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From Fundraiser to Manager: Stepping Up Successfully

Resource Center - Foundation

D LegroveBy Deborah Legrove, CFRE

 I learned the hard way and made a lot of mistakes during my first management roles. I didn’t have any formal training on management; overseeing a team came with my first fundraising position. I might have been good at managing a project and making the tough decisions, but understanding how to build and motivate a team and coach them through difficulties was something I had to learn. Lucky for me, one of my direct reports had the courage to tell me how much I was failing. Not all young managers were as lucky as me.

Here’s how I wish I had learned to manage well. I wish I had taken a management course and learned the practical skills required. I wish I learned how to motivate and coach effectively.

As a fundraising manager, success often means achieving your donation targets through the top performance of your team. Transitioning from fundraiser to fundraising manager while you continue to manage your own portfolio of prospects can be a full plate for anyone. It can be done with a sensible development plan and the will to see it through. Highly marketable candidates in this sector are those who bring both front-line fundraising skills as well as solid management skills. 

Some of you may have been hired to raise funds and then were asked to take on management responsibility, whereas others may want to take on the manager’s role but feel they lack the know-how. If you want to step up into management, you need to demonstrate that you have what it takes to rise to the challenge. Let`s review just a few of the seven skills it takes to be an effective manager.

7 skillsProject management - a vital skill for first-time managers. It all depends on your ability to navigate a project, be able to see a destination and be proactive in reaching it. Be very clear on what you are being asked to achieve and over what time frame. Understand the context or you will not understand how relevant the project is. Ask the "why" questions so that you understand the big picture. Then communicate the goal with your team so they too understand the importance.  Track progress often so you know you are on track.

Delegating duties - involves handing tasks over to competent members of your team and giving them appropriate levels of guidance to succeed. It shouldn’t be confused with micromanaging. City University of Seattle’s Leadership program coordinator Arron Grow has this to say about delegation:

Few things say, 'I don't think you are capable' as strongly as micromanaging a colleague's work. When partnering with others, be sure to clarify roles and trust that others will complete their tasks as well as you will complete yours’. If there are questions, ask them, but don't constantly 'check in' or 'watch over' a colleague as they take care of their part of the work.

In addition, be clear about expectations, be open to questions and concerns, and let them do their part. Have them report in on a regular basis so they can ask questions and you can ensure the work is being completed according your expectations. Let them guide the reporting and demonstrate the successes they are achieving. Meeting regularly also allows for mistakes and re-direction without putting the project at risk.

Motivating a team. A good manager needs to be prepared to boost employees’ energy when their drive wanes. “The ability to inspire others is an actual skill many fail at, yet the very one that overrides all functional expertise when managing others,” says Christine DiDonato, founder of Career Revolution, Inc.  Understand how to get others excited about an idea or project. Being able to access and activate others’ strengths means you’re ready to manage a team.

If you’re a fan of the movie, The Godfather, you’re familiar with the phrase, “It’s not personal. It’s business.”  In the charitable and non-profit sector, it is personal! We work with people every day to get the job done. Understanding the scope of a manager’s role is to grasp the softer skills of the job. As you undergo the transition to manager:

  • Remain a team player. Some of the best managers spend time “in the field.” Simply put, the best manager can spend time on administration, but has no problem rolling up their sleeves and helping stuff envelopes or prepare for an upcoming special event. If your employees are struggling, help them with the task at hand. The face time will help you to understand their motivations, and you’ll learn more about how to work with them and get their best performance. Praise often and congratulate mistakes. If they aren’t making mistakes they aren’t learning and neither are you.
  • Think about the best boss you ever had and copy their attributes and style. I believe that the most effective manager I personally had was one who interacted with the team every day. As CEO of a national nonprofit, he took the time at 11 a.m. every day to work around touching base with his direct reports and interacting with others.  (We called this his “walk-about.”) I personally appreciated this interaction, especially in my early days with the organization.  It’s amazing what 5 minutes can do to keep one moving forward.

Stepping up to management is a big step and not just because it comes with a better title or more money.  It can be hugely rewarding to work with a team but means taking on a big picture perspective.  Educate yourself through courses, observe effective managers and work with your team by remaining a part of the team. Life-long learning has never been more important than it is today.

Deborah Legrove, CFRE, is president of crawfordconnect (, an executive search firm that connects nonprofit organizations with the executives, managers and fundraisers who drive success. Deborah’s goal is to help Canada’s charities and non-profit s make positive changes to our world. You can reach Deborah at 1.866.647.5149 or  

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