As a fundraiser, you source and secure funding that will ensure your nonprofit has a bright future. But what about your future? What does your personal career path look like? What can you do to take your career to new heights?
In this article, we’ll walk through five strategies to chart your career path. As you set clear goals for where you want to be and what you want to achieve as a fundraiser, you’ll not only discover personal fulfillment in your work, but be equipped to make a greater difference at your nonprofit. Let’s dive in.
1. Set Clear Goals
To map out the journey you want to take throughout the course of your fundraising career, start by setting clear goals.
Brainstorm both long-term goals and the short-term goals that will help you attain your ideal fundraising career. Here is an example:
- Long-term goal: Become the chief development officer at my organization.
- Short-term goals: Enhance my skills in donor relations, grant writing, and team management; become a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE); secure progressively larger gifts and grants to showcase my fundraising prowess.
Explore your options for short-term achievements at your current organization.
Talk to your boss or the HR department to communicate what you want to accomplish and discover available opportunities for getting there, such as taking on extra projects or attending a workshop or conference.
2. Seek Out a Mentor
Sometimes your best resource for career advice will be someone who’s been through it before—a mentor! The right mentor can serve as an advisor, role model, feedback provider, and lifelong learning companion.
To find a mentor:
- Consider individuals you look up to in your workplace.
- Attend networking events.
- Join professional associations that offer mentorship programs.
- Use social media platforms to find potential mentors.
- Tap into your college or university’s alumni network.
Once you’ve identified a potential mentor, ask a mutual connection to introduce you. Get to know them, and when it feels natural, be direct in asking them to actively mentor you.
If they say yes, discuss what your mentoring relationship will look like. For example, you may meet over coffee every week to discuss progress toward your career goals or send an occasional email asking for advice.
3. Enhance Your Skill Set and Diversify Your Experience
Developing the skills and gaining the experiences that are relevant to your long-term career goals will be essential for excelling in your current role and preparing for the future. You can enhance your skill set and diversify your experience by:
- Staying up-to-date with fundraising trends and best practices. Being able to adapt to the evolving fundraising landscape will make you more knowledgeable and marketable. Keep a pulse on current trends, such as the rise of AI in fundraising.
- Attending educational conference sessions, webinars, and workshops. A formal learning environment is a great place to pick up on best practices and innovative strategies. Find out if your nonprofit will cover some or all of the cost of these opportunities as part of your compensation package.
- Pursue certifications and credentials. Credentials like the CFRE validate your expertise in the fundraising field and provide you with credibility that can open up career advancement opportunities.
As you strive to learn new skills, adopt a growth mindset. This means viewing skills and talents as concrete things that you can develop with time, learning, and effort.
4. Embrace Leadership Opportunities
A leader is someone who has a vision for the future and is skilled in motivating and supporting others in working toward that vision. Note that being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean managing a group of people—being a leader also can mean being a subject matter expert, an inspiring team player, a community builder, a project head, or meeting organizer.
Having a more expansive view of what it means to be a leader can help you embrace leadership opportunities when they come your way, whether that means volunteering to be in charge of marketing for your year-end campaign or agreeing to train a new staff member.
Talk with your manager or boss and share your interest in developing your leadership skills. Explain what types of leadership opportunities you’re interested in and ask them to keep you in mind when one comes up.
5. Network With Other Fundraising Professionals
Meaningful networking—networking that leads to lasting relationships in the fundraising profession—is much more than just going through the motions of shaking hands in a crowded conference room.
Here are some tips to use at your next networking event:
- Prepare an elevator pitch. Create an elevator pitch-style introduction that describes you and your experience as a fundraising professional. However, don’t be afraid to go off script—going with the flow will be just as important as you strive to make a good first impression.
- Ask questions and listen actively. Demonstrate an interest in the others you’re networking with. Start conversations wherein you ask questions and listen actively. Show them that you’re there to learn about them and develop a genuine professional relationship. Many people enjoy being asked for their advice. An effective way to start a conversation is to request input on an area where you can use insight. For instance, you might inquire if the person has attended a worthwhile leadership training lately or read any books recently on career growth they’d recommend.
- Stay in touch. After introducing yourself and chatting with a new connection, make sure to swap contact information. Then, after the networking event, follow up with your new contact, finding natural ways to stay in touch. Next time you’re headed to a conference or work event, see if your new contact will be there, too.
Networking is an excellent way to find other professionals like yourself who are charting their own career paths. Aside from forming connections with individuals that will help further your career goals, you can also support each other in your respective career trajectories!
When it comes to a career in fundraising, it’s up to you to define your own destiny. Use these five strategies to start charting your own career path, and don’t forget to seek support from your organization’s leaders, your mentor, and your connections in the fundraising space.