23 lessons for a successful fundraising career

publication date: Jan 3, 2013
author/source: Janet Gadeski

Jon Dellandrea is one of Canada’s outstanding development professionals. He’s led billion-dollar campaigns at home and abroad, and received the Order of Canada in recognition of his role in building a culture of philanthropy in this country.

Despite all that, he told an audience at last November’s AFP Congress 2012 that he’s not a fundraiser and he’s never asked for a gift. Then he shared the principles that have powered his achievements.

Dellandrea’s words for success

  1. Fund development is a calling, not a job.
  2. Be serious about your work and light about yourself.
  3. Find role models and emulate them.
  4. Ask yourself regularly, “How could I have done that better?” Expect the same level of reflection from your staff.
  5. Learn to listen.
  6. Dress properly.
  7. Learn to say “Thank you” really, really well.
  8. Learn that success consists of making heroes of others.
  9. Learn to ask smart questions.
  10. Avoid upward delegation. (bringing unsolved problems to your boss)
  11. Know when you don’t know the answer.
  12. Analyze, synthesize and figure out the possible. Identify solutions before you take problems to your boss. Be the person who’s always thought it through.
  13. Dump the hyperbole and soaring adjectives. Incredible, catalytic, stupendous, breathtaking and transformational gifts are few and far between.
  14. Get rid of the jargon. It does not prove that you know what you are doing.
  15. Never lose “childlike” curiosity
  16. Be enthusiastic.
  17. Answer the phone! “The greatest curse inflicted on humanity is voicemail. Every time the phone rings, it is the single most important donor in the history of the organization. Every time the door opens, the person walking in is the single most important donor in the history of the organization.”
  18. Be an iconoclast. Don’t follow the crowd. Innovate. Find different ways of doing things.
  19. Be trustworthy.
  20. Never say, “It’s not my job.” Don’t tolerate that attitude from your staff. “It is a pervasive cancer that will eat up your institution.”
  21. Understand that failure is a learning experience.
  22. Understand that more money and a fancier title are not the answer. Loyalty and relationships matter more.
  23. Know that your greatest asset is your reputation.

You’re a success when ...

Dellandrea concluded with a few signs that you are indeed successful:

  • Your best volunteers call you for coaching.
  • Your top donors call you for advice.
  • Your colleagues ask you what you think.
  • Your boss asks you what you think and invites you to join meetings.
  • You are proud of your work.

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