Professional Advancement? It’s All Academic
Pursuing a graduate degree in fundraising and development is an often overlooked but nonetheless viable path for fundraisers looking to expand and enhance their careers.
Degrees in fundraising reflect a trend in American higher education toward highly focused, industry-specific graduate degrees. As little as a decade ago, professionals in many industries had few options in graduate training besides an MBA. Now, applied graduate degrees serve an ever-expanding range of fields, offering relevant courses drawn from such fields as business and law.
There are close to 100 colleges and universities that offer graduate programs in nonprofit management, with a few (a growing few, at that) conferring master’s-level degrees specifically in fundraising. The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, which was established in 1987, is the largest and most comprehensive academic center focusing on fundraising and philanthropy. It offers a range of degrees, including a Ph.D. in Philanthropic Studies, and recently received a $1.5 million dollar gift to endow a chair in fundraising. Though Indiana has been a visionary trendsetter in the field, the proliferation of MS degrees in fundraising reflects their increased acceptance as an effective training medium by universities, industry professionals and nonprofit organizations.
The appearance of degree programs in fundraising also is intimately related to the ascendant professionalization of the industry, as evident in the popularity and success of such elements as certification, professional organizations, conferences, training resources and the like. Consequently, many of the traditional avenues of entry, methods of education and career paths in the field have been dramatically (and in some cases radically) transformed. The pace and character of these changes have caused apprehension in some quarters; at my own institution, for instance, concern has been raised about the apparent deviation from the field’s traditional “apprenticeship” model of training, where individuals gain experience by working at one institution — usually for a considerable amount of time — under the guidance of a mentor. The perception, perhaps somewhat romantic, is that this system worked well, as it permitted young professionals to “learn the ropes” in a supportive environment at a moderate pace.