To the outsider, fundraising can be daunting. 

When you’re new or inexperienced at seeking charitable gifts, one of the first things you likely ask yourself is “how do they do it?” There’s the emotional fear of asking. There’s the anxiety of getting the accounting right. There’s the concern that the money is spent wisely. There’s the question of how established fundraisers make it seem so easy.

The answer is easy—effective fundraising training. 

When you equip your fundraisers with powerful educational resources and training materials, you’re sure to set your team up for long-term success. Let’s look at where you can get the training so you can do, and do well!

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1. On-Demand, Self-Study Websites

Increasingly, the most popular training option for fundraisers, volunteers, and nonprofit staff is on-demand, self-study video courses. They’re convenient since you can review available online materials just about anywhere, on any device, at any time. You can get a wide variety of voices—from the traditional, acknowledged expert to new, cutting edge up-and-comer. You can pick the length—from five minutes to five hours.

On-demand resources can get you out of a pinch, too—making you look extremely responsive to your workplace’s demands. For example, imagine your boss comes in with a panicked look saying that the board wants the outline of a recurring giving program by next week’s meeting. You see that there’s a professional association meeting on the topic next month—but you don’t have that kind of time. On-demand training to the rescue!

Plus, by virtue of its virtual presentation, on-demand training will save you time and money  from traveling to wherever it is you would typically get the information—whether that’s across town or across the country. This type of convenience and cost-efficiency is valuable, even if you have to pay for the course. 

But luckily, a lot of on-demand content is free. Why? Nonprofit vendors, most of whom come with years of experience in their fields, will often offer free, on-demand training as “content marketing.” It’s a way they get their brand out to their target audience (you) and prove that they’re experts in their field.

Two on-demand content aggregators to look for are Nonprofit.Courses and the Auerbach Global-Impact Foundation.

AGIF offers a variety of resources to help nonprofits attract donors, supporters, and collaborators, increase exposure and public awareness, and strengthen their operations.

NpC is a collection of more than 5,000 videos and podcasts on nearly every nonprofit topic compiled from more than 150 content experts. Most are free, and there’s no membership gateway.

[Editor’s Note: You can also find some great fundraising training videos in Mightycause’s Webinar Library!]

2. Professional Associations

Professional associations serve two fundamental purposes: to organize members around their professional affiliation for networking, industry visibility, and advocacy and to educate their members on methodologies involved in their profession. 

As far as nonprofit associations go, the three “core” ones are the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, and the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy.

Beyond those, a number of professional fundraising associations focus on commonalities of mission (for example, the National Catholic Development Conference or the Engineering Development Forum) or type of work within fundraising (such as APRA for prospect research professionals or Direct Mail Federation for nonprofit direct response specialists).

It benefits each fundraiser to belong to a core organization. Which one often depends on the kind of nonprofit you represent. Higher education and private K-12 schools tend to belong to CASE, while hospitals and healthcare fundraisers focus on AHP. Everyone else typically chooses to join their local AFP chapters.

We strongly recommend joining at least one specialty organization, too. These are great places to dig deep into your chosen area of interest, meet others who do similar work and may serve as beneficial resources, and gain access to powerful educational materials.

A special mention should be made of CFRE, which is the Certified Fund Raising Executive program. CFRE is independent of the three core fundraising associations and the specialty associations, although its certification is recognized by nearly all of them. 

The purpose of the CFRE is to present a recognizable credential that shows that the holder meets specific ethical and educational standards. Or, as they say on their website, “It is how today’s fundraiser shows accountability, service, and commitment to making a difference for good.” Whether you are earning or updating your CFRE credentials, or just looking for a course, content certified by CFRE is quality reviewed to ensure a high standard.

3. Academic Programs and Certificates

The first Master’s degree in fundraising (known as “philanthropy and development”) was awarded by St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in 1994. Before that, higher education only offered certificates of various quality. General nonprofit management degree programs are not much older.

Today, the landscape is much different. Nonprofit management and fundraising programs are offered at the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral levels from a wide variety of colleges and universities.

