When tackling something new the only thing to do is to take the first step… and see where it leads you.

Just about a year ago, I found myself heading out into the great unknown. I was journeying to South Africa and in order to experience Africa beyond the beaten tourism track, I decided to create a “Nonprofit Safari.” I was able to meet with nonprofits in South Africa and Swaziland, learn about their challenges, and help them change the world by sharing Ask Masters techniques to revolutionize their fundraising strategies. It was an experience of a lifetime!

An Opportunity to Return

I was surprised when the opportunity to return to South Africa this year presented itself. After all, I had spent an entire year building the Ask Masters online fundraising skills courses, and after that intensive development work, a trip abroad didn’t seem to be in the cards. I jumped at the chance. Where would I go? Who would I see? What had the people I met last year been up to? How had the nonprofit sector dealt with its challenges and evolved over the last year? How could I connect?

first stepI had an opportunity and no road map! I knew I was about to try some new things, but what? I wracked my brain for a starting point. This was big! I drew on last year’s experience to prepare me as I reviewed 10 Things I Learned and 10 More Things I had learned on the Nonprofit fundraising safari.

As I thought about what my first steps would be this year, I realized they would be based on what I had learned from previous experiences. What was once a new experience, something that caused trepidation and uncertainty and taken concentration, ingenuity, problem solving, and attention, was now a solid foundation upon which to build!

The First Step

The flight to South Africa was a microcosm of people making first steps. Listening to the conversations in the cabin, it was easy to hear about internships starting, business ventures that were being created, explorations and discoveries that were anticipated. We were seated next to a young couple who were making their first journey to the country. They had been dreaming and planning this trip for 7 years and their excitement that it was finally happening was infectious. They weren’t really sure what they were going to do, or how they were going to do it, but they were eager to jump in and figure it out.

first step

We met Trina and Burke on the plane. It’s their first visit to South Africa and they’ve been dreaming about it for 7 years!

As we chatted, they asked about our experiences travelling in South Africa and for any tips and suggestions. That’s when it struck me. I wasn’t a newbie any more! I could share what I’d learned and help someone else, just like on the Nonprofit Safari. Once the plane landed we took them under our wing and ushered them to a shop in the airport to pick up a sim card. We knew that if they didn’t get their communications sorted out during the flight layover, they would waste at least a day at their destination trying to get connected. My first steps from over a year ago helped to improve someone else’s “first” and allowed me to make a gift of a day that would have otherwise been lost to them forever.

Just Like Fundraising

This is just like fundraising! Each time you try a new fundraising technique, build the first appeal, add a method to grow your prospective supporter list, make that first ask; you take a leap of faith. It’s time to try something new, to take a first step into the unknown. At that moment of stepping out, you don’t realize that your first step won’t be new forever.

Once you’ve taken that first step with a new adventure in fundraising, you have a foundation upon which to take the next step. And the next. And the next! And soon you are using what you’ve learned as the foundation upon which to build the first step of another new fundraising technique. When you share what you’ve learned you become the tide that raises all boats, helping your cause and the people you care about raise the money they need to reach for their missions.

first step

This is shaping up to be a trip full of firsts! I’d love to have you come along. You can join me on this trip by “liking” Mosaic’s page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MosaicNPD and following our progress on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MosaicNPD. I’ll be posting photos, interviews, and updates and would love to have you along for the journey!

We aren’t the only ones stepping into the unknown and taking leaps of faith. As we touched down at our destination and taxied to the gate, the pilot announced that we had just experienced an historic moment. Our flight was the first ever in South African aviation history to be completely landed by computer. Yep, I think this is going to be a great experience!

Are you ready to take a fundraising step

into the unknown?

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Emily Davis
Emily Davis

I love the metaphor especially because as big is your trip was is as big as many people feel taking on new fundraising challenges are. I'm also jealous of such an incredible experience!

Heidi Hancock
Heidi Hancock

Thanks Emily! Taking on a new fundraising challenge is a lot like taking a trip to a distant and exotic location. One thing I've learned over my years of travelling is that a trip is so much better when travelling with someone who's been there before. Someone who can point out hidden gems, help you avoid the bad parts of town, and translate local customs. You can really relax and take it all in when you've got a savvy guide! Fundraising is the same way! So much better with a fundraising companion. So take a fundraising buddy as you step into the unknown. ;)

Hanna Cooper
Hanna Cooper

Great examples! Can't wait to hear more as you journey on!


What an amazing adventure! South Africa is one of the places I can't wait to visit one day. Which differences do you notice about how nonprofits run there versus here in North America?

Heidi Hancock
Heidi Hancock

A trip to Africa will definitely change your life! I couldn't recommend is higher! In South Africa there seems to be a gulf between a small nonprofit and a large. There doesn't seem to be too many mid-sized organizations. The sector is, however the largest employer and many don't see how much is being done by nonprofits. Some terrific innovations are starting to blossom, too!

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