Why I Still Need More Training

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Alex Comfort, CFRE

Last Thursday, I attended the annual Philanthropy Institute hosted by the AFP chapter of Western North Carolina in Asheville. The all-day session included four one-hour trainings and a keynote speaker during lunch.

Shouldn’t I be done with trainings like this? After all, I have been a professional fundraiser for 32 years and a consultant since 2009. I have given more presentations than I can remember over the years and done some publishing as well.

Very simply, the answer is a resounding “NO!” One of the breakout sessions I attended focused on using social media to your organization’s benefit. It couldn’t have been more timely. 

Thirty years ago, we had a good feel for how different generations made donations. It was nothing like the way we segment donors today. Now, we must carefully consider our major donors’ goals. How do they want to go about changing the world? And if we don’t learn to connect with our younger donors, we’ll be in a world of hurt once the Baby Boomers stop making donations.  

I’ll freely admit to being “old school” and social media averse. It has taken me a lot of training to understand how to use the various social media platforms and to even know what the young fundraisers are talking about when they mention Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

By the same token, the younger fundraisers need to learn to bring out the stories of the Greatest Generation and the Boomers from old-timers like me. It takes training. Classes, conferences, mentoring, on-line training, video streaming. It takes all this and more.

Whenever I attend a training, I try to find three major points of new information in each class or course I take. I encourage you to write down the three points, and talk about them with your colleagues who are attending the training session with you. Bring up the three points at your first staff meeting following the training session. Write them on the white board in your office, and leave them there for a week.  Maybe, just maybe, you will actually put them to use when you get back to the office frenzy.

In early 2013, I decided to offer a four-day course on fundraising, with me lecturing seven hours a day for four straight days. My “Boot Camp” was designed to be a comprehensive offering that addressed everything from annual plans to capital campaigns to planned giving with an emphasis on HOW TO DO IT.  I centered on stories that illustrated successes and failures. Frankly, the course was designed to be exactly what I needed to know in 1986 when I started out in this business.

I’ve offered the course for five years now with the next session set for Aug. 6 in Asheville. In that time, I have learned how hard it is to keep up with changes in our field. I think my “Boot Camp Survivors” have learned to use my material as a basis for ongoing learning in the various aspects of fundraising.

For me, constant training helps me update my course so I can provide new ideas for my students. I have to keep learning. And when I work with clients as a consultant, I need to be aware of the latest trends so I can be most effective.

Be especially vigilant learning the areas of fundraising that you like the least so nothing slips past you. And be easy on yourself. You don’t need to know everything. Your best learning will be what your donors teach you – all you have to do is listen to them.   

As for the professional training opportunities available to you, remember to keep learning those three points each time. And trust the educational process. It works.

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