So, why should you consider an academic degree? 

  • You have to show a high level of skill. Academic programs, especially at the Master’s and Doctoral levels, have admissions standards that ensure that successful candidates can work at the expected level of the program. Being admitted to a program raises the level of expectation for both your work and your professional employment.
  • You can fail. This is important. You’re not just getting entertained while you check your Facebook feed for funny memes (about fundraising, of course). You have to pay attention, read, write, and test your comprehension. This is an entirely different experience than your typical conference session.
  • You get education, not just training. Yes, you will get some hands-on, put-it-to-work-tomorrow info, but you should get more education on broader concepts and processes that can apply to a wide variety of fundraising methods than a specific technique that could be made obsolete with the latest technology.
  • Employers are looking for it in senior level positions. Employers know that if you pass the rigors of an advanced academic program, you are more likely to be prepared for a senior role in their organization. So, if you want to advance upward by applying for those jobs that say “Master’s degree preferred, you need the degree—and better yet, in a field related to nonprofits, fundraising, or your nonprofit’s mission.

What’s left out of the above? Certificates. 

Academic certificates can range from a series of sessions taught by experienced professionals (who may not meet the school’s requirements for a faculty member) that emulate a conference spread across several weeks to a smaller number of standard academic courses that focus on a specific field of work. Some schools use certificates to test whether there is community interest in a Master’s or Doctorate program, while others see them as a pipeline into existing advanced degrees. 

There’s nothing wrong with certificates. You just need to know whether the specific offerings will meet your professional objectives. For example, if you’re contemplating a Master’s in nonprofit management, you may want to take a certificate with courses that come with academic credit rather than a non-credit course set.

4. In-House Education and Training Programs

The problem with creating in-house training programs is that they’re very time consuming to develop, and may not be the best use of resources when you have many other high priority mission-related tasks in front of you. 

Still, they have a lot of advantages.

Nothing can be more tailored to your specific needs and mission than an in-house training or professional development program. You don’t get general examples from nonprofits you can’t relate to. You can focus on your goals. You can problem solve on-the-fly in a closed environment.

Staff experts cement their own comprehension of their discipline and build their organizational reputation by creating a course to teach others about their specific field. 

In-house programming is convenient. There’s no need for travel with the associated time and expenses for food and lodging, which can increase your attendance rate as well.

You can also make your training evergreen. Build a catalog of training topics by recording a live session, or better yet, doing a repeat performance on-screen. That way, new staff will get the benefit of past training without the added effort of re-doing the session.

As you can see, whether you’re a volunteer, board member, or nonprofit staff, there’s no lack of training opportunities that suit your position and interest. The hard part isn’t finding one—it’s picking one. And with the right training, you and your team will be raising more for your mission in no time. Now, good luck and get training!

About the Author

Matt Hugg is an author and instructor in nonprofit management in the US and abroad. He is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses (https://nonprofit.courses), an on-demand, eLearning educational resource for nonprofit leaders, staff, board members and volunteers, with thousands of courses in nearly every aspect of nonprofit work.  

He’s the author of The Guide to Nonprofit Consulting, and Philanders Family Values, Fun Scenarios for Practical Fundraising Education for Boards, Staff and Volunteers, and a contributing author to The Healthcare Nonprofit: Keys to Effective Management.

Over his 30-year career, Hugg has held positions at the Boy Scouts of America, Lebanon Valley College, the University of Cincinnati, Ursinus College, and the University of the Arts. In these positions, Matt raised thousands of gifts from individuals, foundations, corporations and government entities, and worked with hundreds of volunteers on boards and fundraising committees, in addition to his organizational leadership responsibilities.

Matt teaches fundraising, philanthropy, and marketing in graduate programs at Eastern University, the University of Pennsylvania, Juniata College and Thomas Edison State University via the web, and in-person in the United States, Africa, Asia and Europe, and is a popular conference speaker. He has a BS from Juniata College and an MA in Philanthropy and Development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. Mr. Hugg has served on the board of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Nonprofit Career Network of Philadelphia and several nonprofits.

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