Career Advice

Non-profit Fundraiser Finds Employment Through Volunteerism

You may have heard advice before that when you are looking for work, you should spend time volunteering as it could lead to a job. This professional spent 20 years working in sales while volunteering, and when she needed a job, that experience she had gained lead to a job in the field of philanthropy. In her interview she shares what she has learned through real life experience in the sales world and in fundraising.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
I have just taken a position as a fundraiser for a non-profit anti-litter campaign. My previous professional experience was in construction sales; however, I obtained fundraising experience through volunteer activities. I am smart, outgoing and humorous.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?
I am a Caucasian female. Being a woman in the construction industry could have been an excuse to fail. Many times, I was over-looked for promotion although my superiors often acknowledged my “go-getter” attitude, my professionalism and my superior field knowledge. I always had to work harder to prove to the clients that I knew my stuff. I learned over time that the only attitude I could control was my own. I studied my craft and widened my knowledge base so that I became the person everyone came to for the right answer. I still am sometimes confronted with a person that won’t listen to a woman. Usually, when I start asking the right questions and pointing out problem areas, they quickly realize they need my expertise. If not, I hand them over to the second best designer and move on.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
My new position involves encouraging companies to donate funds to pay for litter clean-up projects throughout my state. I meet with company VIP’s and provide them information on our programs and the benefits of partnering with our campaign.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
TWENTY! No leashes here!

If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
My previous career in sales and design was monetarily rewarding but I was not excited about going to work each day. Now I am utilizing all the skills I have learned throughout my life in a position that does make an impact on the quality of life in my state. I am opening a new career path and adding a valuable feature to my resume. I am moving into an area more closely matched to my abilities and interests.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
I began volunteering over 20 years ago because I thought the work was important. I never really thought about the experience I was gaining as I took on different tasks and helped on projects. The first fundraising dinner I attended, I was just showing people to their tables. Over time, I became more involved and eventually was a major player in the organization. Through that experience and the connections I made with the organization, I was offered my current position. I’ve read hundreds of articles telling jobseekers to volunteer as an avenue to future employment but I did not want to work in the arena in which I volunteered. The work I did there gave me the skill-set to move into a totally different field that I had never considered an option.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
A friend learned I was looking for work and asked for my resume. I thought he was just being nice. Turned out the non-profit on whose board he sat was considering creating a position in one of two areas. He knew I could do either and suggested bringing me on to do both. I actually took about two weeks to get him the resume. If I had to do it over, I’d have gotten it to him in two seconds.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
Being smart doesn’t always equal stressfulness. The best doesn’t always win.

Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
I get up and go to work each day because I can’t figure out a way to get paid to spend all day at the beach.

I have always been honest with clients about my products and will not sell something I do not fully believe will fulfill their needs. One client needed a barrier-free design. I had a product that was considered universal access but I knew of a product which my store did not carry that would better serve his particular needs. I contacted the company that carried the product and provided the info they needed to supply him. Although I did not get that sale, he is now a loyal customer and has purchased items from other departments. He has sent many referrals to me. Had I sold him my product, I would have known I mistreated him every time I saw him.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
Every job has stresses, but I never allow work to become all-consuming. Life is not about work. Losing my oldest sister 20 years ago taught me that no matter how much I enjoy it, a job is only a way to pay the bills. Life is about people that you care about. I never lose that focus.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
A rough salary range for this position is $35,000 to $ 50,000. I am paid adequately and always live within my means. Over-spending and debt are too stressful!

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
2 weeks. Wish I had more!

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
The best education is practice and experience. Asking people to give money is not easy. Just like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get. Being a good conversationalist is important. Watching and listening for the right opening is a skill that takes time to learn.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Believe in what you are selling. If you aren’t 100% sold, you won’t convince anyone else of the value.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would love to be writing for a political magazine in five years!