Pop ARt 20 years

I’ve Had the Same Fundraising Job for 20 Years — Here’s Why

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Guest post by Jill Perry, Manager of Annual Giving at Providence Hospice of Seattle and member of The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic.

It was 2003, and I was finishing up a Master’s degree in public administration. I began graduate school with the goal of eventually becoming an executive director, “running” a nonprofit.

But that changed when I enrolled in a fundraising course. One day in class, the instructor said, “Fundraising is not about asking for money. It’s about advocating for your cause.”

Wow! That was exactly what I wanted to do. That was the moment that I decided I wanted to pursue a career in fundraising.

I had minimal fundraising experience, though. I knew I needed an entry-level job, to get my foot in the door and gain some experience.

I scanned the newspaper for job openings (at that time, the newspaper was still one of the primary ways of looking for jobs), and found that Providence Hospice of Seattle  https://foundation.providence.org/wa/hospiceseattle had a development assistant position open. I applied and was hired.

I was familiar with hospice care, and I knew I could advocate for it. But as a 31-year-old living in very liberal Seattle, my plan was to get some experience and then find a job at a smaller, more grassroots organization, advocating for an “edgier” cause. Hospice felt “benign,” and Providence was a large healthcare organization.

Little did I know this job would become my fundraising career.

As I’ve approached 20 years at Providence Hospice of Seattle, I’m so grateful for this job. It has proven to be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. I can’t imagine working anywhere else.

Here are the reasons I’ve stayed at Providence Hospice of Seattle for 20 years:

I’ve been able to grow and develop my fundraising career

At the beginning, I was responsible for our donor database and processing donations. Within a few years, my boss created a new position for me for annual giving. I took over our mail appeals, grant writing, and our annual fundraising event. My title eventually became “Manager of Annual Giving.”

My boss has allowed me to take on new projects (such as our donor newsletter) and try new things (such as the Supporter Connection Survey). He has encouraged me to attend conferences and allowed me to join Moceanic!

My boss isn’t a micro-manager

Our small team of four people works very collaboratively. At the same time, we each have our areas of expertise, and our boss respects that. Although he reviews all of the materials I create for our donors and offers suggestions (because two sets of eyes are better than one), he respects my knowledge and expertise. He never tries to do my job for me or override my professional decisions.

My boss embraces fundraising best-practices

The longer I work in fundraising, the more I value this quality. My boss understands the value of experts in our field, of the testing that goes on and the knowledge that can be gained from it. He values this information, incorporates it into his work, and encourages all of our team to do the same.

This allows me to take the information I learn from reading fundraising blogs and books and from Moceanic and incorporate it into my work. It allows me to do my best work and be a better fundraiser.

Working for a larger organization often equates to better pay and benefits

When I was just out of graduate school, I didn’t focus very much on pay or benefits such as health insurance. I knew that both were important, but they weren’t high on my list of what I was looking for in an employer.

As time went on, I realized how valuable they are. And despite the frustrations that can come with working for a very large organization (Providence employs nearly 120,000 people in 7 states), my pay is very competitive, and the benefits Providence offers are exceptional.

I work with an excellent board of directors

Our board of directors is a fundraising board, rather than a governing board. They do occasionally offer suggestions of how we could raise more money. But at the same time, they respect our knowledge and expertise, as fundraising staff. And they don’t try to control our fundraising plan or strategy. They believe strongly in our mission, and they’re easy to work with.

Overcoming the fundraiser retention crisis

We have a crisis in fundraising. Nonprofit employee retention is terrible. 51% of employees plan to leave in the next two years. 30% say they plan to leave fundraising altogether.

All this turnover and loss of institutional knowledge is bad for our industry. It’s also bad for all those individuals who change jobs frequently. It’s a real lose/lose situation.

If you’d like to find a fundraising job that you enjoy enough to stay for 20 years, I recommend you look for these things:

Keep your eyes and mind open as you’re looking for a new position

Even though it feels like luck that I ended up in my current job, the fact that I was willing to apply for a job that I didn’t believe was my “ideal” job was more important than I could know at the time.

I knew that I could advocate for hospice care. This helped connect me more quickly with the mission of the organization, with my colleagues, and with our donors and the families we help. It has also helped me accept the aspects of my job that are frustrating (and that I can’t change), because I believe so strongly in the work we do.

Try to determine if your future boss is a micro-manager

Ask how much autonomy you will have and how much approval you’ll need from those in higher positions.

Ask about the board of directors

What are they like to work with? How much power do they have over the staff’s fundraising plan and strategies? How does the staff work with them? What does collaboration look like?

Find out if there’s a budget for professional development

Is there a budget for trainings, conferences, and memberships? If there’s not, professional growth and development might not be a priority for your future boss or for the organization.

Ask “when was the last time you tried something new … whether or not it succeeded or failed?”

This question might help you determine if this fundraising team is willing to take risks and take on a new project. If they have, learning what it was they tried might also give you insight into what their fundraising priorities are.

The answers you get to these questions, as well as how they’re answered (or not answered), will give you some insight into whether or not the job is one you’ll want to stay at.

Every organization and job has its challenges. But some are easier to manage than others. Finding a job that you want to keep indefinitely – that allows you to grow and thrive as a fundraiser — will benefit you, the organization, and the fundraising field as a whole.

Make the most of your fundraising career: Join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. You’ll get the tools, the information, and the supporting community that will take you to new places. Join the waiting list now and you’ll be the first to hear when the doors open again!

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