Think back to what you wanted to be as a kid – a teacher, a doctor, a firefighter, or an astronaut. What do these careers have in common? They are careers that exude passion and better the world as a result.
Here’s the honest truth though: most people don’t grow up dreaming of a career in fundraising. However, once you get a taste of the profession (or the first check from a grant you wrote!), and realize how dynamic and challenging it can be, you will be hooked! A popular thread on the YNPN LinkedIn page asks the following question:
I’m a recent college graduate focused on Nonprofit Management. I’m seeking a development job but am finding organizations are reluctant to look at me because of my lack of experience. Any suggestions?
This is a very common question, and one that I understand can be very frustrating. If you look on nonprofit job boards such as Idealist.org and the Association of Fundraising Professionals you will see plenty of job openings for development positions. However, each nonprofit is looking for specific skills, experience, and leadership that someone trying to land a development job for the first time may not have. If you are truly committed to a career in fund raising, but have little or no experience, here are a few suggestions on how to get that first job:
1) Be prepared to start small: Development is a field that requires skills, training, and experience. Instead of searching for a title, look for jobs that will improve your writing, communication, marketing, and organizational skills. Also, watch this video.
2) Look for ways to volunteer: Your volunteer experience does not have to be directly related to fundraising. After showing your commitment to an organization, volunteer to help write a grant, a newsletter, plan a fundraising event, or anything else that can show them your dedication. Nonprofits do not have enough time to seek out all opportunities available to them. Some may not even have the funds to hire a full-time development staffer. FYI – Hollaback is seeking volunteer grant writers!
3) Join a junior board: I work closely with my organization’s junior board (all volunteers), and I cannot tell you how helpful they have been this year. Their fundraising efforts have added up to the equivalent of a large grant. Proving that you have fundraising experience through volunteering will put your resume on the top of the pile if a position opens up.
4) Seek public service fellowships: Positions through organizations like AmeriCorps, City Year, Peace Corps, and Teach for America provide invaluable experience for someone that has never worked in the nonprofit sector, and many times will lead to a full-time job after your service period. As many of you know, it can be difficult to find any job in the nonprofit sector, let alone in development if you are new to the field. The majority of positions through these organizations place recent college grads (with little or no experience) on the front lines of an organization where you will grow your skills and find out which area of the nonprofit sector suits you best.
5) Leverage your program experience: If you already have a job in the nonprofit sector, but on the program side, you are well positioned to move into development. I started off as a communication and outreach associate, and, due to my writing and verbal communication skills, I was hired as the first full-time development staffer. It is valuable as a fundraiser to have experience on the program side of an organization – not only will you write better grants, but you will have better relationships with your colleagues because they will realize that you understand the needs of the organization.
6) Network. Network. Network: Like any industry, simply sending your resume cold will not win you an interview. Attend YNPN events, ask for informational interviews with nonprofits you admire (this is not a job interview, just your opportunity to learn more about the organization), volunteer through New York Cares (highly recommended), or join a professional organization like Association of Fundraising Professionals.
7) Have patience: As the economy slowly recovers, 33 percent of nonprofits plan to hire in 2011, according to a new study by Nonprofit HR Solutions, an HR consulting firm in Washington, and the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research at the University of San Diego. You can download the study here.
Once you land a job in fund raising my best advice is to never stop learning and acquiring new skills – grant writing, event planning, social media fund raising, nonprofit marketing, etc. If you can become skilled in more than one area, you will be poised to rapidly grow your career.
Last but not least, take initiative whenever possible. Don’t sit back and wait for an opportunity to come to you. Take on new projects or enroll in professional development classes at the Foundation Center or your local college.
So what’s the common theme across all of these tips? Always remember that it’s not what a nonprofit can do for you (a job), it’s what you can bring to a nonprofit!
We want to hear from you! What advice do you have for breaking into the fundraising field?
Michelle Moran has worked in the nonprofit sector in communications, marketing, and development for more than 3 years, and has been volunteering for as long as she can remember. When she isn’t fundraising, you can find her voluntarily jumping out planes (with a parachute)! Read all of Michelle’s posts for YNPN-NYC.