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To the Entrepreneurs Among Us

jump the gap

The career of advancement truly offers something for anyone interested in following their passion to make a difference. In addition to the numerous nonprofit verticals – including health care, education, arts and culture, social services, and social justice – the field also offers many work opportunities in which to apply our personal gifts, skills, and talents. Some of us naturally gravitate to roles that are deadline and numbers driven, well defined, and have clear scopes of work, like grant writing, database management, and direct mail programs. Others feel more fulfilled in more fluid roles – like gift officers – which are mostly externally focused with success defined in large part by things beyond one’s day to day control. And then there are the generalists who often work in smaller shops and are tasked with doing it all, at one level or another.
Regardless of job description, it is critical for anyone with advancement responsibilities to forge new paths, devise new more effective ways to do business, and use new tools for greater results. The most successful fundraisers are not content to step into a long-standing role and settle for “doing it the way it has always been done.” They are willing to design a new path to success, defend it to their boss, and take a risk to see if they can pull it off. In essence, a key personality trait in advancement – especially in today’s challenging economic and employment climate – is entrepreneurship.
As a result of the “new normal” created by the economic collapse in 2008, many nonprofits have realized that they must re-engineer how they operate, deliver services, attract and retain donors, and diversify their revenue base to reduce dependency on primary sources of funds. Copley Raff has certainly witnessed this firsthand with our clients. Most recently, we have been tasked to help set up, formalize, and launch advancement programs for nonprofits that in the past did not have the need for proactive fundraising. This is akin to starting a new business on many levels and demands the same entrepreneurial spirit and commitment for success.
So where are you on the entrepreneur spectrum? Those of us who relish the thought of starting up a new program, or breathing life in one that is moribund, rate quite highly. We are wired to start things and get new programs on their feet. We welcome the opportunity to create a new offering or direction for a long standing program, or review legacy operations through a new lens. These are the professionals that tend to succeed and thrive in the advancement world.
The beauty of the advancement field is there is a role for all types of personalities, work styles, and aspirations. The trick, in my experience, is knowing what suits you best, finding a good fit, and then not resting on your laurels once you are there. Too often, I see professionals who struggle in their jobs because their role is a poor fit for who they are – and they are not able to bring the essential entrepreneurial skills to the table to make a change. This includes people in leadership positions who are not leaders, gift officers who are oriented to operations and a well defined role, and outside the box thinkers who are caged in a mostly static position. Regardless of where you are today, open your eyes, spread your wings, and bring the next big idea to the table soon. It’s one sure way to make sure that you, your career, and your organization will grow and thrive.
Your takes:

1. All development positions require some degree of entrepreneurship for success.

3. Review your routine tasks and goals on a regular basis and consider new ways to optimize your performance – and outlook.
3. Include brainstorming and idea generation as part of your team’s job descriptions and annual review metrics.


For more information about Copley Raff and its spectrum of not for profit consulting services, please see
Have a development, executive recruitment, or campaign strategy or management challenge? Let’s talk! Click here to connect with Rebekah Kaufman, Director of Consulting Services at CRI.