As a fundraiser, the worst thing to be is insincere. To be successful, you need to truly be interested in people and passionate about connecting them to your work, and the work of the organization you represent.
I have found that what is true for these external relationships is also absolutely true for internal relationships with colleagues and partners. If you want to enjoy a successful and personally satisfying career, the ability to build authentic relationships is the most valuable skill you can have. In my work, those people include donors, colleagues, board members, and junior staff. You gain an understanding of what motivates people, why they are succeeding (or struggling), and how you might collaborate with them.
Investing in relationships makes you stand out from those who engage with people opportunistically and constantly judge whether a particular relationship can be used to advance their career. You can’t predict who might be helpful to you, or when; the relationships that have been most helpful to my career have often been with people I would not have targeted as potential mentors or champions. There are plenty of people who have awakened one morning to find that an intern who worked for them 15 years ago is now their boss or some other important person in their work universe!
Finally, I find that if you invest in strong relationships, you are more likely to get honest and supportive feedback; if you are making mistakes, someone who believes in you and wants you to succeed will tell you. If you don’t have those kinds of relationships, people will sit back and watch you flounder.
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
As a nonprofit fundraiser, you have to have competitive drive, resiliency (you hear no a lot more than yes), and a passion for enabling change in the world.
Mary’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
A good friend is a department chair at an elite university, and also a terrific mom to several young children. I told her my boss was retiring, and I was contemplating whether to apply for the job. I said I was concerned about a major increase in responsibilities and managing new parts of our fundraising team, along with raising two kids.
Her response was immediate: “Of course you’ll apply! You’ll be great, and you can worry about the rest of that stuff once you get the job.”
It was a strong reminder to take a leap and have faith in myself. Sometimes, women wait for someone else to tell them they are “ready” for a new challenge. Or we create a list of reasons why we can’t do something before we even try it. Remember that you are smart and resourceful, and surround yourself with people who’ll remind you of that when you forget.