Why I love what I do: reason #3

I head off today to St. John’s, Newfoundland to attend the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education (CCAE) National Conference.  In fact, more than just having the opportunity to attend, I’ve been accepted to present at the conference, and will be delivering a presentation on Monday, June 10 entitled “Alumni Mentorship Programs: Connecting, Engaging, and Tapping In”.  I’m really looking forward to it!

CCAE conferences are made up of professionals in educational fundraising and alumni relations, and I love being around those individuals.  In fact, that’s what inspired today’s post.  So without further ado… and I’ll catch you on the flip side when I’m back from the east coast…


I’ve written before about Why I love what I do (here and here) and I thought of another reason: the lack of competition.

I would guess that this has much more to do with the fact that I’m in educational fundraising/alumni relations and not another kind of fundraising.  I know non-profit organizations don’t usually compete against one another, but they are usually competing for funding, albeit maybe indirectly.

Schools, however, aren’t really competing against other schools.  I mean, they are for admissions purposes, but once you get the students to attend your school, and they graduate… they’re not an alumnus of any other high school (if you’re a high school), undergraduate program (if you’re an undergraduate university), and so on.

So what does that mean???  Well, to me it means that there’s no competition among educational institutions in terms of our alumni communities.  I’m not writing solicitation letters to your school’s alumni, just mine.  So I will gladly share my successful young alumni appeal letter with you (remember when I did that?), because I don’t lose anything by doing so!  If anything, I gain your respect, and we create an open channel for sharing.  It’s a very congenial track of fundraising to work within!

So I look forward to my conference, because it will be full of experiences like that!  People completely open to helping you out, sharing resources, and celebrating one another’s successes!


Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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If you didn’t see it yet, my last post “A question of ethics” stirred up some amazing comments from three great fundraising professionals.  Read the comments here.

Guest Post: The Power of Listening

I’ve always been a loud mouth. I love to talk. I’ve had the “gift of gab” since I can remember. It’s why people think I make a great fundraiser.

They are wrong. It is one of the biggest obstacles I have had to overcome in my professional career.


Because major gifts fundraising is about listening (and asking great questions). Anything my donor has to say, is more important than anything I have to say.  My donor’s passion for the cause matters more than my own. Their experiences matter more than mine. Their stories are more powerful than mine. And trust me when I tell you, your donors won’t talk to you if you don’t listen.

We have all hear the proverb that we were born with two ears and one mouth. One of the hardest things for extroverted, social, chatty fundraisers to learn is to use their ears.  I want you to all start becoming better listeners; Olympic listeners, super hero listeners. How??? Well it takes time and practice, but here are some steps to get you started:

  1. Ask more questions than you make statements. Instead of giving endless elevator pitches about your organization, try asking questions: When did you first decide to support our charity? When were you proudest to be a champion of this cause? What do you want the world to be like in 50 years? How can we get there together?
  2. Be present. Focus on what is being said, not what you want to say next. It’s almost like calming breaths in yoga. Turn off your internal voice, and focus on what your donor is saying.  They are giving you something incredibly valuable to us as a fundraiser – knowledge about the donor.
  3. Watch their body language and look for a “spark”.  I was once sitting with a donor who seemed quite bored to be talking to me. Somehow the subject of her daughter came up, and her whole demeanor changed.  Her daughter was her spark, the flood gates had opened. Everyone has things they are passionate about and want to share with the world, pay attention so you don’t miss them.
  4. Don’t pretend to listen. Authenticity is a necessity in major gifts fundraising; all fundraising, really. You aren’t the actor you think you are, and it is obvious when you are faking it.
  5. Remind yourself who you are speaking to, and how you want them to feel. This is a donor you are talking to. They deserve to feel heard, respected and valued. You are lucky to have them share their time with you, and luckier still to have them share their words, thoughts and experiences.

These are skills you can practice all day, every day. Try listening to your co-workers, to your friends, to your spouse. It isn’t easy for me, and maybe it won’t be for you, but I promise in time it will get easier. You can become a better listener, and maybe, a better person.

Thanks for listening,





Rory is a Senior Development Officer by day, and FundraiserGrrl by night. As a major gifts fundraiser, I connect donors with an opportunity to invest in a better future. FundraiserGrrrl is a blog about my cheeky observations about life in fundraising.

To be a fundraiser, do you have to give???

At Wilfrid Laurier University – my alma mater, and the place where I got my start in fundraising – there was, and I think still is, a program called Our Community, Our Laurier.  This is a fundraising program for staff and faculty of the school, and it’s my first reference point when I ponder the question in the title of this blog post: To be a fundraiser, do you have to give???

