I raise funds for a living. What else could I be doing?
March 9, 2017 5:37 AM   Subscribe

I like my fundraising job, and I like the autonomy which comes with a more senior post. But with added seniority comes added responsibilities of the type I really dislike - a lot of schmoozing with important people, late nights and poor work-life balance. I prefer a more backstage kind of role. What jobs involve the same sort of skillsets one develops in fundraising, but less of the face to face, high pressure activity, and also allow for upward development?

NB. This question may be quite location-specific but I would appreciate perspectives from all locations.

Things I enjoy about fundraising:

- Bid writing and prospect research
- Planning and implementing systems
- Record-keeping
- Relationship management, but not of the type that involves really busy, famous, rich people. But I do enjoy working with clients and donors and developing a rapport. I also enjoy working with other people in different departments and coordinating different workstreams.
- The autonomy that comes when you're at a more senior level (as someone who's always been a lowly office-worker, this added autonomy has come as a revelation to me and really boosted my confidence and enjoyment in my work)
- Generally social, extroverted colleagues (at least that's been the case in all the places I've worked)
- Working for a 'cause'
- Good pay and benefits if you are working for a large national or higher education organisation (less so for the smaller not-for-profits)

Things I don't enjoy and would prefer future jobs to involve less of

- Schmoozing with important people
- Lots of meetings, little time at desk
- Poor work-life balance - Usually a day of meetings is followed by an evening of actually getting work done!
- High pressure from Trustees, Council Members, Board of Directors or similar who don't really understand fundraising

Basically I really like, and am good at, the behind the scenes sort of stuff. I am looking for ideas for work that would allow me upward growth and the benefits that come with that, but not involve the high-pressure, people-facing side of fundraising. What other careers could I explore in due course?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like grant writing might be something to look into? I think there's a little less schmoozing there than there is with more general fundraising or foundation work.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:59 AM on March 9, 2017

Switch teams and work for one of the larger funders in your region/industry. I have written a ton of grants for small nonprofits, then I worked for an organization that both solicited (large) and granted (small) funds, and now I work where the deep pockets are. Same universe of people and work, same sense of community engagement, but my work-life balance has never been better. (Protip: when you pay to sponsor an event, you don't have to attend it!) I wish I had known this when I was raising my kids.
posted by headnsouth at 7:47 AM on March 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm also in development at a large nonprofit, though at a lower level than you - I'm a grant writer/grant manger. Recently I sent my resume and cover letter to a friend with tech and marketing experience to ask if she thought my skills might be transferable to the private sector, and she said I sounded like a project manager.

Looking at the list of things you enjoy, it seems like a pretty close fit. Aside from the bid writing, it's all there - planning/implementing systems, record-keeping, relationship management focused on actual working relationships, lots of autonomy at higher levels, good pay. The personality of your colleagues of course can vary across workplaces, and you can do that type of job at socially impactful places or not - as I've been beginning to poke around Indeed, I've seen several project management positions at hospitals for example.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:06 AM on March 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can switch over to the Advancement Services side if you want to focus on donor relations or prospect research or stewardship or portfolio management. Check out the AASP for more info and career tracks, and feel free to PM me for more info because I made this switch.
posted by juniperesque at 8:48 AM on March 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you would be very happy in Advancement Services.
posted by all about eevee at 9:12 AM on March 9, 2017

Hmm, I was also thinking that working for a funder would be somewhat similar -- managing reports, etc. But you'll still have to do some relationship management with rich, busy people (the trustees or donors), as well as with a lot of grantees.

What you want to do sounds like it would be a good match for the kind of fundraising that scientific researchers have to do. There aren't any major donors to schmooze with, just writing proposals and doing reporting. But I'm not sure if this exists as its own job, or if the PIs have to do it. You'd probably have to have a bunch of expertise in the field? Maybe someone with more background here can advise more.
posted by salvia at 9:42 AM on March 9, 2017

if you switch over to private nonoperating foundation management you will likely find that more appealing wrt the constant networking schmoozefest that fundraising is. being on the fund-giving side has its ups and downs as well but it is way less stressful than being in development.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:12 PM on March 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding the funder/foundation-side rec, though that obviously depends on the employer. Working someplace like the Gates Foundation (a foundation, but also has its own program work) will be very different from working for a large, long-running family foundation, which will be very different from working for a rich person's vanity foundation.

Also nthing the major gifts/advancement suggestion. I've noticed that large, national non-profits will often have people like you in those roles: senior level (so are mature and have deep knowledge of the sector) but not interested in management for whatever reason. Major donors often want to deal with someone who has that seasoning and gravitas, so it works out well. Might be more busy and rich people than you want to deal with though.

One other suggestion, a little farther afield: you might look into account executive or client relations roles in tech or professional service firms. These roles use a lot of the same skills you use in development work. This involves project management, developing and maintaining systems, relationship management. Actually, a role like this in a fundraising firm is a pretty natural shift for someone in your position.
posted by lunasol at 2:42 PM on March 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

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