By Jim Armstrong

Jim Armstrong Headshot

You perhaps remember the advertising slogan, “Membership has its benefits,” which touted a certain credit card company. I did remember it recently, while preparing to pay annual dues to one of the professional associations to which I belong.

You likely are as concerned about finances as I am these days. Before clicking the “renew” button, I paused to consider the reasons why I pay dues, then pay more to attend educational programs, then shell out more money to journey to far-away education conferences and to maintain professional certification. I began to question if these expenses are necessary and I began to examine what I am getting from them.

While my digit hovered over that renewal button, I compiled a quick list that favored skipping the dues this time.

At the top of my list –
  • My wife and I could go out to a fancy dinner and a concert or go on a mini-vacation.
  • Dues money and other funds spent to attend professional programs and conferences could be turned to revenue-generating activities, like paying to market my consulting practice.
  • The dollars spent on membership dues, seminars, conferences and subscriptions might instead go into my retirement savings (my accountant would certainly endorse this move).

As I considered other reasons to skip renewing this year, I recalled my first development boss and my other early mentors. Back then, I was transitioning from the wild and bruising world of political campaign management and fundraising, and was pleased to learn that fund-development for public benefit organizations was also transitioning from a trade into a true profession.

Lucky for me, and for my future as a development practitioner, my mentors included: founders of The Fundraising School, Hank Rosso, Joe Mixer and Lyle Cook (my first development boss); and Barbara Marion (an early president of the National Society of Fundraising Executives, which is now AFP).

Those mentors not only introduced me to the skills, techniques and principles of my new-found profession – they also schooled me in its ethics and philosophical underpinnings. The mentors modeled professional behavior as they passed the profession along to the next generation.

The many lessons these good men and women shared with me, about the experiential work of development, stand among the reasons I renewed.

Of the values and benefits of belonging that my mentors espoused, here are a few for your consideration:

  • Building personal and professional relationships – networking – is essential for success.
  • Maintaining credibility and visibility that comes with being an active, engaged, and appropriately certified is worth the effort and expense.
  • Staying current with ideas and techniques that raise money for the organizations we serve is a responsibility.
  • Being in tune with emerging trends before they become yesterday’s news is an obligation, and:
  • The personal satisfaction that comes from continuing to advance the fundraising profession by belonging, and by helping newer practitioners learn and advance – it’s priceless.
As memories of those formative pioneers caused me to push that renewal button, I realized they were also the motivating force behind my decisions to invest hunks of budget resources for “Employee Advancement” when my career found me serving as a senior staff officer. I was mirroring their example by passing it forward. As I reflect, I am thankful to them for pushing and for showing me a profession that has provided me with great fulfillment and a dog-gone honest living to boot.

About the Author: Jim Armstrong, CFRE is a senior consultant with Brown Schroeder & Associates, a firm offering a range of services in support of public benefit organizations: development planning and campaign consulting, feasibility studies, development audits, board counsel, executive search and advancement coaching.

Prior to joining Brown Schroeder, Jim built gift programs for Fort Mason Center, Children’s Hospital & Research Center Foundation, SF State, Larkin Street Youth Services, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, the University of San Francisco and United Way.

Jim’s Planning Special Events was published by Jossey-Bass in 2001. He is a university fundraising instructor and often presents at professional conferences. He is an AFP-Golden Gate Chapter board member, and has maintained Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) status since 1982.

Jim may be reached at jarmstrong@brownschroeder.com.