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Do Your Homework: Don’t End Up Unhappy in Your Next Fundraising Role

Ashley Gatewood, MA
Published:  04/14/2021
glasses sitting on a notebook
Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

Looking for a job can certainly seem like a job unto itself. Once you put in all the time and effort, you want to feel like you’ve landed a fabulous role that will propel your career forward. 

But how often have you or someone you know taken a new position only discover in a few weeks or months that it’s a tenuous fit at best? 

Don’t let your job search efforts result in a less-than-stellar new position. See tips on how to do your homework so your next professional adventure delivers what you truly want. 

Be picky

Some folks have what I call a “crop dusting” approach to job seeking. They apply for any and everything that even appears to be slightly of interest. Their net is cast wide—perhaps so wide they’re likely to snag an interview or job they don’t really want. 

When reading a job description ask yourself, “Would I actually take this job if it were offered?” Or are you merely applying because you don’t want to leave any stone unturned?

Keep in mind that if you take a job that isn’t truly what you want, you’re apt to find yourself back on the job hunt lickety-split. Perhaps you’ll force yourself to stay for a year for the sake of your resume. Don’t set yourself up for a miserable year or experience. 

Apply for roles you would be excited to take. 

Staff tenure

This is crucial. You need to discover the tenures of your potential teammates and their backgrounds.

If it appears there was a sizeable turnover in staff in the recent past, it could indicate a mass exodus. It could also point to a house cleaning that removed dead weight. Or maybe you unearth a steady churn of staff over the years. Regardless of what you find, this is invaluable information.

With multiple recessions over the last two decades, it’s common for any one of us to have a resume gap. But does someone you would be working closely with have three, four, or more seemingly unexplained breaks? There could obviously be good reasons for this. But if all of their stints have been brief and scattered, it could point to a larger issue. 

I once worked with someone that had an Ivy League degree, yet her resume showed only one job tenure that lasted longer than 18 months in the past 20 years. Needless to say, she was separated from the organization where we both worked around the year-and-a-half mark. She ended up being one of the most difficult personalities to collaborate with and it became apparent why she lacked staying power at previous organizations.

Do they take professional development seriously?

This is a question for the interview stage. Gently inquire about the professional development budget and what sorts of memberships and activities it covers. 

If you’re an AHP member, will they pay your membership cost? If you hold a fundraising certification that requires renewals, such as the Certified Fund Raising Executive recertification that happens every three years, are they open to paying for it? 

Attend industry conferences regularly? Explore if their professional development budget line includes staff registration, travel, and accommodation. Do they mind you being out of the office for a three-day conference? Or do they prefer you attend those activities on your own time and dime? 

“Professional development is critical in the fundraising profession, making sure the organization is committed to your future educational goals is vital in not only your success, but theirs,” says AHP member Jennifer Johns, CFRE.  

An organization’s interest and ability to invest in their staff’s professional development speaks volumes. 

Hogging the headlines

It’s no secret nonprofits can find themselves in the headlines for the wrong reasons. If the organization is one you’re not familiar with, pop over to news.google.com and search for the nonprofit’s name. Scroll back…way back. 

If there is a skeleton in the closet, you need to know about it. Maybe there was a long-forgotten incident a decade ago. Maybe there was a scandal last year that has led to harrowing stewardship and new donor acquisition drama. The latter scenario will set you up for a potentially arduous task to meet fundraising goals and form new relationships with corporations or major donors. 

Putting on your Sherlock Holmes hat doesn’t mean you should expect to find only doom and gloom. You may uncover runaway successes with campaigns, strong ties between the organization and the media, or a CEO savvy with journalists.  

No matter what you find, these data points are crucial pieces of information. They indicate what kind of future fundraising success (or barriers) you could expect. 

Curl up with a good annual report

Few people ever want to curl up with an annual report, but this can’t be overlooked. The annual report is your ticket to a wider understanding about the nonprofit’s health, financial standing, board members, program success, and more. 

Study the income reports year-over-year. How much money is fundraising bringing in? Is it declining or growing? Do programs appear to be well-funded or running on the smell of an oily rag? 

Look at who the board members are. Don’t be afraid to Google them. Are they well-regarded figures in the community? Do they bring what you believe to be diverse experience and connections? Do any members appear to also be constituents served by the organization? It can be important to have a voice from the population serve as a member of the board or committees.

Make your next step your best step

Once you’ve completed your homework on an organization, ask yourself if it sounds like the kind of place you honestly can envision yourself working happily. 

You want to work for a nonprofit long enough you can build successes and contribute to moving the needle. If your research has left you with any pits in your stomach, take heed. There is zero point in moving from one crummy job to another. 

Taking the time to do your due diligence can save you much future heartache and heartburn.  

About the Author
Based in Baltimore, Ashley Gatewood is passionate about the nonprofit sector and membership associations, having spent the bulk of her career in these areas. 

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Meet The Author

Ashley Gatewood Headshot
Ashley Gatewood, MA
Communications and Marketing Director
CFRE International

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