I fell into a field a few years ago that I didn’t even know existed. I thought fundraising was all about donating money, certainly not making money with a great salary and excellent benefits. In the last decade, fundraising has become a full-fledged and respected field that includes college degrees tracks, continuing education and its own set of certifications and initials to go after your name.
Further, it is in major demand everywhere. Just now on Netflix, an “Inspector Lewis” had a fundraiser as its first victim. And, they called her a “development officer,” the common jargon of the business. Seems I can’t watch TV, read a book, go on Facebook or certainly not on LinkedIn without seeing someone raising funds for something.
Fundraising is simply when you make a salary repping your favorite altruistic venture. I swear it’s true. And, in fact, it’s really interesting and a good fallback if you end up with a degree or a job that is not quite right for you or what you thought it would be.
I was a mild-mannered reporter, teaching news writing and editing at University of Houston and doing freelance while the newspaper business was changing into polarity, social media and high drama when . . . A friend called me to see if I wanted to work with her. This is a woman who dug trenches in the ’80s and ‘90s in Asia at the beginning of tilapia farming to feed the humble masses. Already, I wanted to be her when I grew up.
She worked as a writer and raised big bucks at a medical school because she could understand the science and change it into common, persuasive language. How challenging does it get? So, I switched my adjunct faculty position for full-fledged faculty benefits of a medical school. “I was not a doctor but I played one every day on the job,” remember the old commercial?
Fundraising is very interesting, has a pretty normal schedule, and, if you become a major gift (or a development) officer and are good at it, you can bring home a six-figure income and more. The field also has positions for writers, researchers, data folks, social media lovers and special events people. How would you like to throw elegant parties and socialize for a living?
It’s a good field for you if you’re outgoing, kind, pretty good at sales, maybe even have a legal, scientific or medical brain. You also have to select the right non-profit for you because it’s hard and feels icky to fund raise unless you believe in the mission and truly know your institution is making the world a better place and is doing right with its donations.
It helps, of course, to know the right people and by “right” I mean wealthy and generous. Some folks are rich; some are generous, but you will be looking for folks who are both and who love your organization, cause, etc. Hard work, corporate game-playing — like what goes on everywhere, steadiness and a good work ethic will get you there, too. Mostly.
Another co-worker from my fundraising job who is a cautious, organized and methodical type took some classes at Rice University before she decided to make a switch. You can find classes many places. United Way has some for free. Start online and see what you think.
It is smart to first find a cause you believe in — education, healthcare, arts, etc. Go to that website and its career offerings. Bigger institutions will have larger staffs; smaller can sometimes just have one or two folks and there may not be room for you. Still, you want to do what’s right for you and to be a success.
You may be the difference folks are looking for in this world.