How Did I Get Here? | npENGAGE

How Did I Get Here?

By on Mar 8, 2011


Last month my colleague, Laura Worcester, posted about her career path and posed the question of whether or not a degree is needed (or should be needed) for our profession.  Her comments generated some interesting conversation on this blog!  I wanted to add another perspective – and a timely one given a completely unrelated chain of events in my life.

I got an email a few weeks ago from a young woman just starting out it her career.  She found me through a series of happenstances that included doing some internet research which led her to this website (  From there, she found my bio and realized that we had not only attended the same undergraduate institution, but she is currently enrolled in one of the masters’ degree programs I completed.  Talk about a small world!  Her email to me was simple: these common connections were too good to pass up.  And, she wanted to know: how did I get to where I am now from a somewhat unsuspecting path?

A week or so later, I was at a professional meeting where an ice-breaker was used asking each of us what has happened in our own lives over the past month to reinforce why we are in the right career. I quickly remembered back to the young woman’s email I just described, and the accompanying email conversation we have been having about how I got where I am, where she is now, and what she knows/doesn’t know about where she wants to be.  I shared the story with my colleagues around the table, probably ranging in age from late 20s to early 50s.  The nods and gestures from around the table indicated that although we span three generations (Gen Y, Gen X and the Baby Boomers) it resonated with each person — we had all come from a slightly unsuspecting path.

What I have come to realize is that there has been a more dramatic and fundamental shift in career paths for Development professionals over the past decade than there had been in the multiple decades leading up to it.  In a volunteer capacity, I speak to many college students and recent graduates about their careers.  Even though most of them are still not sure exactly where they want to be in 5 or 10 years, most of them at least know that working in the non-profit space, and even specifically in fundraising, is a path they want to take.

As a ‘Gen-Xer,’ when I was in college, I did not know anything about fundraising being a career path, nor were there any real educational opportunities or classes related specifically to the field.  Now, at the college level, classes exist and degrees are becoming more common.  And, even at the K-12 level both social justice and volunteering have become more of a focus in the classroom.  As such, it is no surprise that ‘Gen Yers’ are seeking out Development as a career path.

Is it the chicken or is it the egg?  Have we as a profession done more to professionalize our field, leading to additional educational opportunities and interest?  Or, has the education sector begun focusing on philanthropy more prominently leading to more students and recent graduates being aware (and being interested in) a career in our field?

What do you think?  I’m not sure. But, what I do predict is that whether or not a degree is necessary we are likely to continue to see an increase of related-degree bearing people entering our workforce.  And, I suspect that even our most recent grads who think they know what they want to do when they ‘grow up’ may find themselves, in fact, in a different place 5, 10, 15 or 20 years out of college than where they thought they would be…my hope is that they find themselves somewhere as rewarding as where Laura Worcester and I have found ourselves.

*Melissa Bank Stepno is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at



Comments (2)

  • Bethany Wall says:

    So interesting how people get to this profession, isn't it?

    As a Gen-Yer who's been in fundraising for 6 years, I can say that I didn't quite stumble accidentally in to the profession… nor did I walk in fully eyes-open and prepared.

    Through a series of coincidences, I enrolled in what was at that time an Applied Bachelor's Degree in Nonprofit Studies at our local college (the program is now a minor in a Business Degree). Through the three years of class time, the last position I thought I'd end up in was fundraising – who wants to talk about money all day???

    However, when I began a practicum that I thought was volunteer management and later learned that it was fundraising, I quickly got over the fear and got to work… and began to love the opportunity.

    Now, in a different organization and a few years later, I get to work every day with people who are passionate about issues and committed to finding solutions – and I really can't imagine a better job or life.

    All in all, I'm grateful for my education, the grounding it provided in nonprofit law, accounting, management and programming, and the opportunity to connect with so many people on the same path. The time spent in college gave me a fuller, more complete picture of organizations – one that I think would have taken years to get in practical, hands-on experience. For others, that education and perspective can come from many different sources. I'm glad that our profession is beginning to develop formal opportunities for education for those who will benefit from that!

    • Melissa Bank Stepno says:

      Hi Bethany,
      Thanks so much for your reply! I guess a series of coincidences, happenstances, life circumstances and the like are still a very common theme, regardless of your generation! But, I also think your comments reiterate some of what I already thought. First, even if fundraising itself wasn’t planned, it sounds like a career in the non-profit industry was on your horizon. And, second, in only a few years your college has moved your Applied Bachelor’s Degree program, firmly planting it under a Business Degree. I would imagine that means a fuller integration of the program’s coursework into the main stream of other academic content, exposing it to even more students. I’m glad you found yourself ‘Here’ too and good luck in your career!


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