Life after development work?
August 19, 2009 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I'm tired of being hung up on. Please help me figure out my next move beyond nonprofit development work!

I've worked in the nonprofit world for five years now, mostly in development following a brief stint in program management in a very small, three person operation. I now work in a major NPO as a major gift officer in the midst of a large campaign.

There are aspects of development I enjoy: learning about other people, grant writing, foundation research and communicating programs/projects to foundation principles. It is a daily struggle for me to get "enthused" about calling donors, requesting visits, being turned down, or having to ask for more money. I have good interpersonal skills but have never identified with the rest of my colleagues who are gregarious, extroverted, and more like salespeople. Essentially, the Glengarry Glen Ross style of "always be closing" leaves a bad taste in my mouth and takes me away from the mission of the work: securing necessary resources for important programs that would not proceed without private support.

My question is to those of you who have worked in development in the past but managed to move into another sphere of the nonprofit (or for-profit) world, while building upon your experience and strengths to transition into something new. FWIW, I live in a metro area with one of the highest nonprofit-per-capitas in the U.S. and have a graduate degree in the humanities. Thanks in advance!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Prospect research incorporates many of the things that you like... but with very little direct donor interaction. Depending on the org, you can do full-time research, or it might be combined with other back-end development work like database management.
posted by kimdog at 11:22 AM on August 19, 2009

I also work in development (for a large NPO) and I can say it takes two things:
1. Patience with yourself
2. Patience with others
Development is not about instant results. You don't have to be enthusiastic, you need to be able to sincerely thank them for their commitment to your cause and offer to meet them if they are in your area. If not, to learn why they support and what they love so that you can call them back on a later date and tell them something great about what they love. You don't have to 'always be closing', but you should 'always be opening'.
posted by parmanparman at 12:18 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

You sound like me. I really enjoy the research and writing end of my job at a non-profit, and even enjoy the meet-and-greet of doing events, but I would not be very successful at what our executive director does (gladhand for the funding).

I have worked in both corporate and non-profit worlds and there's really not much difference. Both are businesses; just different products or services to "sell" to make "revenue."

In the 10 years or so that I've been in the workforce full-time, I have discovered that my calling in life is communication, and therefore have obtained positions in communication. I've been in training, medical writing and everything in between. People know me for my communication work and come to me for advice and guidance on projects, proposals or even e-mails--basically, anything written.

If you are serious about looking for another opportunity, you need to present your skills on your resume so they can be transferred to another job (as opposed to letting a potential employer figure out how you fit into his/her organization). If you do a lot of communications work in your current job, you are essentially doing marketing/communications (marcom). So you would say on your resume that you are:

* Adept at creating powerful messages that tell a story and compel a response. (Cause that's what you do when you write grant applications!)
* Able to break down boundaries to elicit responses. (Cause that's what you do when you "learn about other people." You find out what makes them tick, what motivates them and what will get them to act.)
* Etc.

There are other types of positions that integrate communication. If you are good at organization, keeping people on task and enjoy being the center of hub-bub, project management is good. If you are good in front of a crowd, and can boil information down so that anyone can understand it, you might enjoy training. Think about the other transferrable skills that you have in your present job and go from there.

Some of this is truly hashing out what you are good at and figuring out how to build on it, but I also think it is also boiling it down for a potential employer to see and say "YES! He/She has all of the skills we need!"
posted by FergieBelle at 1:09 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Man, I am excited about this thread. I do research and headhunting type work for a small group of wealthy Chinese investors and I love it, but I get so burned out when I feel like I have to be a salesperson all the time. I would love to take my skill set somewhere else, also.
posted by Rocket26 at 2:01 PM on August 19, 2009

My distaste for sales was a strong motivation to complete my CS degree. So "development" work sounds a bit funny to my ears, but I'll assume it has nothing to do with writing software.

I currently work at a community college doing things completely unrelated to what you do, and we have a small but growing institutional research group, which I believe does work like researching how we compare to other colleges, where we can improve and how well we're meeting targets. This might fit well into your "foundational research" idea, but maybe not.

Obviously we're slightly different than most NPOs in that we have substantial taxpayer funding, and student tuition isn't trivial either. Still, most colleges will have alumni foundations and I know even our college runs several events catered less to our students and more towards an elder audience. You may have heard that it's a tough economy, but education is in demand in a recession, and public universities facing declining tax revenues need to make up the shortfall somewhere. I just checked and my alumni foundation is hiring, and I recall my alma mater mainly recruited students to do the "Always Be Closing" type annual phone campaigns, so there may be less need for that from FT employees.
posted by pwnguin at 5:12 PM on August 19, 2009

If you enjoy grant writing and have experience, there's no shortage of need for smaller nonprofits, which can be much more writing and less glad-handing for the smaller NPOs, as usually the E.D. is the one glad-handing, while you handle the actual writing. I would also suggest these skills would translate back into being a program officer (if you liked it) for a smaller NPO, or a grants manager/program officer for an NPO foundation that accepts grants requests, as you'll know quite a bit about what a good proposal looks like and how to monitor a grant but you'll be giving out the money rather than asking for it. (Unless you have to ask for it back.)
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:13 PM on August 19, 2009

I've worked as a development officer for 30 years. I also hate direct solicitation and glad handing, although I like developing donor relationships. You might try seeking work a couple pops down the food chain, as the director or assistant for foundation/corporate/government giving at a larger nfp. While you still need to make those glad-handing phone calls and even some face to face solicitations, the difference is that the people you are talking to are all in the business of giving away money. You're not having to convince anyone of the basic premise. I have found foundation officers, directors of corporate giving programs, and even gov't grant program officers to be almost universally accessible and helpful, with established protocols (hugely reducing the bullshit factor) and clear guidelines. The glad handing gets palmed off to your CEO for the various foundation board and committee members. In other words, find a job where all glad-handing is peer to peer. It's more effective fundraising anyway.
posted by nax at 4:52 AM on August 20, 2009

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