How Do You Get a Job in Fundraising?
“So, what do you do for a living?” It is a question that we have all received at one time or another. For me, I often have a well-worn joke that will typically get a laugh, or at the absolute minimum, a polite chuckle. I usually say, “I ask very wealthy people to give me their money.” It is reductive, certainly, but it is quite efficient in getting the point across. Sometimes the person I am speaking with will respond, “I wish you could raise some money for my wallet!” I will then politely laugh and pretend that I have never heard that rejoinder before.
The more accurate version of my job description as a professional fundraiser would sound more like this: “I travel around the country and ask generous alumni, parents, and friends of Boston College to invest in the future of the University. I speak with these groups about the strategy behind their philanthropy and whether that strategy might align with some of Boston College’s funding priorities.”
While it is certainly easy to make jokes, fundraising is a wonderful career for anyone who wants to feel like their job is making a real, positive difference in the world. I partly work in fundraising, for example, because it is great to wake up in the morning knowing that my efforts helped somebody get a great education. You can raise money for colleges and universities, museums, hospitals, non-profits, or even political campaigns. The interpersonal, communication, and selling skills you pick up from learning to be a great fundraiser can also take you far into the business world. The possibilities are endless.
So, how do you get a job in fundraising? Well, there is not one clear path to become a professional fundraiser. For me, I spent my entire senior year at Hamilton fully anticipating that I would be attending law school. When the time came, however, I realized that it was not the right profession for me. I recalibrated and directed myself toward fundraising instead. Why? Well, to be frank, I was good at it. I worked at the Hamilton Student Calling Center (phonathon) for three out of four years in school. For those who are not familiar with phonathon, it was a great on-campus job that had students call alumni and ask them for donations to the school. I excelled at closing gifts and was promoted to student manager during the summer leading into my junior year. I helped lead the program for the second half of my time at Hamilton. I took my experiences from that program (and from my summer internships with the Hamilton Annual Fund) and applied for a position at Trinity College that would, coincidentally, also manage the student calling center there. I worked at Trinity for two-and-a-half years before moving over to BC and have moved progressively up through the ranks.
If you want a job in fundraising, you could certainly follow my pathway to get there. However, I understand that not everyone has the opportunity to work at a student calling program for three years. Other viable options are to get internships at development or advancement offices (two fancy words for fundraising) with colleges and universities across the country. You could also look for similar positions at non-profit organizations that might be important to you. Lastly, if you are a recent graduate, you can always apply for an entry-level position at an advancement office even if you do not have a background in fundraising. Many schools are hungry for smart, creative, and thoughtful employees, and we all know that most Hamilton alumni check all of those boxes. If you are interested in getting your foot in the door of the fundraising world, you could apply for a development assistant job at a large research university or an assistant director position at a small, liberal arts college. And, as always, be sure to tap your professional network and see if you have any connections at your desired place of employment. Speaking personally, I am always happy to connect with any