Confessions of a Development Director: I Hide Behind My Email

advice confessions of a development director fundraising personal development Apr 11, 2022

Confessions of a Development Director: I Hide Behind My Email


In this series, entitled "Confessions of a Development Director," I share with you emails between real-life development directors and me about the struggles they don't want their boss to know they have. My email inbox is a safe place where fundraising professionals can ask the questions they need to without shame or judgment AND get the answers. If you would like to make a confession and/or ask a question – email [email protected]. Identities are, as always, confidential.


The Confession: 

I took my job as a Development Director in 2019. The job was an upgrade from the grants manager position I was in previously. I knew it would be difficult, especially since I am introverted, but I was up for the challenge. I was deathly afraid of putting myself out there (like I said, introverted) but I needed the job and I knew I could do well if I just overcame my fears despite feeling uncomfortable. Shortly after I started, COVID happened and my greatest fears never came to fruition. We moved to virtual everything. I’ve gone two years without needing to be challenged and I’m complacent. I am doing okay and fundraising is within range of the goals. I feel mostly secure in keeping my job. But I’ve made no progress for me or for the organization. When people celebrate that we met our non-challenging fundraising goals I feel like I’m only sticking to the minimum requirements.  I need to grow my knowledge and skills in fundraising and I do desire to improve the fundraising for the organization, not just maintain it. I have no idea where to start. There isn’t a fire under me anymore. I want to grow but the fear of rocking the boat is killing me. I hide behind my email and haven’t made meaningful progress in advancing the department's efforts. How do I get started? 

- Joe (Syracuse, NY)


Kevin's Response:


Wow! Your self-awareness is really incredible. The fact that you know you’re only maintaining the minimum efforts yet you have the desire to grow despite the difficulty is awesome. My best advice to you is to just break the inertia and get started. For me, that usually means forcing myself to do something. 

When I have to return to the gym after a break, it takes everything in me to get in the door the first time. I hate it. But, after a few weeks of exercising 3 times a week and eating healthy, it flips and I feel hate it when I’m not going to the gym and feel lousy when I’m not eating healthy.  It doesn’t matter what I do at the gym, it’s more important that I show up. After several sessions (some great and some terrible) I’m in the zone. It’s the same thing with fundraising. You need to get started with donor relations and break that inertia; then it becomes easier and you’ll wonder why you weren’t doing it before. 

What activities do I recommend to get you out from behind your email? Just like exercising it doesn’t matter exactly what it is as much as actually doing something (and doing it consistently). Of course, when you eat healthy there are better things than others, but whether you’re choosing Atkins, Paleo, Whole 30, Keto, etc. but it doesn’t matter which one you choose as much as it does that you stick to what you choose and commit to consistently carrying it out. 

Start with what you’re good at and challenge yourself more over time. For me, I feel like the path of least resistance from email is to get on the phone. “Smile and dial” as they say. It’s easier than in-person and is still progress from what you’re currently doing. Begin calling every donor as soon as they give - you’ll have a regular flow of calls to make. Ask the donors what inspired their gift and ask five questions to find out about them. Let them talk. Then, for every gift over a certain amount, say $100, reach out and invite them to lunch or a zoom call. If one out of 25 donors takes you up on lunch, you have an appointment. You have successfully gotten out from behind your email and from behind your desk! 

If you don’t have a big enough flow of new donors to call, run a report of donors in the last one to three years and make 5 calls per day. Doesn’t matter if you do calls alphabetically, by net worth, by date or amount of the last gift, by total lifetime giving, etc. Just choose and stick to it. Calls are easy because most of the time it goes to voicemail. Thank you calls are even easier. You’re making progress deepening donor relationships and putting yourself in front of people and it’s not really bad at all. Some may call you back and then you have an incoming call which is also easier for most people to handle. 

If you want to level up and put more pressure on yourself, schedule a reception or a house party for 30-60 days in the future. Call a restaurant, put a deposit down, and then challenge yourself to fill the event. Once it’s on the calendar you may NOT cancel it. If you only have one person coming, you have to handle the awkwardness of having told the donor that there was a reception and they are the only ones there. At the end of the day, the reality is that you are forcing yourself to just call as many people as you need to in order to fill the reception. Ask for referrals. Encourage donors to bring friends. Whatever it takes to get say 10 couples together for dinner and before you know it, you’re raising more money and out from behind your email. 

At least for me, I really need an accountability partner when I want to do something that challenges me. 

Don’t get hung up on the details, just start to take actions that will eventually move the needle.