Advancing Your Career While in a Fundraising Shop of One

By Chad Barger posted 06-30-2021 12:18

For many fundraisers the concept of an events coordinator, database manager, or prospect researcher is quite foreign. They are ALL of those things (and more).

Welcome to the fundraising shop of one.

Working in a fundraising shop of one means you must be a jack or jill of all trades and you may not always have the support you need.

However, it does present unique opportunities. Often you end up in a fundraising shop of one because you’re deeply passionate about the cause. That alone is a huge benefit, but your career does not have to suffer because you want to work for a cause that is important to you.

Here are a few ways to advance your career during your years spent in a fundraising shop of one:

Cultivate your network
During my many years spent in a fundraising shop of one, my trickiest challenge was that there was no one to “talk shop” with.

When I worked in a large higher education development office, I could simply walk down the hall to a colleague’s office and say, “What do you think about this idea?” In a fundraising shop of one that doesn’t exist, so you have to cultivate that network yourself.

Thankfully there are ample opportunities out there to do so. Start by taking advantage of networking or mentoring opportunities offered by local organizations that support fundraisers’ professional needs. The Association of Fundraising Professionals, Charitable Gift Planners, Association for Health Philanthropy, and other similar organizations can help you forge meaningful professional connections.

There are also many excellent online discussion forums (like CFRE Central) and Facebook groups where fundraisers can connect. The key is to get out of your silo and talk to other fundraisers.

Make learning a priority
Small shops tend to also have small budgets. Many times this means a very minimal (or no) professional development budget. But this doesn’t mean you get a break from learning. You have to make learning a priority.

While you may not be able to attend a large international conference every year, local or regional opportunities are plentiful. Community foundations, local United Ways, and libraries often offer free education for the nonprofits in their community.

And thanks to the pandemic, the number of free online training opportunities has grown dramatically in both volume and quality. CFRE International’s My Education Finder can help you find free and paid education options.

Reading blogs and listening to podcasts is another smart option here. But watch out for overwhelm and make sure the source is credible (My key question: Have they actually raised any funds in the last decade?).

Pursue certification
In a fundraising shop of one there’s often no one around to push you professionally.

Growing to that next level becomes your responsibility. One of the best ways to push yourself is pursuing the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) credential. Certification allows you to become a more well-rounded fundraiser and shows your non-fundraising colleagues that you truly do know what you’re talking about.

What’s the first step? Tell someone that you’re pursuing certification. You will then have an accountability partner.

There are also many great local and online study groups of fundraisers preparing to be certified. If you’ve had your CFRE for a while, there’s always the ACFRE (Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executive) credential.

Push the envelope
Perhaps the greatest benefit of being a fundraising shop of one is the ability to push the envelope. There’s often much more freedom as you’re the only expert on staff.

You have the ability to try new things and test the latest innovations in fundraising. The fact you don’t have a boss that knows fundraising or a robust development committee actually can be a positive thing since there’s no “death by committee” for all of your fresh ideas.

This is how you create the success you will later reference when interviewing for your next position, whether it be in another small shop or a large one. Innovation scales, but it’s very hard to initiate in a large development shop. Seize the opportunity and take a few risks.

Your time in a small shop should be one of your career highlights. If you view it as “those years I had to work in a windowless office and had no budget” then that’s what it will be. Small shop positions are huge opportunities. Are you taking advantage of yours?

About the author
Chad Barger, CFRE, helps nonprofits overcome the barriers to fundraising success. He is a sought-after nonprofit fundraising speaker, master trainer, and coach who shares actionable nonprofit fundraising tips and free resources at