By John Kroetz
As I reflect on the first 27 years of my life and how it relates to my perspective and passion for fundraising, I think of the many organizations and relationships I have been in contact with and how those relationships affected my views and attitude towards the philanthropic sector.
I think of my family’s perspective on money and their thought of philanthropic work, and my mother’s incredibly kind and influential nature. In a much more macro perspective, I think of the vulnerability, openness, and trust needed as an individual whose job is to connect with people and develop meaningful, deep relationships. Finally, I think of my passions of connecting with people and making art and music. These aspects of my life formed who I am and also who I aspire to be as an ethical and professional fundraiser.
The organizations I have worked for in the past have had a significant influence on my perspectives on fundraising. After I graduated from Butler University in 2015, I worked with the Humane Society of Indianapolis for five or six months as Community Engagement Coordinator. I interacted with volunteers consistently and learned a lot about their contributions of time. I did not realize it then, but I now realize (through my studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy) that these volunteers were big donors, especially of time, but some of money as well. If I were in the same position now, I would value my relationship with these donors just as much as I would value my relationship with a major or planned gift prospect.
Another organization I worked with was the Center for the Performing Arts. I was on its marketing and communications team for two years and handled all of the group sales and tours that came through the Palladium, its main concert hall. It was this specific role that made me realize that I wanted to be a frontline fundraiser.
I enjoyed building relationships and communicating with groups as they chose the performances they wanted to see. However, the relationship and the exchange were both transactional. Everything revolved around the ticket sales, even though it was a nonprofit organization with a strong mission and vision that focused on educational programming at the time.
I realized through those experiences that I wanted not only to build relationships, but to maintain contact with the individuals and cultivate the relationship based on their passion for the organization I am working for.
The third and final organization that had an influence on my fundraising perspective is the St. Vincent Hospital Foundation. I had never experienced a true “culture of philanthropy” until I worked with the team there, which had a collective goal of raising money. Now, of course, not everyone was a frontline fundraiser or even spoke with donors. However, every person on the team worked toward a goal of raising a certain amount of money with the tasks they were completing each day. I am so thankful for the experience I had there, as it is the perfect example of an organization that I want to work for some day.
As a child, I was always taught to save my money, and not spend it on things I did not need, such as a bottle of water at the store when we would be home in 10 minutes. My parents did not make a significant amount of money but have always been comfortable financially because of how they saved. This unique upbringing taught me to value every dollar I have, and I still do to this day.
This special value on money influences how I speak with donors about their giving. Even if the donor can only give $100 annually, he or she is still just as important to me as a donor that can give $100,000 annually because I know how generous he or she is being with his or her money. This point also ties in with my mother’s kind heart. My mother is the kindest person I know, and has influenced me to be genuine and caring to every person I meet, regardless of the situation, their status, their demographics, etc.
This is extremely important to my success as a fundraiser, as it has such a positive influence on how I treat donors, board members, volunteers, and other staff members. I realize how important connections and relationships are, and my mother’s influence on me will always help with my success in these two aspects of fundraising.
There are some aspects of fundraising that I have trouble with and have been working through ever since I started talking with donors. In my first-ever donor meeting, I prepared a script and tried to control the entire conversation. I even cut off the donor once because I was so worried about staying on script and knowing exactly what would happen next.
As I mentioned earlier, I want to build relationships based on the passion of the donor I am working with, and that is not going to happen if I stick to a script and close down my emotional and passionate side when speaking with donors. I think that if I learn to lose some control of the situation and explore the conversation alongside the donor, their passions will naturally come up and my responses will flow well.
My classes at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, such as Principles & Practices of Fundraising, Donor Behavior in Major and Planned Giving, Civil Society in Comparative Perspective, and Grant Making and the Role of Foundations have significantly shaped my beliefs, assumptions, and perspectives on the world of philanthropy. While I have enjoyed all of my courses here in the M.A. program, the specific courses I listed truly connect my passions with coursework and assignments. I will take the perspectives and skills learned from these courses into my career as a fundraiser.
One of my passions is connecting with people. I taught marching band and winter percussion for six straight years after I graduated high school and worked with hundreds of different students. High schoolers are not the easiest to connect to, but when it happened, I absolutely enjoyed my job even more. That joy has directly translated into my fundraising work.
For example, I was wrapping up a batch of cold calls a few weeks ago at my internship and was tired of leaving voicemails and getting hung up on. One of my last calls was a gentleman whose daughter attends the organization I work for, and he and I talked for over 15 minutes about how much he loves what we do and how we take care of everything for their family. I did not want to get off the phone with this donor! I had found his passion and he completely opened up to me about his experiences with our organization.
My second passion is making music and creating art. To me, art is defined as mixing emotion with something you have created. Fundraising is an art form, and I believe this passion of mine will positively influence the relationships I have with donors, the proposals I create for them, and the way I communicate with them.
The Perfect Mix
So many factors go into my success as a professional and ethical fundraiser. I aspire to be a major gifts officer in a healthcare or higher education organization in my career, and I know that my perspectives on fundraising through my upbringing, and my experiences and classes at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy will help me achieve that goal.