Friday, 6 April 2012

Development Operations: Getting Started

Welcome to Guest Collectivist Kate Clift, Founder and Director of Six Sisters Ltd, a company specialising in higher education fundraising and copywriting.  Kate is guest posting on what you need to think about when starting up your first Development Office. 

Over to Kate...

A couple of years ago, after many years in the HE sector, I decided to make the break with regular employment, take a deep breath and plunge into freelancing.  I specialise in the externally focused aspects of higher education concentrating primarily on advancement and writing. It has been exciting, stimulating and just a little bit frightening to run my own company – Six Sisters Ltd.  The variety of work that freelancing brings is one of its great benefits and I have been lucky enough to get involved in many interesting projects.

One of my most interesting projects has been developing a training resource for start-up development offices which my client hopes to launch later this year.  Researching the material has been a fascinating insight into the challenges facing start-ups. I have spoken to many development professionals, read up on best practice and sat back and reassessed my own experiences in a start-up scenario in the mid-90s.  If I had to pick the top gems of advice for start-ups, I think I would pick:

"Fundraising is a team sport"
  1. Know yourself – you can’t set out on a fundraising journey unless you understand where you are starting from.  Before writing your strategy conduct a thorough SWOT analysis of your starting position and plot out what resources you need to create an adequate launch pad for your new venture. Look at things like: existing income, number and quality of prospects, staff and non-staff resources and importantly, how receptive your institution is to starting fundraising.
  2. Be realistic – don’t be overawed or given false expectations by the multi-million pound success stories you hear about.  Your targets should be based on what is achievable for YOUR institution based on a sensible assessment of your prospects and resources.  You need targets so you can measure your success.
  3. Don’t try and do it alone – fundraising is a team sport, you won’t succeed if you try and do everything yourself.  You need the co-operation and support of colleagues across the institution.
  4. Be organised – fundraising is a systematic process that benefits from strong organisational structures. Give priority to getting systems and policies in place as it so much harder to develop these retrospectively.

There is a wealth of information and support available for start-ups through organisations like CASE, the Institute of Fundraising and SOFII.  Don’t forget one of the best sources of help is the wisdom of others which you can find online in blogs or through networking with other development professionals. Don’t be frightened to pick up the phone and talk to people who have already been through the start-up phrase, they will be happy to help and generous with their support and advice.

If you are starting out, then good luck and persevere – it will get better!

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