Those of us who have been “in the business” for a while probably can’t even count the number of times we have been asked “How did you ever get into development?” Of course, the first hurdle is getting others to understand what exactly “development” is. After nearly 30 years “in the profession”, I still frequently have to provide some facts: “Development is, essentially, fund raising and no, that doesn’t mean I am selling candy bars.”
Once we get past that, the inevitable next question is, “Did you actually go to school to learn to do this?” Well, no, in the strictest sense of the question, most of us didn’t. Back in the day—which in this case means 20+ years ago, there weren’t any programs in what has come to be known as “Non-profit Management”. Most fund raisers could probably give you a unique story of how they got where they are.
Common denominators crop up, however, and, if you listen closely, you might be able to see that, in fact, perhaps many of us did, in fact, go to school to learn to do “it”. We just didn’t know at the time just what “it” would be. Undergraduate degrees were often English, Public Relations, Education, or Communications. Some of us sought out university or other non-profit jobs simply because other positions, such as those in teaching, weren’t plentiful, didn’t pay well, or didn’t offer as good of benefits. Personally, I opted for a college admissions position because it paid 25% more than teaching—and included a car! No small deal when you are 22, broke and trying to make ends meet. However, I stayed in a non-profit setting long after my need for a steady paycheck was paramount. The reason was pretty simple—I had found a mission in which I believed.
That experience could probably be echoed by many other development professionals. While many may not actually have planned on a non-profit career, they may have stayed because of a true commitment to the cause. Today, however, the career landscape has changed; in some ways, dramatically so. Young men and women are often motivated to obtain degrees in non-profit management—a program not even available back when I graduated from high school in the 70’s. (Well, I can’t say that for sure –truth be told, I never thought to check.) According to the Non Profit Quarterly, “The Seton Hall University directory of nonprofit management program currently lists more the 250 college and universities offering undergraduate, graduate and post graduate courses. Wow. Who would’ve thought?
So, perhaps the question today has become more complex. Rather than simply “how did you get here?”, maybe we need to explore, “Do you need a degree in non-profit management to get here-or further?” I have my own opinions on that, as do many others. I will share some of those thoughts with you next time. In the meantime, I would love to hear what you think. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me your thoughts.