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Don't Limit Your Career: An Interview with Dan Pallotta

Resource Center - Foundation

by Paul Nazareth

Paul NazarethYou know Dan Pallotta. He is the author of Uncharitable and Charity Case, books that have challenged and inspired many in the fundraising and philanthropic sector.

His latest endeavour, the Charity Defense Council and the upcoming march mark a historic turning point in how to think and talk about the charitable sector.

I recently sat down with Dan and asked him for some words of encouragement for those starting out in fundraising, as I personally mentor many young professionals in the sector and our AFP Greater Toronto Chapter has one of the largest mentoring programs in Canada. When I ask leaders in the philanthropic sector “What is the one question young professionals ask you most?” they often take awhile to answer. Dan didn’t miss a beat. “I get asked this question all the time! 'I want to work in the charitable sector, what’s a good organization?' It’s like asking, 'I want to get into sales, what should I sell?' (Hint: the answer isn’t “anything”). In this tough economy and tight job market most people focus on getting the job and not making sure it’s the right fit."

This is something I have also heard from many executive search professionals as I try to help fundraising peers advance their careers.

“You can’t have a dream for the world if you don’t have a dream for yourself.” Dan’s advice is to truly spend some time exploring what you bring to the table so that when it’s time to go to market, you are comfortable with your skills, strengths, passion and weaknesses too. Know who you would be best suited to raise money for, pick a top ten and focus on them. If you don’t know, make the theme of the early years of your career to find out this information.

In true Dan Pallotta style, he also reminded young professionals to be brave and ask for what they are worth. Personally, I’m a big fan of Laura Fredrick’s book “The Ask” which includes tips for fundraisers on how to negotiate salaries and raises on top of the usual major gift solicitation skills. I can name dozens of well-known charities whose budgets are subsidized by paying staff unfair wages. They almost wear their poor salaries as a badge of pride, brag about it to donors as part of a responsible fiscal plan.

Dan’s message for a number of years has been that if we don’t attract top talent, then how will we raise as much as we can? Influence at the highest level? Fundraisers won’t get paid what they are worth until we create a culture of asking for that fair wage from day one.

Dan’s last piece of advice struck me – especially as someone who is involved in teaching and coaching fundraisers. “Why are we defining our contribution to the world and philanthropy by our tax-status?! Working for a charity isn’t the only way to change the world or save it.” After a decade in fundraising I  spent the past three and a half years as a philanthropic advisor creating foundations and advised-funds in a bank. I won’t lie—those weren’t the most collegial years of my career. Many fundraisers treated me like an outsider or adversary when I was 100% part of the charitable economy.

We have partners in the corporate sector, foundation funders, our volunteers and the social enterprise community who share our passion for doing good. We’re all partners in philanthropy, and young professionals should consider all of these career options too. My peers at fundraising education programs like Humber College and Georgian College, as well as Ryerson University and the Schulich School of Business, are seeing more non-fundraiser applicants from community groups, municipalities and corporations. Opportunities to apply fundraising skill have never been higher.

And one of the people we have to thank is Dan Pallotta.

If you haven’t seen his multi-million viewed TED Talk, do it now. Show it to your boss and your board.

Consider joining the Charity Defense march in 2015. Check out this video, it’s pretty powerful stuff.

Thanks for all you do for the AFP Community Dan! 

Paul Nazareth is vice president, community engagement, with, Canada’s leading charity that brings together charities, donors and advisors as they give online. He speaks at AFP chapters all across Canada and is on five charity boards. Paul teaches the planned giving course with the Georgian College postgraduate fundraising program and is an instructor with the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, chair of the Humber College Postgraduate Fundraising Program Advisory Committee and a passionate advocate of the power of networking in our work and lives. Find him on Linkedin or @UinvitedU on Twitter.

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