By Marianne Ciok
I have just completed my first year as a major gifts fundraiser. Previously, I worked in the insurance industry in sales and service. This change was not due to necessity but choice. I wanted to contribute in a different way. After completing my certificate at BCIT and volunteering at nonprofits, while working full-time, I felt I was ready.
The first year of changing careers from profit (sales) to nonprofit (major gifts) was like learning a new language. How do you “translate” or transfer your skills from profit to nonprofit?
First, I let go of all my preconceptions from the for corporate sector. I said to myself “I know nothing, let’s start from square one, listen, ask questions, be open to ideas and suggestions.” This can be a humbling but liberating experience. I just absorbed everything around me and then as I started to increase my knowledge it was easier to integrate experience and skills to improve.
Like learning a language the key is communication. At the beginning I acknowledged that I would encounter a few difficulties. I possess the basic skills and principles to connect with people but an important step was to integrate them in my new career. Again, as in learning a new language you have to place your trust in those around you. Observation is imperative to learning. The beauty about starting new is that you do not have to have all the answers! Have an open mind to understand the mission and what could be improved in the future.
An instructor once told us in a fundraising course that you do not have to be the smartest person in the room. In other words, you do not have to know it all. I would take it a step further and say just listen and ask questions in the beginning. I call this stage “ inquisitive motivation,” inquiring why something is done a certain way, what is the result when it is done that way, and whether that was the expected result.
I realize that there will be a few stumbling blocks on the way. Sometimes I may use the wrong word: Like in Spanish, “cerveza “and “servicios”. The pronunciation may be similar but the meaning is very different! Most people understand and give you some leeway to make a few pho phas. Most people are patient, encouraging and happy to help you correct your mistakes. Then the most critical point is to follow through, follow through, follow through. Follow through is key to integrity.
As in learning a language, it takes time, dedication, motivation, and the willingness to put myself out there. The mistakes are all mine, I own them, correct them, and rectify them. But the achievements are mine too, and that feels great!
When I am learning something new, whether it is a language or new skills, I go back to the purpose. What is my purpose for doing this? What is my purpose for asking this question?
Leaving my comfort zone and preparing for the journey broadens my experience. I immerse myself in the terms, processes, procedures and yes, even politics. To surround and submerge myself in the organization’s culture is imperative to progress. Intensity is vital to learning and progression.
People respond to others trying to learn while passionate about the cause. Whether the mission is to help the disabled in poor countries or interact with a person in a foreign country. Starting off I left my experience aside my first few months. I wanted to hear how they explained processes to me. I wanted to listen to donors describe their perspective on the organization or cause.
In the beginning my conversations were simple. As in learning a language I am building a repertoire of tools and building blocks. Once I master the basic terms and steps to stewarding a donor, the language flows smoother and communication becomes more relaxed. Less time will be spent on wondering if I am saying/doing it right and more time on conversations, solutions, resolutions and expanding my knowledge. Learning sometimes involves uncertainty to become more proficient and less self-conscious.
And I know (cue the Carpenters)…it’s only just begun!
Marianne Ciok is a Partnership Development Representative with cbm (Christian Blind Mission) Canada. Previously, she was in the insurance industry as an insurance agent selling home, car, pet and commercial insurance in BC. Marianne started in 2014 as a major gifts fundraiser shortly after completing her Fundraising Marketing Management Certificate from BCIT.