The Chronicle recently asked members of its LinkedIn group how they got started in fund raising after hearing the stories of several fund raisers we met at the Association of Fundraising Professionals annual meeting in Chicago.
We heard from people who had originally planned to be pilots, journalists, criminal lawyers, and paleontologists as well as a surprising number of people with degrees in music who fell into the career. But a few people said they had planned be fund raisers all along.
Here are excerpts of a few of the stories our followers shared:
Scott Shirai, chief development officer at the Nurse-Family Partnership: “I majored in music and was trained to be an opera singer. For most of my life, I lived and worked in Hawaii, where it was next to impossible to afford to work in the nonprofit sector, but I volunteered a lot and served on several boards. Since moving to Colorado, I can now do what stirs my heart.”
Matt Hugg, fund-raising consultant: “I was a geology major in college and did a year’s graduate school in paleontology. I took a leave of absence and went to work for the Boy Scouts. Fund raising was a big part of the job along with membership recruitment and volunteer support. I liked it so much that my next job was in fund raising at a small college, then a big university—and a masters degree in Philanthropy and Development along the way. Anyway, 25 years later and so far, so good.”
John C. McGee, fund-raising consultant: “I wanted to and did teach. My path to fund raising began by making a ‘wrong turn on I-79′ and offering to assist a director of development with the creation of a new institutional advancement effort at the school where I was a teacher. While I did not start by planning on being in a career that included fund raising and development activities, I believe that the route to it prepared me well.”
Raymond Carnley, director of development at Barton College: “I wanted to be a pilot. I still do, but poor depth perception keeps me from flying the friendly skies. And an eye-opening stint as a student teacher helped me realize that my dream of being an educator had become a nightmare. As such, I was in need of work while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Habitat for Humanity International had a temp administrative position open in their development office. I applied and discovered I had an interest in the work.”
Ivana Pelnar-Zaiko, fund-raising consultant and lecturer: “I studied music history, finished my degree, and found myself an unemployed Ph.D. I really wanted to return to the academic environment and offered to serve as an unpaid intern. The college offered me a position either in continuing education or the development department. That’s when I found out what ‘development’ was. I figured that money being always in short supply, fund raising was the best path to explore.”
Mary Kate MacKenzie, foundation relations officer for the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC Medical and Health Sciences Foundation: “After years of sporadic freelance work, writing for newspapers and regional magazines, I decided to apply for a full-time grant-writing position at the university. However, grantsmanship is much more than proposal writing. Luckily, I was hired by a great mentor.”
Susan L. Axelrod, planned-giving consultant: “I was in a grad program that I decided was not for me and cried to a professor about wanting to stay in Washington, D.C., but needed a job. We had a long supportive conversation about who I am and what I want. The next day he called me to say he had a job. It turned out to be a campaign manager position for a university capital campaign. I have now been in the field 26 years—more than half my life.”
Daniel Blakemore, assistant director of development at International House: “After an internship in graduate school, I decided that fund raising was the field for me. After receiving my [masters in public administration], I got my first full-time fund-raising job and have loved the field ever since. I think there is a real shift among the newer generation of fund raisers who seem to have been more intentional about going into this field.”
How did you get your start in fund raising? Share your story in the comments section below or on LinkedIn.