Advance in Your Fundraising Career by Following Three Simple Steps

fundraising as a career Feb 23, 2021

When I first entered the wonderful world of philanthropy back in the dark ages (before email, can you believe that?), I realized if I wanted to advance in this career (and I did want that) I simply had to follow the same three steps I followed when I advanced rapidly in my banking career. They are simple steps, but not necessarily easy—they require some work on your part. The three steps are:

  1. Learn
  2. Get Involved
  3. Set Goals for Yourself

Sound simple? Well, it is much easier today that it was back in 1988 when I started in fundraising.


First, let’s talk about Learning.

Learn as much as you can. When I started my first development job as Assistant Vice President of Institutional Advancement (what a mouthful), I realized I had a lot of business and sales experience to bring to the table, but I knew little about development, fundraising, and philanthropy – other than what I knew from my volunteer involvement.

How about you? Whether you came into your job through another nonprofit career, a career in the for-profit world, or volunteer work, there are probably areas of this field that you might know a lot about too, but others that you need to learn.

I was fortunate enough to have a boss who, early on, sent me to a CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) conference and when they started throwing around terms like LYBUNT and SUBUNITS, I said, “huh?” Most likely there are terms you might not be familiar with, too. My best advice is to emulate SpongeBob SquarePants. Take advantages of learning opportunities and soak it all up like a sponge.

When I attended my first conference I had to drive from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire, stay in a dorm room, and sit in classes for several days. But I loved the fact that I was exposed to a whole new set of people and learned tons of new information. The next year, I attended my first AFP International conference in San Antonio and was hooked from that moment on. I attended every conference since then except for a few years when personal obligations prevented me from traveling. However, today you can sit in your office or at home and take webinars, attend symposia, and even take courses. (Stephen Nill was kind enough to offer to mention the online courses that I produce.)

Get Involved

The other wise thing my first boss did was to tell me to Get Involved in the profession. I joined three chapters of AFP, got very active in two of them and before long I was president of my local chapter. Not long after that I became active on the national and international level of AFP and served on the board of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy. Not only did this help me advance my career, but I made many life-long friends who still support me in my work and personal life.

Then, just as I was starting my consulting business in 1993, CharityChannel was also getting started and I got involved in it as soon as I heard about it. Another whole avenue of networking possibility opened and again I found life-long friendships, as well as opportunities to grow and advance my consulting practice. I’ll tell you in few minutes how CharityChannel really helped me implement some of my goals.

Set Goals for Yourself

Okay, I saved the best for last: Setting Goals for Yourself.

Development officers should be very familiar with goal setting—annual fund goals, capital campaign goals, major gift goals, donor retention goals, constituent participation goals. But how often have you focused on setting goals for yourself?

Being a Type A personality, I have always set goals for myself. When I entered this field, my goals were ambitious, but I fulfilled them all. My goals were:

  • Become a CFRE
  • Become an ACFRE
  • Become a national speaker
  • Travel
  • Become a consultant
  • Write a book
  • Leave a legacy

Your goals will be different than mine, while some may overlap. For me, I knew accreditation was important, so I was determined to sit for my CFRE exam as soon as I was eligible. When the local exam (again, back in the dark ages, when you were required to go to a location and sit in a room with a bunch of people taking the same exam) was canceled, I had to drive to Rhode Island. My late husband drove while I read books on planned giving for hours during the drive. But the CFRE credential was important to me, so I did it. The ink wasn’t dry on that certificate when I began preparing for the ACFRE process. I had to fly to Toronto to take the test and then to Dallas for the oral exam (which I failed the first time) and then to Washington, DC during a snow storm to re-do my oral exam, which I passed this time. Yippee! Again, this was important to me, and certification really helped me tremendously to advance in my career.

During the first international conference attended, I went to a session led by Kay Sprinkel Grace and, as I listened her, I thought to myself, “I want to do that—be a speaker at an international conference.” I guess I was always a frustrated actress. So, I went back home and started to think about the knowledge I had to share with others in the field. I put together a couple of presentations (using overheads – does anyone still remember those transparencies and overhead projectors?). After speaking to regional AFP chapters and other professional groups, I was accepted to speak at my first AFP International conference and since then have spoken at many AFP ICONs, as well as in Cairo, Bermuda, Mexico, Canada, and almost all the fifty states here in the United States.

My last two goals are interrelated: I’ve always wanted to share my knowledge, leaving a legacy for future fundraisers. Here’s where my involvement in CharityChannel and AFP helped bring this about. Through AFP, I was offered a chance to write several Ready Reference Books and publish my first and second fundraising books. When CharityChannel launched its publishing imprints CharityChannel Press and For the GENIUS Press, I really got to fulfill my goals by publishing more than a dozen books and learned enough to self-publish three works of fiction. And I expanded my network enough to launch more than a dozen online courses. These courses may help you advance in your career

Surely your goals will be different than mine. Perhaps one of your goals is to learn enough about a variety of fundraising techniques to be a well-rounded generalist. Or, perhaps you want to become an expert in a certain area of fundraising and become a specialist in this area. Maybe your goal is seeing the world and you’d like to work for an international organization. Maybe you’d like to be a consultant. Maybe you’d like to write a book or teach. Maybe you want to stay at home with your kids or aging parents and your goal its work from home. Maybe your goal is to become the CEO of your organization. Whatever these goals are, write them down and develop a plan for how you’re going to reach them – and include a timeline.

Also, find a mentor to help reach your goals. Some AFP chapters have formal mentoring programs, Check that out if you are an AFP member. If not, find an informal mentor, someone you admire and respect. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to take your call and to spend time with you. After all, this is a giving profession.

To learn more about getting started in or advancing in your fundraising career, take my course, Fundraising as a Career, sign up here

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