Community question: How can someone gain experience in fundraising?

Photo credit: untrained eye, Creative Commons/Flickr
Photo credit: untrained eye, Creative Commons/Flickr

While searching for a job, it can be frustrating to find a position that seems interesting, exciting, and for a good cause, but requires a bit more experience than you have. Nashay, a member of the Idealist.orgJob Seekers group on LinkedIn, recently asked the following question:

I’d like to work in fundraising/development, but I don’t have any specific experience in this field. Should I begin by writing grants for my own creative projects to get experience? Are there other ways to approach the field? Is there anyone here who writes grants for a living that can give me specific advice?

Community members responded by encouraging Nashay to take a development internship or volunteer position to gain hands-on experience, or ask her contacts if they need help with fundraising and learn from people she already knows.

What advice do you have? Have you been in this position before? How did you gain experience?

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    • Christine
    • February 19, 2013

    I took an unpaid internship with a local non-profit that has a well-run development department. It’s great because it only takes a few hours a week and I’ve been able to learn some of the basics of researching and writing grants and launching a fundraising campaign, and I’ve been able to do a lot of work from home.

    • Kate
    • February 19, 2013

    I’ve had the same issue in my job search! I believe that I have transferable skills, but no formal development experience. Gaining real development experience has been hard to come by in my volunteering, and being a few years out of college, it’s been hard to find an internship that would work with my full-time job. Would love to hear more about others have overcome this!

    • Morgan
    • February 20, 2013

    there are many grassroots fundraising organizations that are always aggressively searching for entry staff. The Fund For the Public Interests is one, that runs a good ground game and takes training seriously and dose it well. I would encourage you to look in this organization and ones like it as opportunities to get in the field.

  1. I agree entirely about the volunteering opportunities. It’s a great way to gain experience while also demonstrating that you really are keen to learn. Also, perhaps contacting various development and fundraising professionals in your local area and introducing yourself and asking if they have time to chat with you about the sector. I’ve found that generally fundraisers are very friendly and helpful people and willing to share info with those willing to learn.

    • Susan
    • February 20, 2013

    I’ve come across job opportunities that ask for proficiency with Raisers Edge, or other specific fundraising software experience. The non profit I worked for was too small to have such software, but i do have other experience from my non profit work experience. Raisers Edge is expensive and I can’t find classes that are accessible or affordable for it. Does anyone know of training for development software in the New York area or have any suggestions to become qualified to apply for development jobs?

  2. In addition to internships, volunteering is a great way to get experience. When I began working on the social media side of things at my non-profit job–I wanted to gain additional skills–but did not have the volume of work needed to grow. Offering my talents as a volunteer social media coordinator to 2 very different nonprofits (performing arts and social justice) helped me gain diverse experience. This also helped me try out various techniques, hone my skills, AND the experience enhanced my resume.

    • Rob
    • February 25, 2013

    I am really keen to work in the third sector/social justice industry. I currently work in banking and feel many of the skills I possess and use in my role are transferable. However, I really do not know where to start. I am 33 soon and do not have any formal qualifications which I feel are relevant. I have my GCSEs and a BTEC National Diploma in Computer Studies, but where these become relevant to the type of role I’d like to do I don’t know. I am toying with the idea of studying either a CIPR approved course in communications or maybe an Open University course in Humanities, but finding the right path and tailoring the path to fit in with my full-time job and financial commitments is really difficult. I feel a bit down every day that I am not contributing to society and the world in a positive way. 🙁 I look out for internships and volunteering opportunities to maybe get a foot on the ladder as it were but again, this is so difficult to balance when you have full-time commitments. I’m based in Liverpool – if anybody can offer me any guidance to get me on the right path, I’d really appreciate it!


    • Anj. Gunter
    • March 5, 2013


    Here’s what friends and/or I have done to gain development experience:
    *Attend lectures/workshops on funds development (if you’re Chicago-based, there’s an organization called The Philanthropy Club that meets on the first Wednesday of every month at Lawrence Hall Youth Services. 65 E. Wacker Place).
    *Become a Board Member or Junior Board member of an organization that supports a cause you’re passionate about (& join its development committee to gain practical experience).
    *Attend local fundraisers and network with the event’s host(s).
    *Use LinkedIn to search for friends/connections who might have development experience (and might be willing to provide mentorship).
    *Volunteer to coordinate a small fundraiser for an organization you support (church, school, nonprofit, etc.)
    *Conduct research to evaluate how organizations typically increase funding (grantwriting? finding foundation awards/applications? state/federal funding for various causes? increasing donations from private entities? etc.)
    *Find a knowledgeable mentor who’s willing to provide strategies/resources/guidance.

    Good luck with your search!

      • Erica Carson
      • April 9, 2014

      Anj – Awesome tips!! Thank you so much

      I feel like many others, I have great transferable skills yet have been unable to secure employment in non profit! Your tips will surely lead to a promising experience!!!

    • Eric
    • April 17, 2014

    Sorry Kate. To gain experience in the industry, you’ll have no choice but to give up hundreds of valuable hours as a volunteer. I know it sucks having to work for nothing, but they try to sell you on the idea that it’s all appreciated. (Which of course, it isn’t). You’re choosing an industry that’s known for taking advantage of the good will of workers and then rewarding them with crap pay, crap hours and endless stress. My advice is to just avoid it altogether. Make money for yourself and take care of your own loved ones. There’s no gratification or happiness at the other end. Just a lot of thankless, low paid work that wont pay the bills.

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