The Four-Quarter Career View
I love football and mathematics. Fundraising is all about numbers, which is right up my alley. Working with numbers was always easy for me. Recently I was thinking about my career in the fundraising profession. Of course I thought of my career in terms of football. If you have a long career in this profession, you can easily think of it in terms of time, growth and opportunity. To have a career in this field you must have an interest in attributes that point you in a career direction.
According to the Commongood Careers' Knowledge Center, if you love to build relationships and have enthusiasm for a cause, a career in nonprofit fundraising may be right for you. Because fundraising is essential to the success of an organization’s mission, typically there are high-paying jobs open at nonprofit organizations. The Commongood Careers' Knowledge Center notes that demand for talented development professionals far outpaces the supply, so fundraising and development can be an exciting place to start a nonprofit career—with a fast track to the top. A career in this field can make a real impact on an organization, as well as in the community it serves. It is interesting that so many people take so many diverse roads to a career path in development.
A 2006 study by Aleah Horstman, Ph.D., director of major and planned gifts for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains in Denver, covered how long fundraisers were staying in their current positions and their primary reasons for leaving a position. It indicated the average length of service for participants in the study was 3.6 years. In an earlier 2002 study, “Employees: Recruitment, Retention and Loyalty,” (Drizin), the average employee tenure in the study was 3.4 years. In the Horstman study, variables that predict fundraisers’ intents to stay at current jobs included job satisfaction, commitment to mission, distributive justice, promotional chances, job involvement, support of supervisor and search behavior.
Anyone thinking about a career in development has a number of choices based upon personality, style and interest. Some individuals focus on special events and donor recruitment and retention. Other individuals focus on direct mail, social media or telemarketing. Those with face-to-face-interaction interests may enter major-gift or planned-gift positions. For many, a supportive role is in order through development service opportunities. There is an array of educational opportunities for young professionals to expand their work possibilities. If you think of nonprofit development as a career and not one position, here’s something to consider: According to About Careers, the median number of years that wage and salary workers have been with their current employers is 4.6 years. The median tenure for workers ages 25 to 34 is 3.2 years. The point is: A long career may consist of 10 positions or more.
When I think of a four-quarter career, it consists of many positions at different stages of your career life cycle. According to a guide for professional development written by Roger A. Rennekamp, Ph.D., and Martha Nall, Ed.D., of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, a career-stage model for professional development depends upon factors acquired over the years, such as knowledge, acquisition, mastery of knowledge through education, autonomy in making greater decisions over time, strong commitment to field and lifelong commitment to professional development. Career stages, according to the authors, are entry stage, colleague stage, counselor stage and adviser stage.
I have spent my entire career in the nonprofit fundraising profession, including stints at nine major organizations. In these positions I played a number of roles with increased responsibilities. My four-quarter career theory focuses on four major career stages:
- Stage One—Exploration: In this stage you enter a field and explore the field over time. You make new connections and peer relationships. You learn terminology and become comfortable with your fit in the profession. You are in the assistant roles, and tenure in most positions is relatively short. You are finding your way. If you continue progressing in the profession, you move to career stage two.
- Stage Two—Examination: In this stage you begin to determine what your passion for fundraising is and which organizations you like to work for on an ongoing basis. You determine if education, health care, religion, social services, etc., are for you. You become more cause-focused and selective with jobs. You have your first director-level position. You will determine if you can manage both pure fundraising responsibilities and management of staff at the same time. If you are committed and successful, you move to stage three.
- Stage Three—Maximization: In this stage you have settled into your longest job tenure. You are active in AFP or other organizations. You are very active in multiple organizations and are asked to speak, write or engage with other organizations. You begin to mentor others and work more closely with peers. You are now attaining senior positions and, if successful, have multiple job choices. If successful, recruiters are calling you all of the time. Family is a responsibility, and you may struggle with geographical job choices. If you are fortunate, you have settled in with your favorite organization. At this point, you have determined this career will move to stage four.
- Stage Four—Transformation: In this stage you have become an expert in the field in some manner. You may be an expert in a specific area of focus, such as major gifts, social services, speaker or writer. You are in demand as a mentor. You are now the senior adviser to professional organizations on an important but infrequent role. You are in transition as you are saying goodbye to friends and peers. You might want to consult, and you are thinking of your retirement scenario. You are transforming your career as you evaluate post full-time career next steps.
In summary, whether you realize it or not, your long career in development will evolve over time. If you take advantage of opportunities, practice your craft, help others, achieve success and promote the profession, you will look back on your career and smile. You will not think about the prior jobs. You will think about all of the people and organizations you have helped as you have made a difference in this profession. Your career will come and go before you know it.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, IN plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.