Guest Post: Fundraising As a Vocation, Not a Job

After I read this post by Lynne Wester, I e-mailed her about re-posting it here for all of you and she graciously agreed. Please feel free to leave comments here or in Lynne’s original post.


There are two types of people that work in nonprofit fundraising. Distinct and telling differences emerge when you examine those two types of people. Many times I am often asked why I do all I do in addition to my full time employment. My first answer usually revolves around insomnia, my second answer strikes at the core of who I am, fundraising is my passion. I fully feel that there are two types of people working in our field. Some who feel it is their day job and the rest of us that feel it is our vocation or calling.Growing up, I was the kid who never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. Among my lifelong dream careers were the first female NFL referee, the next Ernest Hemingway, and a  restaurant critic. Growing up, never did I say I wanted to be a donor relations professional. After trying many things from a boat captain to a pastry chef to a teacher and a bartender, when I found philanthropy, something in me changed.  We now have the opportunity to teach others about our profession, to hire the kinds of people that inspire us to do better.So why am I on this vocation kick? Because I meet people who are just in it for other reasons and I’m baffled. You won’t become rich working in nonprofit fundraising, but boy is your heart full. The dictionary defines vocation as “a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.” The first time I heard vocation it was in 8th grade when I had to take a series of all of the vocations, including wood and metal shop, agriculture, home economics (am I dating myself?), typing, and auto shop. But I am now convinced more than ever that fundraising is my vocation. I chose higher education as my specialty for a deeply personal reason that I won’t go into in this blog (let’s just say it involves my Dad) but one day if you catch me at a bar over a glass of Malbec I’ll try telling you without crying.The folks I tend to do business with, those whom I admire, and those whom are my mentors all are in this profession and see it as their vocation. I actively choose not to spend my time on and with those who see it as another job or a means to an end. They exhaust me. As some might say, they don’t
“get it”.

A job is defined as, “the work that a person does regularly in order to earn money” this designates a few differentiations from a vocation. The first is that the end goal is money, anyone in nonprofit will tell you the benefits are great, the pay is not that fabulous. The second thing about a job is that it seems to have a finite end and purpose, I just cannot say that about a vocation. My vocation consumes me at times, for better or worse.

Maybe I can relate it in philanthropic terms. People who work in nonprofit fundraising as a vocation are donors, and those who see it as a job are non donors? Is that too bold a statement?

As I wax philosophical, I would love to hear your thoughts. What drives you in your career? why do you do what you do? Is it a vocation, a job, what? How do you define what you do and who you are to others?


Top 3 Reader Favorites from 2013

In case you missed any of them and to be a bit reflective as we proceed into 2014, I wanted to share the top three posts that were written last year.  They cover a few of the different areas and concepts that were discussed here on The Good Steward last year and I hope that you find them helpful in your efforts this year.

  1. How One Web Search Led to a $20,000 Gift
    I shared how some smart web searching led me to a strong prospect for a fundraising effort focused on I-House’s retiring Board Chairman and the true serendipity that led to a $20,000 contribution. The title alone seems to have grabbed readers’ attention!
  2. Are You Making the Time to be Creative?
    I wrote this post while at the 2013 AFP International Conference after an especially insightful talk by John Legend. Please feel free to share in the comments how you keep those creative juices flowing!
  3. Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story in the 990 Report
    This post provides some quick food for thought around how fundraising staff can collaborate with their colleagues in the Finance Office to better tell their organization’s story through the annual 990 charitable filing.



3 Steps to Take if You Want to Join a Nonprofit Board

Cross-posted from Idealist Careers

Earlier this month, I shared some ways that serving on a non-profit board in the last year has helped my career.  I thought that it was only fitting to move onto some strategies for getting yourself onto a board.

First of all (and most importantly), get the idea out of your head that there is one route to join a nonprofit board of directors!  As I mentioned in my previous post, I was asked to join the national board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network after working as a pro-bono fundraising advisor to the National Director for more than six months and at no point during that time had I given any thought to the possibility of getting onto the board.

With all of that said, here are three steps that you can take today to get yourself onto a nonprofit board:

Identify your strengths and key skill sets

When most nonprofit boards are engaged in recruiting new members, they tend to do so with specific skills and/or perspectives that are needed.  By taking the time to identify your own strengths and skill sets, you can be ready to respond to organizations seeking someone like you.  One resource that I found helpful in this regard was the strengths profile that you can create at  I also think that a little self-awareness is helpful in getting a feel for the culture of a board and whether you would be a good fit.

Determine the type of organizations with which you want to be affiliated

After you have a solid grasp of your strengths and skill sets, you should give some serious thought to the types of organizations you want to support as a board member.  One key question that may help this process could be “What groups do you currently give money or volunteer for?”

Remember that as a board member, you have fiduciary (read: financial) and legal responsibility for the organization as one of its leaders. As I tell people who want to get into fundraising (which is also an important responsibility of board members), you should focus on organizations where you have a passion for the mission and work, as you will be expected to give your time, talent and treasure to this organization. This passion will be needed to keep you going through committee meetings, interviews for senior leaders, fundraising events and the many other things you’ll be doing as a board member.

Put yourself out there, then keep your eyes and ears open

Now that you know your strengths and the kinds of organizations you want to serve, it’s time to put yourself out there!  Here are a few ways to explore potential board opportunities.

  • Reach out directly. If there are specific organizations whose board you would be interested in joining, you should get introduced to or introduce yourself to the executive leadership or a board member and share your interest; who knows, you may be reaching out as they are looking to expand their board. If they aren’t try volunteering with the organization, outside of board capacity. Volunteering is a great way to learn more about the organization, get to know the staff, and be the first to know about potential opportunities.
  • Let your network know. Whether or not you have specific groups in mind, you should take some advice from former Silicon Valley CEO Heidi Roizen: ”Don’t believe you don’t have to work at it; you have to make it easy for people to connect the dots.”  After deciding that she wanted to pursue a seat on a corporate board, she sent 150 e-mails to people in her network — some who were on the boards of companies that funded her tech venture, other corporate executives, recruiters and friends — to share her interest.  While her experience is focusing on corporate boards, the key is to make it easy for people to find you and you start by letting people know you want a board position.
  • Be open to alternatives. If you aren’t ready for a formal board position or one just simply isn’t available, consider junior boards. And, as I stated earlier, it’s never too early or too late to get involved with an organization you care about. Offer to volunteer or take on pro-bono projects, as I did with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.

I hope that you find this approach helpful as you consider nonprofit board service!