When I learned about Our Community, Our Laurier, I learned about the importance of staff giving.  Why is it important?  Well, of course, at the very base of it, staff donors are giving to your organization.  More donors and higher fundraising totals = good!

…but of course it’s much more than that.  Staff giving means something very important: your staff support your cause.  If these people are spending (at least) 40 hours a week working for your organization, then you hope that they support the cause… you assume they support the cause… but when they give to the cause, their support is self-evident.

Staff giving results in a totally different culture at your organization.  Everyone is behind the mission, everyone is putting their money where their mouth is; whether they’re administrative staff, professors (at a university), doctors (at a hospital), marketing and communications staff, or part of the fundraising team, they believe in what they do.

But it goes further than that, too, because it’s also a great thing to share with donors or potential donors.  Being able to say (if I can dare to dream) that 100% of your staff are donors is a powerful message.  It’s the same with having 100% participation from your Board of Directors; it tells your community that the family behind the organization – staff, Board members, Trustees, etc. – are 100% behind the organization’s mission… and you (the donor) should be, too!

But I’m talking generally about staff giving, whereas my question focuses on the fundraiser.  To be in this position, must we be philanthropic?

I’m really curious to know what YOU think!  I don’t know that we can say there’s a definite answer to this, but I’m willing to share mine…

…and it’s YES!  I think we as fundraisers should be philanthropic.  I’m not saying we should donate 20% of our pay cheque or anything like that, but the spirit of philanthropy should be within us.

I think we should give to our organizations, and I think we should give to organizations we are passionate about.  I don’t think we need to give a lot, but I think we should give, and the reasons why, in my opinion, are twofold:

  1. We know how easy it can be!  I’m a young fundraising professional and I don’t have a wildly disposable income, but I know that monthly gifts of $20, for example, can make a meaningful impact.  It’s easy, it’s not too much money at any one time, but over the course of a year it becomes $240 and that’s a contribution I can be proud of. 
  2. If our job is to ignite passion for our organization in our donors or prospects, then I think that job will be significantly easier and more meaningful if we actually give ourselves.  I think it is our duty to support our organization in whatever capacity we can.  It shows our confidence and belief in the mission… never mind the fact that it saves us if a prospect ever asks if we give… an awkward situation worth avoiding…

But once again, that’s my opinion.  What’s yours???  Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.  I’m keen to know what you think!


Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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You’re a fundraiser. What next???

You're a fundraiser (1)

Did you always want to be a fundraiser???

Did you consciously decide to embark on a career in fundraising, or did you fall into it?  Did you become passionate about a cause and rally behind it, or is it the business of raising funds that drives you?  Are you in this for the long haul, or do you have your sights set on something else?

Whatever your path, you’re a fundraiser now.  Where do you go from here???

As you may know by now, I’m a young (mid-twenties) professional working in the exciting field of fundraising.  My path forward in my career feels very direct now, but fundraising was really something I fell into… at a relatively young age (20), to be sure, but still, it wasn’t something I felt passionate about until I was actually in my first fundraising position.  And even then, it took a while to start thinking about it as less of a part-time job and more of a passion.  But one day I had that “Aha! moment”, and I haven’t looked back.

I was lucky in my first two fundraising jobs (at the same institution) to get opportunities to immerse myself in the fundraising department there.  I began to learn things like the distinctions between Annual Giving and Major Gifts, the meaning and importance of a case for support, the concept of prospect research, and… well, actually I still don’t really know the difference between Advancement and Development…

Early on in my current position (at a new institution) I had the opportunity to attend the CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) Summer Institute in Educational Fund Raising (SIEFR).  That was the first time I really felt the energy and passion of fundraisers; not just fundraisers at one institution, but hundreds of fundraisers, from different kinds of institutions, spread across the globe (I met one gentleman from Nigeria!).

These experiences cemented my passion for this field, and so I know I’ll be a lifelong philanthropy-enthusiast.  However, I can’t know exactly which direction(s) my career will go in.  Right now, all I know is that I’d like to move into a position more focused on major gift solicitations, and that later in my career I’d like to work in fundraising consulting.

What can I do now to make those goals a reality???

Well, I’ll tell you this – it’s not always easy.  I have a great job with a great portfolio, the perfect work atmosphere, supportive bosses, and autonomy that makes me feel like I’m really driving the programs that I manage, and that I’m making an impact.  However when I started, my portfolio didn’t really involve major gifts.  How can I get the experience I want?

