Preparing Others for a Nonprofit Profession
If I were asked in junior high school what profession I would choose when I grew up, I would not have said a development resource professional. In fact, I took my first assignment in the nonprofit field at a university because I wanted to obtain a doctorate degree. I knew nothing about the profession, but I did like the person who hired me. I did not know it at the time of hiring, but the leader of the development department also was new to the field.
I thought I could learn from him, but I, sadly, was mistaken. I was blessed and lucky as I grew to know and respect the No. 2 in the organization. He was already a seasoned fundraising professional and spent time teaching me the ropes. I was absolutely clueless about generating time, talent and treasure for the university, but was green and willing to learn.
As you prepare to help others in their nonprofit professions, they will seek ways to gain knowledge and experience that will prepare them for career advancements. Here are some ways that I found helped me grow in my career path:
- Road Trips—As a 22-year-old at the University of Louisville with three weeks of experience in the field, I spent a week on the road with a 60-year-old University of Kentucky senior development officer. We traveled throughout the state of Kentucky visiting donors and prospects. I especially remember visiting a wealthy coal miner in his trailer. He was dirty and had a huge ring on his finger. He was smoking a cigar and told us why he supported the university. He hadn’t even gone to the school, but wanted a college education for his children and those in the hills so they could have better lives. On that trip, we listened more than we talked. We learned about relationship-building and how to create and maintain relationships. After each visit was over, we spent time talking about the visit. I learned to take notes after each visit on what I learned—and did not learn. It was a wonderful experience. I came back from that trip with more confidence. That trip made a career-long impact on me. We are visual learners.
- Presentations—I love to study the field of nonprofits. I attempt to keep up with changing trends and experiences in the field. I always suggest that anyone in the field blend theory and practice as much as possible. My first day on my nonprofit job I was asked to speak in front of 500 people and did not know about this assignment until I was there. Another time I was asked at the last minute to provide a one-hour presentation to a graduate class on a variety of topics. These situations made me always be prepared for the unexpected. In fact, instead of being reactive, be proactive in your field. I began to ask to give presentations and lectures. I am now an adjunct professor at Olivet Nazarene University. I learned as a professor to promote two-way communication whenever it is possible. Feedback in every setting is vital.
- Apprentices—While I do not have a literal apprentice program, I strive to have those who work for me learn from me in ways that will benefit them in the long term. There is usually at least one person you supervise in your shop who may be able to take your place at some point. Do not fear the potential threat. Teach and engage that individual. Give them assignments and increased responsibility over time if they earn it. Gather an idea of their future career goals. You will know if the individual has the right stuff to be in your shoes in the future. In truth, we only rent positions for a time. I love to see my former colleagues fly in senior-level positions.
- Mentoring—I never have refused anyone that has asked me to be a mentor. I enjoy the experience when both parties engage and learn from each other. As a senior professional, I especially enjoy dealing with young and inexperienced professionals. Many do not know what questions to ask, but are hungry and willing to learn. I always want to know what they want to get out of the experience, and they are not afraid to tell me. At the end of each engagement I just tell them to pay it forward.
- Exchanges—I love to have coffee with different peers over time. I seek out my friends and colleagues just to meet with them. We might meet once a year or several times a year. I will meet with a variety of peers based upon situations. For example, I was engaged in a possible capital campaign. I met with several consultant friends and senior capital campaign specialists just to ask questions about capital campaign topics. It always pays to stay in touch with others. You will be amazed at what you learn even if you have directed a number of campaigns, for example. Your peers will make time to see you especially if it is for a brief cup of coffee early in the workday.
I do not regret being in the nonprofit profession for one minute. That said, I do believe an area that needs improvement is preparing someone for long-term success in the profession. I did not have a GPS to help me progress in my career. My career advancement was based upon trial and error. Collectively, we can all do a better job in helping other professionals avoid some mistakes we made. It is in the nature of our souls to help prepare others for our profession.
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, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.