The dangers of putting your professional development on the backburner
When you’re hitting fundraising targets, donor retention is stellar, and your board is giving kudos, it can be tempting to rest on your professional laurels.
When everything is ticking along smoothly, we often think, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” However, just as a car that’s running like a dream still requires regular maintenance to operate at peak performance, so does your fundraising skill set.
Well, well. What do you know?
Reflect on how much professional development you participated in during the year prior to Covid.
How often did you attend trainings? Which conferences did you sign up for and why? Did you head off to the same events you’ve been to for ages to catch up with your fellow fundraisers and listen to a few of your favourite presenters? Or did you completely commit yourself to attending a full programme of sessions that stretched your knowledge and tangibly helped you move the need on developing your fundraising skills?
Remember that going to a conference is not the same as actively participating in your learning. Once while I was attending a session at a fundraising conference, a woman scrolled through the ASOS website for an entire 40-minute presentation. She didn’t look up from her iPad once.
If you’re not fully 100 percent present at conferences, you’re selling yourself short (and wasting the money of whoever paid for your registration).
Now, let’s talk about fundraising webinars. Are they something you have on in the background while you clear emails and text your partner about weekend plans?
Or do you turn off your IM, shut down your email, and grab a notebook so you can fully absorb the content? If you’re not completely committed to taking in the information, there’s a good chance it won’t stick.
Prioritizing your professional development
When deadlines loom and works feels chaotic, it’s easy to push professional development off as something you’ll tackle “when things calm down.”
Not so fast. When work is at a fever pitch is exactly when you need to be armed with the most cutting edge knowledge possible.
Setting professional development goals you’ll adhere to no matter what gets thrown your way is paramount. Commit to attending a set number of webinars or trainings every month and stick to it.
The world is moving at a faster pace than ever. Charities and their needs are changing faster than ever. What worked 10 years ago may not work today. Professional development helps ensure that knowledge and skills stay relevant and up to date. I think of it as sharpening the tools in my toolbox.Robert Thomas of Morgen Thomas Fundraising.
If your professional development budget is thin, seek out free or low-cost events.
One common pitfall is to only attend trainings hyper relevant to our immediate work. Future-proofing your skills is one of the most effective ways to stay resilient. For example, if you’ve never dealt with a legacy programme, consider participating in a webinar on building an effective bequest toolkit. It’ll give you insight into your legacy team members’ work while giving you a deeper understanding of this income stream.
This may seem counterintuitive. Yet, in 2021 everyone on your team needs to be prepared to pinch hit.
What would you do if half of your fundraising department were made redundant and you were tasked with picking up the pieces? Do you have enough understanding of your colleagues’ work to step into their shoes with little notice?
If not, it may be time to brush up your skills in some areas you haven’t needed to delve into recently.
The idea of attending a random smattering of fundraising conferences and webinars may seem like a haphazard way to sharpen your skill set.
That’s where a qualification or certification can come into play. Certifications have a trove of benefits, including:
– Measuring your knowledge against industry-accepted best practices
– Covering knowledge proven to make a difference to fundraising success
– Helping you identify and address gaps in your fundraising knowledge
– Enabling you to stand out on the job search
– Providing tangible leverage when negotiating your salary, title, and responsibilities
A solid certification’s structure is designed for professionals who need to use what they learned straightaway in their day-to-day roles. Before you’ve completed a certification course, you can begin applying what you’re learning along the way to your work. How’s that for an immediate pay off?
The upfront cost of a certification may instill momentary sticker shock (especially if your employer won’t cover the cost). Remember, the price of professional development is an investment that will pay dividends over the length of your career.
Certification holders often command premium salaries and packages, making time spent getting certified well worth the effort.
A global fundraising certification
For fundraising professionals with a global focus on their career or who work for a charity with branches abroad, earning an internationally-recognised certification is a savvy step. This can also be a smart avenue if you want assurance your fundraising approach is aligned with internationally accepted best practices.
No matter what your motivation is, a global certification can help you stand head and shoulders above others in your field.
The Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification is one option and currently held by over 7,000 fundraising professionals worldwide.
The CFRE process consists of an application and exam. The 200-question, multiple-choice exam measures your knowledge across six key knowledge domains:
- Current and prospective donor research
- Securing the gift
- Relationship building
- Volunteer involvement
- Leadership and management
- Ethics, accountability, and professionalism
As a fundraising consultant, achieving my CFRE enabled me to benchmark and boost my knowledge. In a fast-changing world, it’s ensured I am in the best possible position to help my clients.Sian Newton – Craigmyle Fundraising Consultants
Make a start
Whether you’ve been fundraising for five months or 15 years, making time for your professional development is wise. After all, our industry isn’t static.
Fundraising professionals who have taken the time to keep their knowledge fresh will be the leaders best equipped to help their clients and organisations thrive long into the future.
Written by Ashley Gatewood – CFRE International