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Lessons I learned in my first year as a fundraiser

Going from school right into a new career is not an easy transition. After graduating from Algonquin College in 2022, I jumped right into working for a non-profit housing provider. It was a quick switch from school being my main responsibility, to leading communications campaigns and planning fundraising strategies (and yes, the feeling of imposter syndrome hit immediately). 

While the work has been incredibly rewarding, it was not without its challenges. I had to learn a lot in a short amount of time. So, hopefully the lessons I have learned and the mistakes I have made along the way will help new fundraisers who are just getting started. 

Learning doesn’t end when you graduate 

While I was finally done with school, I was not done learning. What has helped me immensely in my work was taking advantage of any professional development opportunities offered. From Fundraising Day workshops to online courses, there are so many opportunities to help you along your fundraising journey. They have helped me build successful campaigns and branch into new fundraising methods. 

You can’t do everything 

This one was hard for me to learn, that you can’t do everything. I jumped into my new job energetic and full of new ideas, but I quickly realized the reality of most non-profits, that you can’t do everything. There is not the time or capacity to do every campaign, fundraiser or communications project that you want to do. 

While juggling fundraising along with communications and other tasks, it became incredibly important to prioritize my work efficiently. So, focus on what you can do and don’t be afraid to ask for more support when you need it. 

Network, network, network 

Yes, I know you probably have heard this over and over again, but networking is important. When I started working, I made it a goal to reach out and connect with other fundraisers so I could learn more about the sector. Building those relationships has allowed me to learn more, get to know my community and navigate my way through my career. 

It is so helpful to have someone to turn to when you have questions, especially when that person has been where you are. So, connect with other fundraisers in your field, attend AFP Ottawa events and find a mentor, you won’t regret it. 

How you tell the story matters 

One of the most important things I have learned working in the non-profit housing sector is that how you tell a story matters. When I am writing a client’s success story, I am writing about their journey from homelessness to being housed, and the importance of how you tell their story should not be overlooked. 

I have learned to take the time needed to get to understand their perspective, connect with front-line workers to know the reality of the work, learn about trauma-informed storytelling, and prioritize what the client chooses to highlight because it is an opportunity to celebrate their success. 

Prioritize yourself

Taking a moment to breathe is okay. Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you are just starting out and trying to prove yourself. 

But trust me — take the time to prioritize yourself. Schedule breaks and take your vacation time. When the chaos of fundraising season starts, you will be thanking yourself. 

While I am only just getting started and have so much more to learn, I know these are lessons that will stick with me for the rest of my career. Working for a non-profit has been an incredibly rewarding experience and when you believe in the cause you are fundraising for, it makes your job easy. 

Alexandra Dinsmore is a communications and corporate support officer at Options Bytown Non-Profit Housing Corp.