the case with many organizations, and the rest of the staff see that the development staff seem to have more lee-way than they do, and they see them running around in and out of the office and they don’t see the nitty gritty stuff it’s up to us to explain philanthropy to our staff members and to get them motivated to do it.

MT: Wow. So that’s perfect. Would you care to share a few tips about creating that culture of philanthropy that you’ll be sharing in your presentation?

LL: Well one thing that I think is really important is what I call management by walking around. But I think it’s so important in a nonprofit that we get out and talk to other staff people. I’ll be sharing some ideas on how other organizations have accomplished this really well by getting out and talking to the other staff people by talking about what philanthropy is, how important it is, and how they can help the development staff person. So that’s one of the big tips that I think is really important.

And the other one is setting yourself up for success in the job interview, making it clear when you go out and interview, that this is what the development office needs, the tools that you need to be successful, because I think a lot of organizations they hire a development staff person and expect miracles to happen without putting any investment into the development office, so those are the two biggest tips I want to share at this conference, how to set yourself up for success, and make it clear that you need the tools to be successful, and how you can get the rest of the staff on board with your philanthropy program.

MT: I love that. That will be very helpful to just about anyone attending this conference because one of the biggest things as we know in fundraising is getting the support that you need to be successful in your work and it can’t all just rest on one person. Anything else you’d like to add Linda?

LL: One of the tools I’ll be sharing with people is assessing your organization’s philanthropic profile, because I think it is important that you look at where your organization is, and what needs important.

I’m really looking forward to this because I think it’s marvelous that finally somebody has done a conference focusing on fundraising as a career. I don’t think anybody else has done this before. You might find one or two little programs at a major conference, but most of the time we talk about the nitty gritty of how to do an annual fund, or how to start a major gifts, and we don’t focus enough on what the fundraising career is really all about. So I’m really excited to be part of this groundbreaking event.

MT: Thank you so much Linda, I really appreciate that. It means so much that you say that. Honestly I was seeing, as you said, I have seen one or two people do a session at a larger conference over and over again.

I thought no, we need more, because I really care about fundraisers and who they are as people, and that they’re fulfilled and happy, because if we don’t make sure that we are fulfilled and happy in our work, the churn and burn is going to continue and our nonprofits are not going to succeed with their missions.

If we’re fulfilled and happy that is one of the most important things that helps our nonprofits succeed.

And for that we have to figure out if we’re in the right job or not, and if we can get the support that we need to create that culture of philanthropy, and that’s why I am so happy you’re involved. Thank you so much for joining us today Linda, I can’t wait to hear you speak!

LL: Thank you and I hope this will be an annual affair going forward! Just what you need, more work!

MT: (Laughs)

LL: But I think you’re right, it is very important.

Join Linda at the Fundraising Career Conference this April 6th-8th, and at the Next Level Conference April 4th-5th, 2016!

Join us for the Fundraising Career Conference 2016

What else will you learn at the Fundraising Career Conference 2016?

How to interview strong for a fundraising role – Interview with Claire Axelrad, J.D., ACFRE

How to create better boundaries at work – Interview with Sheena Greer

How to use your team’s strengths to raise triple your goal – Interview with Kishshana Palmer