A few months ago, I made a life altering decision. After living in the Greater Toronto Area for almost 30 years, I accepted a new job in a new city. For those of you who may not know, I moved to Waterloo Region and am the Manager, Major Gifts and Planned Giving at the YWCA Kitchener-Waterloo.
Call me a typical millennial, but in my 7 years of working in the non-profit sector, I’ve had just as many jobs. While everyone may not move to a new city for a new job or be forced to job hop as often as I (and other young professionals) have, the reality is that most fundraisers switch jobs every couple of years. As someone who has started a new job 7 times, I have come up with 7 tips for a smooth transition to help ease you into your next new job and make a great impression too.
1. Get to know your organization. It happens all too often. You didn’t do enough research about the organization beforehand. Or you did your research and think you know the organization – that is, until you get there and realize nothing is as it appears from the outside. Either way, when you’re the new kid on the block, the most important thing you can do is to act like a sponge and soak up every bit of information about the organization. Not only will this information be valuable to you and your work but as a fundraiser, it’s essential to know so you can convey who you are, what you do and why it’s worthy of support to others. Be curious and ask lots of questions. Most importantly, genuinely listen, reflect on the information and use it to inform your work.
2. Get to know your colleagues. Your colleagues are your most valuable resource. Just like with your boss, they can make or break your experience. Many people assume their colleagues will be helpful when needed just because they should be but that’s simply not the case. Your colleagues need to trust you before they will open up and tell you about their work, their challenges and the politics of the workplace. While you may not have the time or the desire to make friends with everyone, especially if you work at a large organization, at the very least you should invest the time to meet face-to-face with key colleagues whose help you need to do your job well. This includes not only other fundraisers but also your counterparts in marketing, programs, finance, IT and human resources. Having a go-to person in each department/team will make your life so much easier.
3. Get to know your supporters. As fundraisers, donors are our raison d’etre. Without our donors, we wouldn’t have a job. Your first year at your new job, especially the first few months, is the perfect time to pick up the phone or send an email and play the new card. Tell your donors you’re new to the organization and want to get to know them, get their advice or bring them in for a site visit. The same idea can also be applied to your Board members and other volunteers. Get to know them over coffee or lunch and get them on your side. You’ll be thankful you did.
4. Live in the present. When you dwell on the past or hope for the future, you fail to live in the present. Try to remember that you chose your new job for a reason and don’t compare it to every other job you’ve had or hope to someday have. Simply put, give your new job a chance. Understand that even if you love your job, your colleagues or your organization, there will always be that one thing that annoys or frustrates the heck out of you. But just because your former organizations had certain standards or your former colleagues did things a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the right way or the only way. Take what you’ve learned from your past organizations and colleagues, and use them to make your work and your new workplace better. But otherwise, live in the present and focus on doing the best job you can.
5. Lead by example. As a young professional at the midway point in my career, I admittedly don’t have much positional authority but I do have relational authority – and so can you. Whether you want to be the change, lead from where you stand or lead by example, anyone can informally exert influence by earning the trust and respect of others. (This is where getting to know your colleagues is key.) If you want your organization to be more professional, then be professional. If you want your colleagues to be more collaborative, then be collaborative. If you want respect, give respect. It sounds simple but, in my experience, it almost always works.
6. Reach out to your network. I don’t know about you, but when I’m having a tough go at work or have reached a crossroad in my career, there’s nothing more cathartic or heartening than talking to other fundraisers. If you don’t already have a trusted network of other fundraisers, both your peers and mentors, find your people and start building your network. They will build you up when you’re down and cheer on your successes. And, most importantly, they can give you advice and help you work through whatever challenges you’re facing because they’ve been in your shoes too. Don’t think you have to limit your network to only fundraisers or non-profit professionals but that’s the best place to start.
7. Take care of yourself. Starting a new job is stressful. Period. Not only are you probably putting in more than 40 hours a week but you constantly have to be on – with your boss, your colleagues, your donors and your volunteers. Recognize that and plan for it in advance. For the first few weeks at your new job, simplify. Tell your partner, your family and your friends that you’re going to need a bit more you time while you adjust to your new job. Don’t take on additional responsibilities, no matter how tempting, whether it’s a new volunteer position, a new course or a new hobby. Get more sleep. Eat well and keep hydrated. Exercise. You’ll still be exhausted but at least you won’t get sick. Starting a new job is never easy but a little bit of foresight goes a long way. Be kind to yourself so you don’t burn out.
If you just accepted an offer for a new job or started a new job recently, congratulations! I hope these 7 tips help to smooth the transition. If you’re currently job hunting or will be soon, please bookmark or print this list and keep it handy. I know they’ve helped me and I hope they help you too.
If you have any comments or tips you’d like to share, feel free to comment below or reach out to me directly. We’re all in this together.
Jessica Wroblewski, CFRE recently received the 2017 AFP Outstanding Young Professional Award from AFP International. She is a professional fundraiser and project manager with 7 years of comprehensive experience in the non-profit sector. During that time, she has had the opportunity to work on annual giving, major gifts, capital campaigns, planned giving, endowment funds, special events and grants while raising over $3.5M. Jessica has a Fundraising Management certificate from Ryerson University and is currently pursuing a Master of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership (MPNL) degree at Carleton University. You can connect with Jessica on twitter @jesswroblewski.