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I once was not even remotely considered as a candidate for a fundraising position with a hospital. Even though my fundraising credentials were strong, and I came well recommended, I lacked one crucial aspect the hospital required — at least five years' experience in the "medical sector."
That hospital made a mistake too many organizations make too often. It assumed that previous knowledge of and experience in the field of expertise in which it operates were of preeminent importance for someone to be a successful development officer for them.
Later, I was hired by the Cleveland Orchestra as its development director.
Good thing the orchestra didn't have similar experience requirements as the hospital because I didn't know one note of music from another and had been in a concert hall only twice in my life. Twenty years later, as I was completing my last day at the orchestra, I still did not know one note of music from another. Nothing to brag about, to be sure, but I do take pride in two decades of successful fundraising in the "musical sector."
I did not need a background in arts and culture to understand and believe in the orchestra's mission. When it came to fundraising, the orchestra's management was far more enlightened than that hospital's had been. It made no difference at all to the orchestra where I came from. They wanted someone with the knowledge and ability to carry out the fundraising process. And let's face it — fundraising is basically the same process no matter what the field.
Anyone with fundraising experienc knows well that the only real difference affecting fundraising practices for social service, arts and cultural, educational, religious, and health-related organizations is their financial support constituencies. We know that the concepts of fundraising can and do apply across the board.
Just look at the thousands of books on fundraising or countless presentations at fundraising workshops and seminars and you'll see they appeal overwhelmingly to the broad spectrum of nonprofit organizations. Often when nonprofit fundraising issues are discussed in blogs, the participants have no knowledge of the types of organizations being discussed. They just want to know how to raise needed funds.
Most any successful fundraising campaign for any type of organization is a straightforward, concise process of executing well-defined components arranged in a step-by-step progression. I know this because I've seen it done over and over again and have worked with a large variety of organizations.
After twenty years in the "musical sector," my first few consulting engagements included a Vietnam veterans memorial, a community hospital, a therapeutic riding center, and a retirement/nursing home. I think that's a pretty clear demonstration that the fundraising process is basically the same for any cause.
Fundraising challenges require parallel processes whether you're seeking to raise money for a ballet production, academic scholarships, a hospital's new MRI, or church pews. No matter the particular cause, money is raised from people who:
- Have it
- Can afford to give
- Are sold on the benefit of what will be done with their money
- Wouldn't have given it unless asked
- Receive appreciation and respect for their gift
So when you're looking for work as a development officer and you come across an organization that puts expertise in their field of endeavor over expertise in fundraising, your first job is to get them to understand that what they need to hire is the best fundraiser they can find.