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Advancing in Your Fundraising Career

Resource Center - Foundation

(Aug. 2, 2011) Whether you are new to fundraising or you have been in the profession for years, here are some tips on moving forward in your career.

This article is an excerpt from an AFP Hot Topic page available to members on the AFP website. Learn more about a variety of topics at

1.    It's critically important to develop and adhere to a personal mission. Successful fundraisers have in common a passion for their cause, a belief in the values of their organizations, a sense that it is the outcomes of fundraising that count, not the activity of fundraising. What are your motives and values? Do you find your work fulfilling?

2.    When you're thinking about your career, don't think about the next job but where you want to be in 10 years and how you are going to get there. One of the challenges you face as a development officer is to free yourself from draining day-to-day pressure and schedule some time for thinking and reflection. Develop a mini-strategic plan for yourself, including your vision for your career, your personal mission and objectives and action plans for achieving your personal career goals. What job experiences will you need? How will you get them? Starting now, what are the three most important things you can do this year to implement your plan? Talk with a personal mentor about your plans and how to achieve them.

3.    Take part in the CFRE and ACFRE credentialing process. For starters, it forces you to be systematic about acquiring skills, and secondly, the credential demonstrates to potential employers your commitment to achieving the skills of the profession. The possession of a certification credential correlates positively with salary. The AFP Compensation and Benefits Report consistently indicates that CFREs and ACFREs report higher average salaries than respondents with no certification.

4.    Learn as much as you can from as many sources as possible, including on-the-job training, courses, books, periodicals and working with a mentor. 

5.    Develop your own market niche. What skills set you apart?  Here are some examples:

  • Brings projects in on time and under budget
  • Communicates exceptionally with volunteers and board members
  • Skilled at using  new technologies
  • Possesses strong knowledge of planned giving
  • Is a team player

Use self-tests such as Myers-Briggs to help you identify your skill sets and then cultivate these skills. Generalists are best equipped to move to another job, but it helps to have a specialty.

6.    Keep a file documenting your accomplishments, including thank-you notes you've received from people. This is critically important when it's time to search for your next position. It's also helpful when you complete the application for the CFRE or the ACFRE. Update your written resume twice a year to help you think about what you've been doing and where you're going from here. Keep it simple: name, rank, serial number, all on one page. This should be a chronological resume of where you've been and what you've done. Don't try to put all accomplishments in it. 

Studies show that each resume gets reader time of about three seconds. Include your name and address, work and home phone numbers and college degrees. Save accomplishments for a separate page. The second page may not get read, and you stand the risk of your accomplishments being missed unless you emphasize them in some other way, such as in the cover letter. 

7.    Be committed to networking, even when you're not actively looking for a job. It's estimated that 50 percent of jobs are found through personal connections.  Networking is the process of developing and maintaining quality relationships than enrich our lives and empower us to achieve our goals. It's about giving first and realizing that we can learn from everyone we meet. Andrea Nierenberg, in her book Million Dollar Networking recommends five simple steps for reaching out to people:

  • Meet new people and nurture your current network
  • Listen and learn from everyone with whom you connect
  • Make quality connections for others
  • Follow up
  • Stay in touch creatively. 

Andrea makes it a point to contact nine people a day in her personal network, either by phone, email or a personal note.

8.    Practice interviewing. It may not feel natural to brag about your professional accomplishments, but in an interview you will need to convey your strengths by providing specific examples. Develop a list of possible questions you might be asked and ask a friend or family member to do a practice interview and critique your responses. Prepare brief scripted answers to questions you may find difficult. Answer in a thoughtful, natural way, not defensively. 

9.    Learn to negotiate. Research compensation for similar positions in your field of work or community. Review salary surveys such as the annual AFP Compensation and Benefits Report. Know what you need (vacation, benefits, salary, training opportunities, consulting time 2-3 days a month) and practice asking for it with confidence and comfort. If salary requirements can't be met, be ready to substitute benefits. Be firm, but pleasant and professional. 

Read more about advancing your career and other interesting fundraising topics from the AFP Resource Center Hot Topic pages at

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