The Do’s and Don'ts of Making a Career Shift to Fundraising

| by Derwin Dubose

As a firm, we get many resumes from professionals who don’t have a fundraising background:  private sector leaders and non-profit program specialists looking to shift into a development role.

We love working with folks with diverse backgrounds.  We see the value of leveraging those experiences in fundraising. We’ve seen people who shift careers become leaders in our field and want to see it happen more often.

Based on our experience, here are some tips to successfully make that shift into a fundraising role.

Don’t assume all skills are transferrable.  There are proven tools, tactics, and language used by development professionals across the globe. Although your skills from the private sector or from a non-fundraising role give you a unique vantage point, you will still need to learn basic fundraising principles to be successful.

Don’t insult the profession. Phrases like “fundraising is easy” or “anyone can do the job” send red flags to recruiters.  Most development professionals think fundraising is a science, and those comments discount our experience in the field.

Don’t apply for jobs if you don’t meet minimum requirements. If an employer wants a candidate with three years of development experience, recruiters will seldom recommend candidates who have no formal experience with fundraising. We can work with candidates who may have slightly less than the minimum, but no experience is almost always a non-starter.

Our advice is not all negative.  Here are some proactive things you can do to make the shift.

Pursue professional development.  Completing educational programs and attending conferences from institutions like the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Duke University's certificate in nonprofit management, New York University, and Indiana-Perdue Lilly School of Philanthropy will allow you to learn the science of fundraising and demonstrate a basic level of proficiency.

Volunteer as a fundraiser.  Joining a nonprofit’s development committee and demonstrating an ability to raise money in the nonprofit world allow you to gain fundraising experience without leaving your current job.

Seek fundraising mentors.  Learning from an established development professional can help you network and learn the skills needed to be successful in the job.  All prospective development staffers should join the Association of Fundraising Professionals and become active members to develop those mentoring relationships.  My Armstrong McGuire colleagues and I are always open to a cup of coffee with someone trying to enter the field.

Keep these pointers in mind, and I’m sure you will fare well in your search for a development job.


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