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Executive Development of Fundraising Skills

Not all nonprofit executives come with abilities in fundraising. These are skills that develop over time. And I’m speaking from my own experience. I earned a Master of Arts in Teaching degree at the University of NH in 1971, taught junior high social studies for two years, and in 1975 found myself in Minneapolis Minnesota working at the American Lung Association, developing programs for kids with asthma. I got to work with a great staff and volunteer team, and together we built Camp Superkids into a strong teaching program for kids with moderate-to-severe asthma. And, just as important, for physicians working on pulmonary and allergy fellowships in Midwestern programs who loved the opportunity to come work with 125 kids in a camp setting and learn new things in a challenging clinical setting. And it turned out that this enterprise attracted money. and in 1979 I got the opportunity to move back to New England and become executive director of the American Lung Association of NH. The board of directors wanted to start some new programs there and thought I could help them do exactly that. And we did. But we also needed to raise some significant money to accomplish all they wanted to do. And I’d never done much fundraising up to that point in my life. But if I wanted to be their executive, I needed to learn to raise $$ quickly. It definitely was trial and error, but over a three year period we developed some new special events that raised significant dollars to advance the mission of the American Lung Association. And in New Hampshire we were recognized for fund raising achievement nationally. Some of it was luck. The key to our success was: Finding people who could do the job, and looking for examples that worked and doing the best we could to emulate stuff that seemed to work. And stuff that fit our culture. It started with Bike Treks, moved on to golf promotions, then on to kids fun passes, and then from there to a major gift campaign. A great events director, a great public relations director, and enthusiastic volunteers that wanted to be part of something that was delivering good respiratory health to kids and adults all worked together. It took time and hard work, but we did it. Part of it was the Board of Directors leaned on me to deliver. And I felt the pressure and responded. And when it came to major gifts, I returned the favor and leaned on the board to hone their fundraising skills. It wasn’t magic. But it worked.

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