I spent many years working as a solo fundraiser in small organizations. I loved so much of the work, but it was tough because sometimes it felt like I was surrounded by people who just didn't understand my job. At all.
I had no one to turn to for support, advice and feedback. Early on in my career I had the pleasure of meeting someone else who was in exactly the same position and with a few other fundraisers, we started our own little Mastermind - a group that met on a regular basis and supported each other in our learning and development.
I'm delighted to have one of those women, Emma Lewzey, guest blog. She'll walk you through the why and how to set up a Mastermind of your own. It's so perfect in its simplicity and doesn't cost a thing.
I hung up the phone, feeling both elated and terrified at the same time.
I’d just gotten a call from a donor, who wanted to give us the largest donation in the history of our organization – and the biggest single gift I’d ever been responsible for at that point in my fundraising career.
The stakes were high, and there was no room for mistakes. We were going to have to do some complex structuring of the gift, and I was the lone fundraiser at a small shop - and honestly? I just didn’t know where to start.
To the rescue! How my small-but-mighty Mastermind saved the day
As I racked my brain about who I could call, I remembered a colleague I had met through a gang of us who gathered regularly for lunch – we called ourselves Women Fundraisers for Social Justice, and we were brought together by our shared belief in philanthropy as an important tool for social change.
She was able to talk me down, and walk me through the structuring of the gift step by step.
The donor was happy, and I was happy, and I owed my colleague a beer!
Lunching with these ladies was one of my first experiences of the importance of building a supportive community – a trusted group you can turn to with sensitive questions, where you can comfortably share both your successes and failures, and have a good laugh while you are doing it.
The core group of us are still in touch today, close to (gulp!) 15 years after our first meeting, and are still an incredibly important part of my support network.
Don’t have a Mastermind?
Are you interested in the idea of community of like-minded fundraisers, but aren’t currently part of one yourself?
Well, why not build one?
Here are a few things to think about:
What are your shared values, and/or shared experiences?
Our Mastermind formed around our shared values – our commitment to social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Many of us worked in women’s organizations, and a lot of us were at smaller shops. Your community could be formed around any shared experience, and could be large or small – I’ve been to larger affinity group gatherings of LGBTQ+ fundraisers, and I meet yearly for a “Chairs’ Brunch” with a teeny group of three of us who have all held the board chair role at the same organization at some point over the past 10 years.
What happens in your community, stays in your community.
Knowing you can count on your peeps to help you solve some of your stickiest problems is one of the best things about being part of a Mastermind. If you are helping someone in your group with a sensitive issue, knowing that those conversations will be kept confidential is crucial. Mutual trust is a really important part of building your community.
How structured do you want to be?
I think at one point we actually had a terms of reference for Women Fundraisers for Social Justice (trust a bunch of type A fundraisers to write a TOR for their recurring lunch meeting!). Our Mastermind grew as new people invited others in, and we wanted to have something formal to share that articulated the values that drew us together, and our expectations of others who joined our group. Perhaps you’d like to do the same – or, you could take a more organic approach, and invite a group of like-minded folks together, and see what happens!
Have you tapped into the resources that are already there?
If you're just starting out and don't know where to find like-minded fundraisers, try tap into your local associations. Go to their events and meet people, start to build your network and then invite anyone you really connect with to be part of a Mastermind.
The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) offers all sorts of opportunities to find your community. Here in Toronto, we have the Inclusive Giving Fellowship, which is an awesome group of emerging leaders from diverse communities (shameless self-plug, I help run this program), and you can sign up for their e-newsletter to stay up to date on upcoming events and other developments.
Are you inspired to form your own community of like-minded fundraisers? We’d love to hear about it! And maybe you can invite us to join your lunch one day!
Emma Lewzey is a proud fundraiser with a deep commitment to working towards social change. She's been helping organizations like yours build and grow successful, sustainable fundraising programs since 1995. Emma co-chairs the AFP Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy, a unique program that works to build a pipeline of fundraising leaders who reflect the diversity of our communities.