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An Intentional Introduction to Fundraising: Part One of Three

Note: This is Part One of a three-part series about the fundraising profession. Be sure to visit Part Two: Designing Your Development Path and Part Three: Helping Your Team Grow Toward Goals

The Profession of Advancement and the Advancement of the Profession

While fundraising drives 2% of our country’s gross domestic product, it is still perceived as a profession one stumbles upon rather than a career path that is carefully navigated and crafted.

How often do we hear young people say they “want to be a fundraiser” when they grow up? The profession is elusive at best and undervalued at worst. A lack of awareness among career-seeking youth must be addressed so that nonprofit organizations can reap the benefits.

Have you ever asked a fundraiser how they got their start in the profession? You are likely to hear a variety of responses ranging from, “I was a phonathon caller in college as part of my work-study job,” to “I started with the organization as a volunteer and there was an opening in development, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

Even among a variety of responses, the unifying theme is the lack of intentionality among career professionals that you would find in people who endeavor to be a doctor, teacher, or lawyer.

How do we address this critical issue? Start by professionalizing advancement:

1. Introduce the field to high school students through their volunteerism.

Volunteerism can be a career pipeline. According to a recent study by the University of Maryland’s Do Good Institute, 29% of high school students across the country engage in volunteer activities while in high school. Our field needs to do a better job helping young people make meaning of their experiences and connecting those experiences directly to job opportunities.

Career exploration should start much earlier in life than in college. Nonprofits would be well-suited to create learning programs for young volunteers to gain understanding about the inner workings of the organizations they serve. Nonprofits should identify strong talent among their volunteer pools and provide meaningful opportunities for young volunteers to stay connected and engaged with the organization.

2. Increase the number of nonprofit management programs or social entrepreneurship programs at colleges and universities.

Nonprofits are, in fact, businesses. Add nonprofit minors or focused study areas to all business or communication degrees at both the baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate level. Include the basic elements of fundraising.

Outside of the pursuit of a degree, programs can promote philanthropy within an education setting. Fundraising requirements in both secondary schools and higher education institutions can drive a philanthropic culture, enhance engagement levels, and raise awareness about job prospects in the field.

3. Set the record straight about nonprofit work.

Too often, “nonprofit” is conflated with “dreamy” or “ideological.”

In spite of their name, nonprofits can and should be profitable, but the revenue is invested back in the community or to further its mission, not distributed to stakeholders. Nonprofits, like businesses, must have tasks, goals, and objectives to meet – and exceed. Nonprofits should not be viewed as completely separate or unique from for-profit businesses. Operationally, for-profit and nonprofit organizations are more alike than not.

Jennifer Harris, Ph.D. is Senior Vice President at Graham-Pelton and Lindsay Morlock is Graham-Pelton’s Chief Operating Officer

Other parts of the series:

Part Two: Designing Your Development Path 

Part Three: Helping Your Team Grow Toward Goals