Exploring this Job

The best way to gauge your interest in a fund-raising career is to volunteer to help at churches and other religious organizations, social agencies, health charities, schools, and other organizations for their revenue drives. All of these groups are looking for volunteers and gladly welcome any help they can get. You will be able to observe the various efforts that go into a successful fund-raising drive and the work and dedication of professional fund-raisers. In this way, you can judge whether you enjoy this type of work. Try to interview the fund-raisers that you meet for their advice on ways to gain more experience and find employment.

The Job

Fund-raising combines many different skills, such as financial management and accounting, public relations, marketing, human resources, management, and media communications. To be successful, the appeal for funds has to target the people most likely to donate, and donors have to be convinced of the good work being done by the cause they are supporting. To do this, fund-raisers need strong media support and savvy public relations. Fund-raisers also have to bring together people, including volunteers, paid staff, board members, and other community contacts, and direct them toward the common goal of enriching the charity.

To illustrate how a revenue-raising campaign might be conducted, consider the efforts of a private high school, Branton Academy, which is trying to raise money to build a new facility. The principal of Branton approaches a fund-raising consulting firm to study the possible approaches to take. Building a new facility and acquiring the land would cost the academy approximately $800,000. The fund-raising firm's first job is to ask difficult questions about the realism of the academy's goal. What were the results of the academy's last fund-raising effort? Do the local alumni tend to respond to solicitations for revenue? Are the alumni active leaders in the community, and can their support be counted on? Are there enough potential givers besides alumni in the area to reach the goal? Are there enough volunteers on hand to launch a revenue campaign? What kind of publicity, good and bad, has the academy recently generated? What other charities, especially private schools, are trying to raise money in the area at that time?

Once the fund-raising consulting firm has a solid understanding of what the academy is trying to accomplish, it conducts a feasibility study to determine whether there is community support for such a project. If community support exists—that is, if it appears that the fund-raising drive could be a success—the consulting firm works with officials at Branton to draft a fund-raising plan. The plan will describe in detail the goals of the fund-raising appeal, the steps to be taken to meet those goals, the responsibilities of the paid staff and volunteers, budget projections for the campaign, and other important policies. For Branton Academy, the fund-raising consultant might suggest a three-tiered strategy for the campaign: a bicycle marathon by the students to generate interest and initiate the publicity campaign, followed by a month-long phone drive to people in the area, and ending with a formal dinner dance that charges $50 or more per person.

Once the plan is agreed on, the fund-raising consultants organize training for the volunteers, especially those in phone solicitation, and give them tips on how to present the facts of the campaign to potential contributors and get them to support Branton's efforts. The fund-raisers make arrangements for publicity and press coverage, sometimes employing a professional publicist, so that people will hear about the campaign before they are approached for donations. During the campaign, the consultants and the staff of Branton will research possible large contributors, such as corporations, philanthropic foundations, and wealthy individuals. These potential sources of revenue will receive special attention and personal appeals from fund-raising professionals and Branton's principal and trustees. If the fund-raising effort is a success, Branton Academy will have both the funds it needs to expand and a higher profile in the community.

This example is fairly clear and straightforward, but the financial needs of most charities are so complex that a single, month-long campaign would be only part of their fund-raising plans. The American Cancer Society, for instance, holds many charity events in an area every year, in addition to occasional phone drives, marathons, year-round magazine and television advertising, and special appeals to large individual donors. Fund-raisers who work on the staff of charities and nonprofit organizations may need to push several fund drives at the same time, balancing their efforts between long-range endowment funds and special projects. Every nonprofit organization has its own unique goals and financial needs; therefore, fund-raisers have to tailor their efforts to the characteristics of the charity or organization involved.