(Photo by Julie Zeglen)
If you’re looking for an expert in asking folks for money, Valerie Jones is your gal.
The certified fundraising executive has been supporting Philadelphia-area organizations for more than 30 years and has trained more than a thousand board members to strengthen their nonprofits’ bottom lines. After taking a life skills and meditation course, she realized she wanted to get more people fundraising “the Val way.”
Her book on how to do just that, “Nonprofit Hero: Five Easy Steps to Successful Board Fundraising” (Rownan & Littlefield, 2018) was released in November. Generocity asked Jones what it was like writing and publishing a book after years in the field.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
What made you want to put your training down in words and write a book?
It’s all my husband’s fault. He’s an author who has written more than 50 books and he was like “you should write a book!” But he was right. I can reach a lot more people through the book.
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It was actually a really fun process because I had been teaching so long but I didn’t really have it documented how I did it. In order to develop the methodology I had big pieces of paper and flip charts all over my office. I figured what I said a lot of times was probably my essential belief and part of my philosophy. I also wrote down pictures and stories and quotes.
What was the process like to actually publish a book?
That’s actually a fun story for me! I promised myself that by the end of the summer of 2017, I would get a book proposal out to at least one agent and one publisher. So at two o’clock on Labor Day of 2017, my absolute last deadline, I sent it out to one publisher and one agent.
Before nine o’clock on the Tuesday after, the publisher had written me back and said he was really interested in the book. I was panicking. I called my husband’s agent and said, “I know you only handle fiction, but I have a meeting with a publisher on Monday and I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.” She said she was so excited about the book and wanted to represent me for real.
It all happened within a handful of days. And then I had to write the whole book, so I was like, “Shit, I was planning on getting at least six months of rejections.” But it was like a fairytale. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to people.
What was the editing process like?
They actually didn’t edit much. That was the scary part. This was my first book. I didn’t know what I was doing. All they said was that I should change some chapter titles and then that was pretty much it. I went through and really rewrote it carefully. When it went to the copy editors, it came back virtually unchanged. I was like, “Oh no, didn’t anyone look at this?”
I had heard that publishers don’t do a lot anymore in terms of editing, but I was like, “Holy cow, here I am going out naked with this book.” Eventually they told me to stop changing things because we had to get the book to press.
The book is published and came out in November. What is it like having it on shelves?
Cutting open the box in my office and just smelling the books was really cool. The visceral part. I was like, “Oh my god, this is a box of 25 books and they’re my books.”
I also wasn’t sure about the cover design until I saw it. I picked a very bold design and almost dictated it to the publisher. They had given me a lot of flowery designs, but I wanted the readers to feel like heroes. The board members don’t get paid, and they have to give money, and they have to fundraise and do this all plus their day job before they go home to their families.
I also didn’t want it to look like a management book because they’re boring, and this should not be boring.
Are you planning on writing another book?
I think so. I think a lot of young women are good at taking care of people and asking for other people, but are not socialized to ask for ourselves. So, the second book is teaching each woman how to ask for what they want and get it. The third book is just how to ask for anything: a job, a place in line, a refund, a raise, a date. There are a lot of things people are scared to ask for. The third book is for everyone.
Do you have advice for anyone who wants to do what you did and take what they know and write a book?
Get a writing partner. I have a partner and every Friday morning we talk to each other. Just knowing you have a buddy who you’ll be reporting to and telling them what you are going to do, whether you do it all or not, keeps you accountable. Inevitably, I was always up two hours before on Friday morning writing whatever I told her I was going to write. Also, read the books and follow the instructions. It’s pretty simple if you do your homework.-30-
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