WEST FARGO — The average burnout rate for a nonprofit fundraising director today is just 18 months, according to Patrick Kirby, founder of Do Good Better Consulting. He thinks he knows why.

"Nonprofit leaders take everything personally, and it's always serious because we're tackling serious problems like hunger, homelessness, autism services and developmental disabilities. That's tough to do all the time," Kirby says. "And we forget what we do is amazing work. We forget that we're making a difference and we're making massive positive impacts in the community."

Kirby hopes to put the fun back in fundraising during the upcoming Do Gooders Conference, an event he's hosting July 13 at the Essentia Health Plaza at the Lights in West Fargo.

The all-day outdoor conference will address serious topics such as pay in the nonprofit world, racial equity, and how annual "giving days" are becoming the "Hunger Games" of fundraising. But sprinkled throughout will be performances by area artists and musicians. Food trucks from Heart -n- Soul Community Cafe, Sweet Treats and Thunder Coffee will provide refreshments.

The conference will also be streamed online at a reduced price.

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"Businesses go on business retreats and they have really fun things to do. You as a nonprofit deserve this as well. To just absorb a learning experience, but you should also let your hair down a bit. It's OK," he says.

The Do Gooders Conference will be held July 13, 2021, at The Essentia Health Plaza in West Fargo.  David Samson / The Forum
The Do Gooders Conference will be held July 13, 2021, at The Essentia Health Plaza in West Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

An accidental fundraiser

Kirby got his start fundraising for his high school, The Academy of Holy Angels in the Twin Cities. From there, he served as the senior director of development for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and later as the chief development officer for the Anne Carlsen School.

As a seasoned fundraising veteran, Kirby was approached a few years ago about mentoring a small number of small- and mid-sized nonprofits through Dakota Medical Foundation's Giving Hearts Day event. That's when he had his "lightbulb moment."

"I fell in love with it," he says. "That lightbulb moment where they understood finally that 'We don't have to do all of this, but we can do this,' I got so addicted."

In 2017, Kirby launched Do Good Better Consulting, a business devoted to helping smaller nonprofits "move the needle forward" each day.

He is a firm believer in keeping fundraising simple. In his book, "Fundraise Awesomer! A Practical Guide to Staying Sane While Doing Good," he provides a practical framework:

"Monday you plan. Tuesday you do. Wednesday you document. Thursday you celebrate. And Friday you appreciate," Kirby says.

Few people plan a career in fundraising, according to Kirby. He calls most "accidental fundraisers."

"Nobody goes to school for that. No one says, 'I want to do galas and walks and ask people for their hard-earned cash.' Nobody is crazy enough to do that," he says.

Many come from a marketing job with a fundraising component or are executive directors who are often wearing many other hats, Kirby says.

Rebecca Undem considers herself an "accidental fundraiser." In 2019, she launched Growing Small Towns, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit meant to foster an environment where small-town businesses and nonprofits can grow. At its headquarters in Oakes, N.D., they offer co-working, a business incubator and offsite innovation spaces to foster creativity and innovation.

"I truly had zero experience related to the world of fundraising," Undem says, so she turned to her good friend Patrick Kirby. The two met a few years ago when they both worked for the Anne Carlsen School.

She attended last year's Do Gooders Conference, which was originally planned as an in-person event in July. Kirby moved the conference up three months and took it virtual when the coronavirus pandemic hit the region in March.

Undem knew she would learn a lot, but admits she also wanted to see exactly how Kirby would pull it off.

"I was not in awe because that's who he is, but I could not wait to watch it and basically pick it apart. I wanted to see how he did it. How the sausage was made," she jokes.

Kirby did not disappoint. Undem says Kirby set a shining example for other nonprofits to continue holding virtual events and fundraising during the pandemic.

"I speak at a lot of conferences. I'm a critic. I have high expectations when I go to events and conferences," Undem says. "Seriously, Patrick Kirby, everything he brings to the table in terms of heart and passion and authenticity and genuine desire to help people — he brings all of that plus a brilliant brain for execution and making sure people get real value. And it's fun. Actually fun. Not in a stale, fake, phony 'We're going to do icebreakers now' kind of way, but a truly fun time. And people need it. People are craving it."

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The lineup

Kirby says he was very purposeful in selecting the speakers for this year's conference. Attendees will likely notice Kirby is the only man scheduled to speak this year.

"There's a reason. Eighty percent of the nonprofit world is female. Why would I get a bunch of old white dudes to talk to you about fundraising? That doesn't make sense to me," Kirby says.

In addition to Undem, the lineup includes locals like Maria Prussia, founder of MPX Fitness; Missy Heilman, executive director of BIO Girls; North Dakota Sen. Nicole Poolman and Rep. Ruth Ann Buffalo; Del Rae Williams, former mayor of Moorhead; Moorhead Mayor Shelly Carlson; and West Fargo City Commissioner Mandy George.

Others coming from outside the area will touch on subjects that "few people talk about out loud in the Red River Valley," Kirby says.

Courtney Bakken, development strategist for Give MN, will talk about the organization's Give to the Max Day.

"She's going to talk about how giving days are becoming the 'Hunger Games' of fundraising," Kirby says. "It's not something we should shy away from. Should we be using that day to build capacity for nonprofits rather than pit them against each other?"

Susan Folks, founder of Operation Not Alone, will address pay in the nonprofit world.

"We're going to talk about pay and pay scale," Kirby says. "How are you supposed to attract unbelievable talent in the nonprofit world if you pay them in pennies? ... We're losing so much wonderful talent from the nonprofit world to the for-profits because nonprofits can't get it through their brains that it's OK to pay their people well."

Keynote speaker Kishshana Palmer, an international speaker, trainer and coach with 20 years on fundraising, marketing and talent management, will speak about topics such as racial equity in the nonprofit world.

Musicians also on the lineup include Andrina Brogden, Jessica Vines, Lori Alane Thompson, Nathan Pehler, James Bergman, Kwaician, Shirley Leiphon and Ruch Tha Rapper.

Paul Hankel of Bespoke Marketing will emcee the event.

Kirby says the conference is not exclusive to nonprofit leaders. He encourages nonprofit volunteers and board members to attend as well.

For more information, visit www.dogoodersconference.com.

IF YOU GO:

What: Do Gooders Conference

Where: Essentia Health Plaza at the Lights in West Fargo

When: July 13, 2021

Tickets: Tickets are $150 for those attending in person and $75 for virtual attendees. VIP tickets are also available for $350 and $125 respectively.

Online: For more information, visit www.dogoodersconference.com