My time at FairVote began in July 2017 as a new fellow in the development department. One of my early tasks was writing a piece on the organization’s 25-year history, where I interviewed staffers and long-time supporters. During those conversations, I quickly realized how much the nonprofit world has evolved, especially in terms of technology and fundraising. But while the tools -- like social media -- have fundamentally changed the way we communicate, it’s important to remember that most of the principles of success have stayed the same.
By way of background, I spent my time in school studying Chinese. Little did my coursework aid me in understanding the administrative intricacies of a nonprofit or the best fundraising strategies to reach folks newly energized by politics. My experience in development consisted of collegiate fundraisers and chaotic campaigns in North Carolina, which both felt like quick sprints to the finish. In contrast, our development team invests in the long-term health of FairVote to make sure it thrives for another 25 years.
Here are some of the lessons I have learned so far:
Be passionate and make your work personal
I have been inspired by my coworkers and their passion for fixing our democracy. My mentor, Celina Stewart, is able to connect with donors and supporters alike, by speaking honestly about how FairVote’s reforms would improve the lives of those important to her.
The most powerful request, whether financial or political, is backed up by someone who truly cares about the issue. At FairVote, we advocate for more representative voting methods whether we are punching the time clock or not, because our work is personal.
Preparedness and flexibility are your greatest assets
One of the most exciting, but tense days during my fellowship was the day of our Democracy Awards Reception in New York City. Our team had been preparing for months for the event.
That day, it felt like anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, but our team’s preparation and flexibility allowed us to overcome adversity. If you assume that everything will work perfectly, you will be left flat-footed and lacking solutions in the moment. This experience taught me to take a deep breath, analyze the issue at hand, and to problem solve in critical moments.
New technology is powerful, but personal conversations are paramount
As a newcomer, I encouraged the use of modern technology, like multimedia newsletters, to more effectively reach our donors. For example, this year our team invested time and effort in our Giving Tuesday campaign, teaming up with Facebook to grow our donations through their matching campaign. Although we succeeded in increasing our donations nearly nine-fold, Facebook’s matching program did not pan out as we had hoped. This experience prepared us to revamp our online strategy for next year’s Giving Tuesday campaign.
At the end of 2017, our team began conversations with our donors. In these calls, we not only educated our supporters about our 2018 plans, but we also learned about our donors motivations for giving. Social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, allow our team to reach a wider audience, but they have limitations that tend to prohibit deeper connections. On the other hand, conversations help us recognize our donors’ values, their desire to get involved in fixing democracy, and their hope that we succeed as an organization.
Nonprofits must match activists’ passion with support and tools for success
During our November activist summit, I was able to witness the dedication and expertise of reformers across the country. They were self-starters who wanted to learn how to build their movement organically. I take pride in the development team’s role in supporting the fundraising and administrative goals of these reformers.
Activists have the drive, so we at FairVote must provide them the tools and know-how to succeed. By being a part of our successes in New Mexico and beyond, I have learned that passion paired with institutional expertise can create positive change in our democratic systems.