• Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

Options in Fundraising Careers Part 1

Updated: Aug 24, 2019

So, once you’ve made the decision that “fundraising is for me!” what types of options are available to you?

You will have to start by making a few decisions. Some questions you should ask yourself might include: “Would I like working for a large organization or a smaller one? For what type of organization would I like to work? Would I like being a generalist or a specialist?”

The first decision should be what type of organization you would want to work for. What are your interests: children, animals, the arts, education, the environment, etc.? It is essential that a fundraiser work for an organization about whose mission he or she is passionate. There will be many options within your area of interest once that is determined. For someone with varied interests the field is even broader. For example, if you love reading, a library is an option, but perhaps you also love the outdoors, so that opens another realm of possibilities in recreation areas or environmental agencies. If you are also an animal lover you could look at various animal rescue groups or shelters. A music lover? You could look for a position with a symphony or a music festival, but you may also enjoy the arts in general so a position in a museum or a dance company might be another option for you. If social justice is your hot button, you could seek a position in an activist or advocacy agency or an organization that deals directly with an issue such as fair housing or feeding the hungry.

Another decision that must be made, although this decision may change during your career in fundraising, is whether working for a large organization or a smaller one is more appealing to you. Some advantages or working with a larger organization include:

  • A larger organization may have a more stable financial position and a larger budget for fundraising.

  • The larger organization may be better known in the community.

  • There is usually more access to support staff in a larger organization.

  • Better benefits, such as educational opportunities and health care may be available at a larger organization.

  • There is generally a larger development staff and, therefore, the opportunity to specialize.

  • There will be more opportunities for advancement within a larger organization.

  • A national or international organization may offer opportunity for travel.

On the other hand, a smaller organization often offers:

  • Access to top management and board members whose involvement in fundraising is critical.

  • The ability to make quick decisions.

  • The chance to be a generalist and more variety in your daily work.

  • An opportunity to grow the development program

  • More flexibility in your work schedule.

  • The opportunity for more autonomy.

You need to make your own decisions about the things that are most important to you—salary, benefits, flexibility, opportunities for advancement, the chance to be autonomous, travel opportunities etc. You should strive to make your career move based on these criteria. As mentioned before, these criteria may change during your career and this change in priorities often leads to a change in position or organization. The lack of advancement opportunities is one reason why there is such a high turnover in this field—estimates are the average development officer stays in one position for less than two years.

Generalist or Specialist?

Once you have decided what type of organization you want to work for, the question is which is more attractive to you—being a generalist or a specialist? One of the advantages of working in a small organization is that for those who enjoy being a generalist, the one-person development office offers an opportunity to learn about all the aspects of development, from Internet fundraising to planned giving and capital campaigns. Many people thrive on that type of atmosphere; they really enjoy doing a little bit of everything. And it is a great way to learn about the various types of careers in fundraising that might develop into a desire to specialize in one of these aspects. Also, running a one-person shop often is a good training ground for moving into a position of supervising a staff of development people or even preparing for a career as an executive director or a consultant.

In the next blog, we’ll talk about some options in the field of fundraising.

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