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Ask Andrea: What's the best way to improve my fundraising chops?


Hello, and welcome to the blog series in which I answer your questions about fundraising! I’ll select interesting or frequent or thought-provoking questions each month and write my answers to them in this forum.

Do you have a question to ask me? Email me, Andrea Kihlstedt, at for your chance to be featured in the column!

Now, let’s get to this month's important question from Ann Elise.

Dear Andrea,

I just started a new job as fund development manager for a small nonprofit. It's my first development job and I really want to succeed. What should I do to learn as much as I can about fundraising?

Ann Elise

Dear Ann Elise,

Congratulations on your new job!

Your question has made me think about how I’ve learned the most during my career. And while I encourage you to read a lot (see below for my list of suggested reading), I’ve got two other important suggestions for you.

Find expert mentors

Without question, Ann Elise, I’ve learned the most about fundraising from people who knew lots more than I did. I met some very experienced people in the field and I found ways to learn from them.

  • I asked them lots of questions.
  • I offered to help them with their projects.
  • I watched what they did and asked them to explain it to me when I didn’t understand.

Their lessons stay with me to this day. No reading would have taught me what I learned from my mentors.

I suggest that you find people who are very experienced in the field and ask them to be your mentors. But be sure you find a way to help them too. Offer to assist their workshops or perhaps you can help them with social while they help you learn fundraising basics.

You'll learn a huge amount from that contact. Just be a sponge.

Become a major donor... really!

Okay, do you think that’s ridiculous? That you could never be a “major donor?” Well, you can! The trick is to choose an organization small enough so that the most significant gift you can make would be a really big gift. Then, watch carefully how you are treated and pay close attention to how you would like to be treated.

When you use the experience of being a “major” donor to learn about your own feelings and reactions, you’ll learn more about what’s important in this business than you could ever have imagined.

Explore broadly

Finally, keep reading, Ann Elise. But don’t bury your nose only in fundraising. Read broadly. The more creative and curious and informed you are, the more successful you will be.

Read blogs and biographies and novels and poetry. Let yourself explore new ideas and you will do well at your job and in life, because curiosity fuels the generous spirit. And that’s what fundraising is all about.

Thanks for your thought-provoking question, Ann Elise.

With warm wishes,


P.S. Here is a short list of my favorite resources these days.

Fundraising Resources

Other Things Worth Paying Attention To

I watch a TED talk every day!

What fundraising questions do you have?

Send your questions to Andrea at

Andrea Kihlstedt, author and co-founder, AskingMatters.comAndrea Kihlstedt loves to help people solve their fundraising problems. She has provided advice and friendly encouragement to lots of people over her 30+ years in the fundraising business. She’s also written four books on fundraising. Andrea lives in New York City with her husband and her old cat, Hairy Potter. You can find her at Capital Campaign Magic.

Topics: Fundraising