Fundraiser Edie Boatman Shares Career-Switching Tips

Edie Boatman shares advice about making a career change from a for-profit position to a nonprofit position.

Fundraiser Edie Boatman Shares Career-Switching Tips
5 mins read

Expert advice for job seekers looking for the right nonprofit role.

In the last issue (9.1.09) of Blue Avocado, we heard from Edie Boatman about Switching Careers at the Worst Possible Time. In addition to the comments that readers posted to her article, one sent a job-seeking question straight to Edie, and her thoughtful answer is worth sharing with everyone, especially people who are uncertain about raising money:

Dear Blue Avocado:

A friend sent me a copy of your newsletter, and I greatly enjoyed it, especially the article by Ms. Edie Boatman about switching from a for-profit position to a nonprofit position. I have an 18+ year history in for-profit Marketing and would dearly like to get involved with a nonprofit here in Idaho. What should I do to make that same change?


Dear K:

While I’m no career coach, I can tell you how it worked for me and offer some biased advice.

Before making the move from for-profit to nonprofit, I met with many people. Initially, I thought I wanted to do the same kind of work I had been doing (marketing, communications, etc.), but for a nonprofit. However, my meetings led me to think instead that I should work toward becoming an Executive Director of a nonprofit that helps children and families (likely a small one, but that part is still evolving).

I fought with myself

This decision made me realize that to be a good ED, I’d need to be a good fundraiser. I fought with myself on that issue for several months. I kept thinking “I really don’t want to ask people for money.” To be honest, I thought I was above that. But I also knew I couldn’t be a good ED without fundraising experience. When I looked at development job postings, I felt intimidated by the years of fundraising experience and familiarity with foreign-to-me software I was expected to have.

Then, a friend forwarded me a position from a small organization where she knew the executive director. (I had told everyone I knew that I was considering making a change.) SHARP was looking for a professional but couldn’t pay the salary wanted by an experienced pro. I liked what the organization was doing, so decided to go for it. I was honest in my cover letter about my lack of experience in actual fundraising, but played up my passion for kids and my writing abilities. I got the interview (mainly because of my friend) and the ED and I clicked. The rest is history.

So here’s my advice for the job search:

1. Meet with people you respect and tell them what you are looking for.

If you have any friends who are on nonprofit boards, meet with them and ask their advice.

2. Think about the type of organization that you’d like to work for.

Is your passion for the homeless? Children? Women? Education? Whatever it is, those organizations are where you should focus your search. I firmly believe that fundraising is not difficult IF you really believe that your organization is vital and you are passionate about the cause. There are probably more nonprofits that match your interests than you know about. Take some time to search them out.

3. Be honest about your skill set.

Some organizations will be intrigued by your desire to leave the for-profit world behind and be willing to interview you, even though you have no development experience. And remember, marketing = sales = fundraising. Your marketing skills play a huge role in raising money.

4. Be sure your references can talk about your ability to get to know people.

Being able to connect with people is key, and that might not come across in your resume.

5. Expect to take a pay cut.

Nonprofits typically pay less than for-profits, and your lack of fundraising experience means settling for less. And you’re changing fields… that usually means a pay cut in any sector. Be okay with that before you start interviewing and you’ll be happier in the long run.

Once you land a position, do everything you can to get support and training. My development coach was funded by the first grant I wrote. She got me up to speed much more quickly than I would have on my own, so I started experiencing successes sooner. To me that was key, since for the first six months I was not at all sure that I had made the right decision to switch careers. She kept telling me I would be good at the job and eventually, I believed her.

I hope this helps you a little. Best of luck with your search and if there is anything else I can do to help, don’t hesitate to ask.

About the Author

Edie Boatman

Edie Boatman is the Director of Fund Development for SHARP Literacy, Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her previous marketing work has been with M&I Bank, Wisconsin Electric, and Wisconsin Lutheran College. She is a volunteer board member at the German Immersion Foundation and TEMPO Waukesha (a professional women’s organization). She knows all the words to “People.”

Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.

4 thoughts on “Fundraiser Edie Boatman Shares Career-Switching Tips

  1. Edie, I’m so glad you realized that to make a good ED, you’d have to first know how to raise money. That makes the jobs of us fund development people MUCH easier! There is nothing more difficult than trying to raise money when your ED won’t help. Kudos to you!

  2. I appreciated the remarks by Edie and contemplating the same career move. But after I read her response I realized that I need to discuss my volunteer experiences with my religious affiliated fund raising position-I raised over $ 100,000 and my Red Cross Board Position. Thanks for the jarring of my memory.rBX@Z

  3. There’s a lot of data to be sifted regarding whether you should expect to take a pay cut when moving to the NP sector. It depends on which part of the sector you’re in, the size of the NP you’re working for, the comparison between the type/size of company you work for now, and the position or executive level you leave and attain. Depending on all the variables, you could see your salary grow, shrink, or stay the same. As far as I can tell, there’s no rule of thumb. Nonprofit workers in the healthcare industry can expect to make nearly as much as their for-profit counterparts – unless you are a physician, and they you’ll make considerably less. Moving from a department head post at a large firm to an exec at a midsize firm might not change pay at all, and so on.

  4. I don’t think that you go into NP looking to make fortune. It’s just not how it goes. Of course it’s something you take into account, but it’s just not something you set up for.

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