Like most in my field, finding the development practice along my career path was not a conscious decision. I was given the opportunity and, always enjoying change and stepping out of my comfort zone, I took it. What I found was something that I have always been passionate about: building relationships and getting the best out of them for everyone’s benefit.
Fundraising has allowed me to develop my skills as a communicator, leader, strategic thinker, listener, and now a novice blog writer. It was, without knowing it, a natural next step following 15 years of developing my relationship management skills. How has my relationship management experience most informed my fundraising efforts?
Do your research before you speak to any potential supporter. It is the least they would expect from you.
In my contracting days, I would never enter a meeting without having a negotiation path with plans B, C, and D in my back pocket. Talking to an individual about a potential gift is no different.
Be yourself. No matter who you are speaking with, authenticity is palpable.
I have conversations with accomplished CEOs, professionals at the tops of their sectors, parents who have amazing stories about their children, young alumnae who want to make their way in the world, and current pupils whose refreshing take on life is always a privilege to hear. I approach all of them in the same way to understand their needs and requirements, but I am always myself. A client would be willing to expand its relationship with you if it trusts you and your proposition.
Elevate your potential donor.
Understanding the needs of your support will empower them to give in a meaningful way. A significant gift is not going to be made unless the individual knows that it is going to support a project they are interested in and the school has sound financial management. Be ready to share this information and develop trust with the donor. In account management, aligning and raising to your position was a key part of contract negotiation.
Be flexible and quick on your feet.
Know your case for support and take time to develop a deep understanding of your school so you can do the campaign justice. Ensure every meeting is prepared and planned for, which allows you move in whatever direction you need to. And if you do not know the answer, do not make it up. Sharing that you will seek more information offers the perfect opportunity to conduct more engagement and have a second meeting. Whether you need to clarify the school’s latest A-level performance or share your company’s latest complaint levels, getting it right is important.
Fundraising as a career is challenging, rewarding, and exciting as the sector continues to grow. If you have the skills to manage relationships for mutual benefit, it could be just right for you.
Anna Bentley is Development Director at Oakham School, having taken the post in 2015 after serving as Commercial Manager at the School for three years prior, in which she increased the net profit of the School’s trading arm from £35k to £250k. She currently leads the £4 million campaign to support the construction of a Performing Arts centre and to increase the number of SpringBoard bursaries at the School. Graham-Pelton partnered with the Oakham School for a campaign planning study, which then transitioned into campaign management services including a campaign timetable, culture of giving development, building a case for support, establishing internal and external campaign communications, and cultivating prospective campaign donors.