Get the Experience to Land the Job: Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

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Last week, we explored innovative ways to gain marketable grant-writing experience. Now, let’s take a look at how to create your own opportunities to gain the experience you need to land a nonprofit development position.

A reminder: I don’t recommend trying to spin any of this as professional experience on your resume. Here are ways that I would suggest featuring this somewhat-informal experience:

  • Make space to include an Interests section on your resume, but I implore you, keep it professional!
  • Anything that doesn’t fit on your resume naturally should be reserved for your cover letter, and with any luck, for your first interview.
  • Enter the digital portfolio! This is a fantastic—and innovative—way to feature any and all of the work that you’re proud of. Furthermore, you shouldn’t feel limited to only featuring paid work in your portfolio. If you think something you did in your spare time may catch the eye of potential employers, your digital portfolio is a great place to do just that.

In the nonprofit world, development folks are usually closest to the money and the big events. Development teams may have a hand in liaising with an organization’s Board of Directors, planning special events and fundraisers, and developing and overseeing digital campaigns.

While coursework is never a bad thing, the best way to get some applicable development experience is by finding—or creating—some live events and jumping in!

Find an event you love and lend a hand

Search events on Idealist.org and when you find one that peaks your interest, do some brainstorming on how you would be willing and able to lend a hand.

Are you interested in helping set up on the day of the event? Want to sell raffle tickets and schmooze at the door? Would you prefer a behind-the-scenes role collecting in-kind donations for the silent auction, or drafting email communications to market the big event? Whatever your preference, outline a concrete way that you can help, and reach out.

Pro Tip 1: Don’t limit yourself to events in your local area. There is plenty that can be done virtually or over the phone to organize a special event or fundraiser. If you find a great opportunity in another state or even another country, think of ways that you can provide valuable long-distance support. Offer to research venues and organize a killer spreadsheet that compares things like cost, capacity, outside space available, etc. The same offer can be made if you’re open to researching vendors like photographers, entertainment, or party rental companies.

Pro Tip 2: Ever planned a wedding? How about a child’s birthday party or a surprise anniversary? All of these things take some serious organization chops so think hard about what experience you already have. Maybe you thought that your 20-tab wedding spreadsheet wouldn’t see the light of day once the cake was cut and thank-you’s sent, but in revisiting how you have organized personal events in the past, you may stumble upon an interesting skill that can help build your resume.

Host your own event and make it shine

If you’re a born host, consider organizing your own event. Organizations like FEED, One Table, Prevent Cancer Foundation, Colon Cancer Alliance, and Bead for Life all have programs that offer step-by-step guidance and tools for individuals to organize and host their own social-impact events.

If you’d rather start from scratch and build your own event from the ground up, consider these tips:

  • House at least one aspect of your event online. For example, if you’ve decided to host a dinner-for-good to raise money for a particular cause, set up an online fundraising campaign. This way, you’ll always have a link handy that you can include in your cover letter as a great example of how you successfully planned and executed your signature event.
  • Record and archive your planning process. Draft a plan for your event and add to it as you go. Once you’ve wrapped up the event, you’ll have a record to share of everything you did in order to prepare for, market, and execute your event.
  • Get creative. If you’re planning a fundraising dinner, why stop there? Showcase (and record) all of your event-planning skills by designing a menu to place by everyone’s seat—yet another gem to add to your digital portfolio. Bring in a musical friend for some light entertainment, set-up your iPad or tablet as the impromptu photo booth, and consider ordering free hardware to read credit cards and collect additional donations on site.
  • If you decide to raise money for a particular organization, be sure to connect with them first! While generally well-intentioned, this kind of an effort can get sticky, quick.

Have you tried this tactic? Do you plan to? Keep us apprised of how it goes! Are you a development professional and love or loathe our advice? We want to hear from you, too. See you in the comments!

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About Author

As a seasoned communications professional with 13+ years of nonprofit experience and 5+ years of experience creating engaging content and copy, I love the idea that a thoughtfully crafted piece of content can spark social change. Here at Idealist Careers, I'm eager to offer job seekers, game changers, and do-gooders actionable tips, career resources, and "social-impact lifestyle" advice.

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