Fundraisers are some of the best people in the world. People committed enough to a cause to ask others to invest in it. They’re good with people, great at networking with donors, and quite resourceful.

Except when it comes to professional development.

I’ve spoken to too many colleagues that aren’t allowed to go to professional conferences…even when they were willing to pay their own way!

Talk about short sighted! It’s awful. I’m moved at the level of professionalism and commitment of these colleagues: they know how important it is to have ongoing education and professional development.

But I’m equally shocked by organizations that are so worried about “keeping up appearances” that they won’t let people get educated on their own dime.

If you work for such an organization, don’t give up! As professionals, we’re quite a friendly crew, usually quite ready to help each other. I’ve already recommended reading blogs as a free learning opportunity. Here are a few more ideas on how to connect with colleagues develop professionally, at low- or no-cost:

  • Keep current with your memberships in professional development groups current

    I know this involves a cost. But groups like the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals are great investments–in yourself and in your profession. They offer lots of benefits for a relatively low price and many have state or local chapters. And some of them are doing incredibly important lobbying on our behalf.

    Be sure to look for independent state or local groups look as well. Groups like the New England Association for Healthcare Philanthropy or the Utah Society of Fund Raisers offer most of the benefits of the national organizations at tremendously low, budget-friendly costs.

  • Participate in email lists and subscribe to newsletters

    Many of the aforementioned groups offer great email lists that allow you to reach out to colleagues and get their opinions. These are great because you don’t have to leave your des! Groups like NEAHP are using places like Facebook and LinkedIn to extend the networking. You can often join these forums for free.

    Here’s a list of email services and listservs to check out:

    • The Chronicle of Philanthropy offers several emails, including a great daily news email.
    • ForImpact.org offers wonderfully small but incredibly inspiring emails they call “nuggets.”
    • The Extreme Fundraising Ezine is the email I put out every two weeks based on the principle that the basics of fundraising are extreme!
    • Sandra Sims at StepByStepFundraising.com, blogger Sandy Rees, Kivi Leroux Miller’s Nonprofit Marketing Guide, and many others have have helpful email newsletters and/or email subscriptions to their blogs.
    • Network for Good has an informative newsletter for nonprofits.
    • CharityChannel.com is, in my mind, the granddaddy of email listservs for nonprofits. For a very nominal fee of $37/year, you have access to many of the top bloggers, authors, and philanthropy officers in the world. For me, being a member with CharityChannel is just a given. (Can you tell I’m a fan?)

    As with so much of life, you’ll only get out of listservs as much as you put in. After you join, read the rules about posting (most professional lists don’t allow advertisements or pitches) and start asking your questions. And be sure to reply to those of others too.

  • Try free webinars

    Many companies like HubSpot and Network for Good offer incredibly informative webinars for free. Now, these folks need to eat too, so don’t be bent out of shape when they pitch a product or service. But after attending a few of these, you’ll get good at weeding out the hucksters from those offering real content.

  • Listen to free podcasts

    Podcasts are basically recorded conversations. Anyone with a microphone can create a podcast, so each has a different style. Here are a few that center on fundraising.

    • The Ask Without Fear! Radio Show
      One day, looking at the stack of unread books growing on my desk, I realized I could either beat myself up for not reading them, or I could call up the authors and learn directly from the source. Of course, no sane author will talk to everyone that calls them and asks them to tell them what their book says. There needed to be something in it for them. So I used BlogTalkRadio to give people I found interesting a platform to share their book or service with whoever wanted to listen. And I offer guests the recording for free to use as they please.

      I still read books, but from time-to-time (far more sporadically than I’d expected!) I invest a lunch hour talking to a people I really look up to and share those conversations with others!

    • The Baudcast
      Produced by Blackbaud’s Chad Norman, this show involves engaging conversation of many of the folks in our field that are pushing the technology limits. I always find it informative!
    • Fundraising is Beautiful
      Fundraising experts Jeff Brooks (of DonorPowerBlog.com) and Steven Screen lead terrific conversations that are meant, in their words, to give “inspiration and ammunition for fundraisers.”
    • Social Good
      The Chronicle of Philanthropy has started a great podcast hosted by author Allison Fine. I’ve only caught one of these episodes but it was quite good.

    A great thing about podcasts is that they’re recorded and posted online, so you can listen to them when you’re ready!

  • Experiment with other free tools

    Sites like FreeConferenceCall.com allow you to use a free phone bridge. To have a conference call, all participants need to pay is the cost of the long-distance call. Thanks to the initiative of Mary Luebbert Director of Development at Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital, a few of us held a monthly open conference call. We connected through the AHP email listserv, but the call was independent of the AHP organization. These calls were very well received by all of us. We described them as part water-cooler, part group therapy session.

  • Call your colleagues and go out for coffee

    We are very good at making phone calls to set up appointments. Why not make a few to get together with other fundraisers in the community? More often than not, we’re really not competing with each other.

There are a few of my ideas. What other ways are you finding to connect with others despite dwindling budgets?

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