Philanthropy professionals and fundraisers may perform many different functions in the nonprofit world – from organizing events and designing campaigns to inspiring donors and raising money.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is expected to grow over the next 10 years because of the need for nonprofit support. And as nonprofits serve their target demographic, the need for money, and those who know how to get it, will also grow.
With that in mind, Natalie Leek, CEO and president of Providence House, and Diane Strachan, director of philanthropy at the Cleveland Museum of Art, both in Cleveland, said those who are interested in the career should consider a few things.
“Join the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ national organization,” Strachan said. “It is an education base, networking association with a very active, excellent chapter here in Cleveland. This would provide the opportunity for someone looking to get into the field to network with others who have the experience that spans decades.”
She added newcomers should also try and start in an organization that focuses on annual giving because it provides a “strong foundation” for how the industry works.
Before joining a networking organization, Leek recommended young professionals get out there and give back themselves.
“Volunteer, intern, donate and advocate for a cause you believe in,” Leek said. “You have to understand the act of being philanthropic before you can ask someone else to do it.”
She also said it’s helpful to “pick the brains” of experienced leaders in the field.
When hiring employees, there are a few traits organizations look for.
“You must truly care about and be passionate about the cause you represent and the donors who support it,” Leek said. “Philanthropy is friend-raising more than fund-raising. You must appreciate everyone, at every giving level, who supports your cause as personally as you are able.”
Strachan said other helpful traits include integrity, honesty, commitment to priorities and values, creativity, flexibility and a results-driven attitude.
At the beginning of her fundraising journey, Strachan said she fell into the career after college. But she stayed because she felt herself growing in the environment.
“I felt it to be rewarding and realized that I was highly motivated by a goal-oriented system and just loved working with donors,” she recalled. “In the world of philanthropy, one is presented with the opportunity to meet very interesting and special people. I have developed lifelong friendships with donors and colleagues over the years.”
Leek said she felt drawn to the field because of family history.
“My family is (full of) philanthropists – donors, volunteers and advocates in all types of organizations,” she said. “It’s in my genes. I didn’t start a career in philanthropy, it found me. When the need arose to raise funds for a project at a school where I was working, I didn’t hesitate to jump in and help.”
The process of how a donor finds a project he or she believes in is similar to the process of how one finds an organization to work at.
“One has to decide what they are most passionate about,” Strachan said. “After all, one’s career is an investment for a lifetime.”
Leek said, “First and foremost, it should be something you believe in and feel passionate about. This is hard work and if you don’t feel it in your heart, you won’t succeed. It is very similar to finding the places you want to give your gifts to. Work for and give to organizations that are legitimate 501 (c)(3)s with transparent ethics, good ratings and strong leadership.”