What Is Your Nonprofit Career Story?
What is your nonprofit career story? It seems that every week someone contacts me through various vehicles and asks for a career advice meeting. I enjoy helping others and always seek to answer their questions. In a recent meeting, someone asked me about my career progression and success I have enjoyed. They assumed my career and success was somewhat laid out and easy to follow. In fact, one person implied that my achievements and choice of jobs was easy. I explained nothing was further from the truth.
I did not ask for a career in the nonprofit sector. In fact, just after I obtained a bachelor’s degree, I literally had three job opportunities in West Virginia. One job was in the corporate sector and the other two were in government and nonprofit, respectively. I was a graduate assistant working on my master’s degree and dreamed of obtaining my doctorate degree.
I befriended a professor and helped him with his doctorate pathway. He received two positions at the University of Louisville: One was an assistant professor of finance, and the other was the head of the development program. He asked me to join him. I thought he was talking about real estate development. He was an amazing professor but new to the development arena. I didn’t care if I could take classes while working toward my academic goal.
The professor left the University of Louisville and received a better offer at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami. He offered this young employee more money and, while I loved living in Kentucky, jumped at the chance to expand my career. While at FIU, my father’s health began to deteriorate. I decided to leave FIU and work at the University of Charleston in West Virginia, my hometown. I wanted my father to spend his last months with my new son. I stayed there until my father passed and accepted a position at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Butler position was my last at a University.
Early in my career, I began to write articles and teach at universities as an adjunct professor. I would speak to local groups and joined service clubs. I was active in the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and secured my Certified Fundraising Executive designation (CFRE). I also did volunteer work and served in community leadership roles, such as being board chair of a public educational school foundation and vice chair of a local alumni club.
All these activities built my reputation and connections in the field. My next position was at St. Vincent Hospital. I was not looking for a job. I was chairing a panel and spoke at an AFP event. After the presentation, someone in the crowd came up to me and suggested I apply for an open hospital position. After a long career at that hospital, I decided to become a consultant. I joined a regional consulting firm in Portland, Maine, while establishing my own consulting LLC—which I still have in place today.
While consulting, I decided to get back into the health-care arena as an executive at Dayton Children’s Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio. I was commuting from Indianapolis to Dayton for several years. After growing tired of driving and living away from family during the week, I went back to consulting. I had excellent experiences, particularly at Make-A-Wish Nationally in Phoenix, Arizona.
One thing you need to know about me is my love to assist children in need. It is a passion for me. While consulting with a late partner in Ohio who I cared deeply for, I had a calling to work at The Salvation Army. I am still working in an executive role for The Salvation Army while consulting when time allows. I recently left a management role in this organization to focus on directing capital campaigns.
As you can see, life circumstances, fate and personal choices have dictated my career path. At the halfway point of my career, I was getting burned out working in the nonprofit field. I spent $15,000 to obtain guidance from a professional career consultant to see if I was better suited to work in a different sector. I was videotaped, interviewed, tested and even played with hair color to look younger! At the end of the day, everything pointed to the fact that I should stay in the nonprofit field. I guess my philanthropic spirit and soul acted as my career compass to stay in the nonprofit field.
While it may not seem like it, the years will pass quickly. I have never looked back, as I always look ahead. You should always prepare yourself for a nonprofit career by reading, writing, speaking, making contacts, etc. You must have passion, truth, ethics, heart for others, service-calling, plus personal motivation to succeed in the nonprofit sector. You cannot control the perfect career advancement chart. Life and circumstances are unpredictable. I have made mistakes, but have given 100% to my job every day. It is part of my DNA.
By the way, I obtained my doctorate, still write and serve as an adjunct professor. I enjoy speaking to groups whether in person or on the internet. While I have written several hundred articles, my current long-term goal is to write a book and consult with an array of organizations. I have always been completely focused for success and cannot let up on any quest for achievement. I also enjoy sharing my career experiences with others. All I ask that they pay it forward.
What is your career story? You have read mine and, as the late Paul Harvey always said at the end of his broadcast, “Now you know the rest of the story.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.