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 (reply from Edie Boatman):
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.
Edie Boatman left a for-profit career to work in fundraising at SHARP Literacy, Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As she points out in her original article for Blue Avocado, with ill timing she started fundraising just as the economy was crashing. Read her witty and illuminating story at Switching Careers at the Worst Possible Time.