The Fundraising Starter Kit

You’ve just started your new job as a director of development in a nonprofit, a team of one ready to raise the money needed for a mission you love. Congratulations! Now, what are the best resources you can use to do your job well and learn the parts of fundraising that are new to you? These are my recommendations based on what I have found most useful in my career.

You’ll want a grounding in all aspects of fundraising, so make sure you seek to understand at least a little about: individual giving, major gifts, grants, events, bequests. I recommend looking at the content areas of the CFRE exam now – even if you don’t decide to pursue certification, you’ll find an overview of the kind of knowledge you’ll need to do the job well, and they have a recommended reading list full of books that will be worth the investment.

Another thing I recommend right away is to join the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Ask your employer to pay for this! If they won’t even after you make the case for it, this is the first investment I’d consider making in yourself. I have paid out of pocket for my membership at times during my career and find that it is worth the investment for me. (Check with your local chapter to see if you qualify for discounts or scholarships; as a new professional you may have access to some help with the financial burden of joining.)

Through AFP you’ll not only have access to additional education resources, some free for members and some available at a lower member price point, but you’ll have an opportunity to network. Local chapter events as well as conferences organized by global are valuable not just for the educational content, but for the chance to make friends with the presenters and other attendees. Build relationships so you’ll have people to ask questions of later, or just to vent to when it’s one of those days! 

There are lots of free resources out there, but the volume of newsletters, webinars, podcasts, and blogs can be overwhelming! You only have a limited amount of time to read and watch webinars. Here are my favorites:

Bloomerang Blog: You’ll get content on a variety of fundraising topics, much of which is contributed by practitioners and consultants.

Better Fundraising Company Blog: The emphasis of this blog is written communications, including appeals and newsletters. 

Nonprofit Tech for Good Newsletter: I like this newsletter because it gives me a handful of headlines in the morning from other sites, and I can click through to read whichever ones are relevant to what I’m working on at the moment.

If you have money available to invest in some reading material, here are the first books I would buy:

Fund Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process by James M. Greenfield or Achieving Excellence in Fundraising edited by Temple, Sieiler, and Aldrich: Start with one of these for a textbook style overview. I have both on my shelf and continue to use them as references in my work.

If Only You’d Known… You Would Have Raised So Much More by Tom Ahern: A bit easier to digest than the textbooks listed above, this is a great collection of fundraising myths busted.

Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops by Amy Eisenstein, MPA, ACFRE: This was like a simple instruction manual I used when I worked in a small shop that had never done major gift work before and wanted to build a program.

The Foundation Center’s Guide to Proposal Writing: If you’ll be writing grant proposals as part of your fundraising program, this is a nice overview of the process.

There are so many other books that I’ve purchased and loved, but we’re just trying to get you started on the basics for now!

The most important resource you’ll need in your current role and throughout your career is a good network. Having someone you can call and talk through an issue you’re facing is gold. In addition to joining AFP, consider joining or attending some meetings of other professional groups such as the Grant Professionals AssociationYoung Nonprofit Professionals NetworkAPRA, or other groups specific to your location. 

Another way to build a network is through social media. Follow the hashtag #fundraising on Twitter and start listening to and joining into the conversations happening there. Join a Facebook group or two aimed at the nonprofit and fundraising industry – a few to check out are: 31st CenturyFundraising Chat, and Nonprofit Social Media Storytelling. Head to LinkedIn and follow the speakers and writers whose voices you like. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask to talk – I can’t speak for everyone, but my experience has been that most people in the industry will say yes to making time to meet!

These are the suggestions that have worked for me, and they are US-centric since that is where I am based and not as representative of the diversity of voices in our sector as they should be… there’s a whole world of professionals out there who have their own favorite resources, and plenty of other great voices who specialize in talking about particular areas of fundraising when you want to go deeper on a narrower topic!

I crowd-sourced Twitter for more ideas, and encourage you to check out the thread here. Special mentions from this thread include Fundraising Everywhere, who curate content on their website and put on a diverse and accessible only conference, and SOFII, the showcase of fundraising innovation and inspiration. 

It’ll take some trial and error for you to find the right mix of resources, and over time you may find that some are less relevant to you as your skills and the most important focus areas for your nonprofit’s program change and grow. I hope these suggestions help you get started!

Published by Sarah Willey

I am an award-winning fundraising professional, certified social media strategist, and accomplished public speaker located in St. Louis, Missouri.

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