Volunteer Fundraising a Common Path to Professional Fundraising

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “A newsmaker you should know: From fundraising parent to charity’s executive director,” offers a reminder of the way many professional nonprofit fundraisers get their start: by pitching in on a cause that they care about. In Debra Panei’s case, she had been helping raise money for her children’s school when she discovered she “really liked” fundraising.

Thank goodness this happens to some people, because I’ve never heard a child say, “I want to be a fundraiser when I grow up,” much less a parent saying, “Tommy wants to be a lawyer, but I’m really hoping he’ll go into fundraising.” Hopefully that will change someday, as the field of fundraising becomes more professionalized, and an increasing number of colleges offer courses in fundraising and other aspects of nonprofit administration.

In the meantime, people like Debra often have to learn by doing — no small task, as she is the first to admit. When she started her first fundraising position, as a development assistant at St. Barnabas Charities, she says “I found out there is a lot more to fundraising.” Now there’s an understatement!

Fortunately, there are numerous resources to help anyone learning to fundraise. And I’ve been thrilled to discover that my book, “Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits,” is being used as a textbook in numerous fundraising courses, in places like San Francisco State University,  the University of Michigan School of Social Work, the University of Kansas, the Palmer School of Library and Information Science, and the University of the Pacific.