Here are three things I’ve learned so far that I think really help me move my career in the direction I want:

  1. Maintain your passion.
    Remember why you got into this field and/or organization.  You’re fundraising, which means you’re selling your cause to donors/prospects, and nothing makes someone open their wallet more than hearing your passion and enthusiasm, which, in turn, gets them excited!And if it’s raising funds that you love (vs. one specific organization), then this skill to get behind a cause and transfer your passion to a donor/prospect is transferable across all sorts of different organizations.
  2. Push your agenda.
    Figure out what you want from this job.  Think big!  Just because it’s not on your job description doesn’t mean it’s not possible.  Make sure you’re fulfilling the requirements of your job, but is there room for more?  For example, if you want to gain experience in major gifts, can you approach your boss and ask if you can join a major gift officer on a call?  If so, do it!  Gain some experience and insight, and maybe major gifts can become part of your job, too!
  3. Find the fundraising in everything you do.
    At the end of the day, are you a fundraiser???  Early on in my current position, I felt like I spent way more time on events than on fundraising, and that was probably true, but after growing frustrated I decided to look at it differently.  One of the biggest jobs in my portfolio is a huge event that is all-consuming for about a month’s time.  Rather than see it as a distraction from my fundraising work, I thought, “Wait a second, it’s a fundraising event!  It raises around $8,000 for financial aid.  What’s that if not fundraising?”  But sometimes it’s much more indirect than that.  For example, if you feel swamped with prospect research work, think of it this way: without solid prospect research, development officers can’t do what they do.  You may not be making the ask, but you’re still part of the process.

For any of you relatively early on in your careers, I hope my observations resonate with you.  I’m still learning, and plan on learning forever, but I’m a fundraiser now, and that’s the important thing.


Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Where can I find passionate fundraisers???

When I started my current job, one of the first things my boss did was send me to the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Summer Institute in Educational Fundraising (SIEFR).  After two weeks of getting myself oriented in the office, I travelled to Hanover, New Hampshire and took part in the Institute, which was held at Dartmouth College.  Talk about a great way to start my first real job in the real world! I remember the feeling of “coming home”, to put it in the most corny way possible.  While working at Wilfrid Laurier University in the Annual Giving call centre, I felt like I was in a bit of a bubble.  Over the course of my 3.5 years working there, I was totally immersed in the fundraising world and excitedly learning the ropes, but I hadn’t gotten a chance to have fundraising-related discussions outside of the call centre.  When I got to SIEFR, I realized there was an enormous world of people who were passionate about fundraising, too!  More than that, there were experts, and there was a wider variety of topics surrounding my chosen field than I ever knew possible.  I was wide-eyed and naive and incredibly excited to absorb everything I could. Two years later I’ve become a bit jaded to the professional organizations and networks out there for fundraisers.  I’ve participated in a number of seminars, workshops, webinars, and more, and have been exposed to more organizations than CASE, including:

However, thankfully the delight of connecting with like-minded individuals and equally passionate fundraisers has not worn off… especially when I’m exposed to something new, fresh, and very focused, like Young Non-Profit Professionals (YNP). You may remember me mentioning YNP (#YNPcanada) before in a guest post in April of this year: “Is storytelling really the answer for your charity???”, written by one of YNP’s founders, Brock Warner.  I heard about YNP through my sister, who encouraged me to attend their 1-year anniversary event back in March.  I went, met some great people, and was wildly inspired and energized by a speech by Paul Nazareth, Philanthropic Advisor (a.k.a. coolest job ever).  Needless to say it was a successful event as far as my experience was concerned. The reason I was inspired to write about YNP now is because I attended another one of their events this past Tuesday, July 24th, held on the rooftop of The Spoke Club in Toronto.  Once again YNP did not disappoint with a great venue, fantastic networking opportunities, and an incredible speaker – Daniel Bida of ZooShare (more on that fantastic organization later, perhaps). YNP is great because it’s so specific – young, non-profit professionals.  When you’re networking at a YNP event, you’re meeting people close to the same age and stage as you, facing similar obstacles in their career path, or celebrating similar achievements.  However, YNP is also great because it’s not just about educational fundraising, or even fundraising; it’s about professionals working in the non-profit sector, which casts the net fairly wide.  That means that you’re meeting people in all sorts of orgs with all sorts of positions, so it can be equal parts validating and inspiring; a great balance to have at a networking event. The point is that there’s something out there for everyone.  You may think that you’re uniquely nerdy and passionate about a topic, but then you’re exposed to something like YNP, and you realize you’re not alone after all.  Passion is everwhere! What’s your favourite professional organization???  (Be as specific as you’d like).


Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email