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Words of Wisdom to Guide Your Development Career

“Anyone who has been involved in philanthropy, either as a donor, volunteer, or development professional, knows the joy that comes from giving generously or serving as an intermediary to a generous gift.” – Daniel A. Schipp, Senior Consultant, JGA

These words from Dan Schipp embody his career in development – a career that has spanned the decades, beginning as a junior high social studies teacher then working in community planning and development in southern Indiana. Before joining JGA in 2008, Dan enjoyed a long career at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and School of Theology, leading the development office and successfully completing the largest campaign in the institution’s history.

Words of Wisdom to guide Your Development Career

On March 1st, Dan will retire from JGA and conclude a career that has literally changed the world through the power of philanthropy. At JGA, our clients value Dan’s quiet, calm, and thoughtful demeanor as they navigate difficult challenges. Our team values Dan’s sense of humor, wisdom, and integrity.

We also know him as an expert blogger. As we celebrate Dan’s career, I recommend you re-read one of my favorite blogs from Dan, Fundraising as Ministry. Dan quotes Henri Nouwen, “Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission. Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.

For Dan, fundraising truly is ministry – this belief is at the core of his work – and I would posit that Dan’s career is a ministry to others. Dan ministers through a combination of his gentle, dedicated spirit and development best practices to bring the joy of giving to his clients.

I also want to share with you a new blog Dan has written as he reflects on his 40-year career in fundraising. We are all much better off for the life’s work of our colleague, Dan. We wish him and his wife Patty much happiness in retirement, continuing to bring joy through his generous spirit – and cheering for his Notre Dame Fighting Irish!

Parting Advice for Your Career in Development

by Dan Schipp, Senior Consultant

When I was a student at the University of Notre Dame in the early 1970’s, I did not realize that people worked professionally in a field called development or advancement. I had no idea that one could build a career in fundraising for nonprofit organizations. It certainly was not where I intended to go post-graduation, but it is where I ended up working for nearly forty years . . . and what rewarding years they have been! As the line from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I was intended to be.

As I conclude my fundraising career and embark on the next segment of my life’s journey, allow me to share these five pieces of parting advice:

  1. Be prepared to be surprised by the technological advances that lie ahead. When I first began working in development at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary & School of Theology in the early 1980’s, I would never have guessed that someday the dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia set, maps, clock, camera, flashlight, radio, calculator, recorder, telephone, and stack of newspapers in my office would be replaced by one item – a smart phone. I cannot begin to imagine what will come our way in technology in the next twenty to thirty years, especially in Artificial Intelligence. Be prepared to be amazed!
  2. Be curious and commit to ongoing learning. Always seek to build your knowledge of philanthropy, volunteerism, fundraising, leadership, and organizational behavior, but do not stop there. Be curious about many things and cultivate a wide range of personal interests. Learn from reading and research. Learn from volunteering. Learn from your peers and colleagues. Learn from outside experts. Continually expand your personal horizons as you encourage and support your nonprofit in becoming a learning organization. If you do that, you will come to see, as expressed by a poster I once saw, “Blessed are the curious for they will have adventures!”
  3. Listen. Listen. Listen. We development professionals often feel we must carry the conversation. We have our organization’s story to tell and its impressive impact to convey. Yes, that is important but so is being an active listener. You and your organization will be well-served by developing an ability to hear what is not being said, what lies beneath the surface of what is being said. How do you do that? I think the answer lies, in part, in being able to pull back the layers of the onion by asking probing questions, particularly the “how” and “why” questions. Asking these questions allows you to go deeper and gain a better understanding of your conversation partner’s context, concerns, motives, and aspirations. It will facilitate engagement and result in a true conversation.
  4. Risk making a mistake. Dispel yourself of the notion that you have to be perfect. You need to do your best and be your best, but perfection is not the expectation. When I was named vice president for development at Saint Meinrad, I received an anonymous note that read: “It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you realize what you should do differently tomorrow.” (I suspect the note came from one of the Benedictine monks, but I do not know for sure.) I have carried that note with me for the past thirty years. The reminder that I was NOT perfect, and I was not expected to be, was immensely freeing for me. That advice allowed me to be bolder, to take chances, and to challenge myself and others. I encourage you to not let the possibility of a mistake or two keep you and your organization from venturing forth. Do your homework. Make informed, well-reasoned decisions but do not let fear of making a mistake keep you from necessary action.
  5. Continue to be resilient. The past year certainly has challenged all of us to adapt, pivot quickly, and modify our behavior. We have learned a lot from this once-in-a-century pandemic. One lesson stands out for me: the reminder of just how resilient we are as a people, as organizations, and as fundraising professionals. All of us have had highs and lows in our personal, professional, and organizational lives. We have climbed the mountains, and we have walked the valleys. Time and time again, we have shown our resiliency. May this past year only increase our confidence in our ability to take on whatever may come our way!

There you have it . . . some final thoughts from this sunsetting development consultant. I hope they will strike a chord with you whether you are just starting out in the fundraising field or several decades into your career.

One last comment . . . For nearly forty years I have had the blessing of exciting, challenging, stimulating, and fulfilling work – 25 years at Saint Meinrad and nearly 13 years at JGA. I have had the privilege of entering into rewarding relationships with co-workers, institutional leadership, alumni, donors, and the monastic community at Saint Meinrad and with my colleagues and clients at JGA. It has been a joyful journey. My deep gratitude to all who have been a part of this journey and made it remarkably memorable! So long!