What to keep in mind when you feel like a fish out of water: being a newbie to the non-profit world.

April 9, 2019

Do you work at a non-profit organization? If you were to ask a colleague how they got started in fundraising, do you think they would respond that they studied for four years to understand the science of fundraising? Or – and I’ll bet a buck on this – would they respond that they just sort of ‘fell into it’? What about you? How did you get started?

If you’re anything like me, or a lot of your coworkers, we’ll all have the same answer. We didn’t plan to end up in fundraising.  And most of the time, never envisioned ourselves in it even back when we were in school. So how do you make sure you feel like you belong to this wonderful, wacky world full of passionate and brilliant people? Above all, keep these three things in mind…

WE ALL STARTED SOMEWHERE

Speaking for myself, I come from a print production background. It’s what I studied in college, and it’s the field I worked in for five years after graduation. I never would have thought there would be a connection between the blue-collar, production-focused world I lived in and the bright, expansive world of fundraising. But direct mail packages need to get printed and put together somehow. And it’s the result of fine printing professionals that we can create beautiful, moving pieces that generate revenue.

So if you’re coming from a field that feels unrelated to fundraising – don’t fear! With the wide variety of work, skills, knowledge, and expertise required to develop a successful fundraising campaign, your skills will come in need, sooner or later. Are you a graphic designer by trade? You can bang out a new newsletter layout, or graphics for a digital campaign. Do you come from inventory management? These are the same skills one needs to manage a donor database as a parts and supplies database.

EACH NEW DAY IS TRULY A NEW LEARNING OPPORTUNITY

One of the many wonders of the world of fundraising is how it is always changing and ever dynamic. No two donors are the same, and no two campaigns will run the same. Results, revenue levels, execution, the corporate sponsors involved, the team you’re working with, the suppliers you outsource, the story you tell – no two days will look the same in fundraising.

What does this mean for the titular fish out of water, such as yourself? Simply, it means we’re all always learning! No matter how much education or experience someone in fundraising has, they’ll always run into something new and unexpected. And so will you! While you may not have the formal education on your resume, the real and tangible education pays out each day you’re on the job, while you’re giving it your best to listen, learn, and grow.

WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

Finally, remember that a common goal is the quickest way to rally the troops. We’re all fighting the same battle, and it’s easy to ‘fall in line’ and pick up the routines involved to be triumphant. In the fundraising world, the battle is against anything from poverty to illness to the oppression of marginalized people. The victory looks like raising revenue, connecting the donors and the beneficiaries, telling stories, and aiding those in need.

There is no one right way to do this! Each organization will have different strategies, different causes, and different stories. The beauty of fundraising is that these ideas are informed by all the walks of life we come from. Writers, designers, data gurus, social media strategists, marketers – even the blue-collar plant worker, like my former self! We all bring something to the table. And it’s through our mosaic of experience and life journeys, that we come together to create truly life-changing action.

So if you’re feeling a bit like you don’t belong, like you don’t have the right experience or education, and like a fish out of water – just remember… It’s your unique life journey, and your commitment to making the world a better place, that makes you the perfect fit at your non-profit organization!

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Jenna Robertson

Jenna Robertson

Happy to help, and ready with a zinger. Enjoys drawing, campfires, and Netflix. Spends free time playing with her pets, and solving all the problems of the world over a glass of wine.