5 Options for Investing in Your Career Growth

This has been a crazy week—I co-presented a webinar for NonProfit PRO and then headed to Washington, D.C., for the annual Bridge Conference (as a learner, not a presenter). Why? Because I am absolutely passionate about continuing education, both for myself and what I can share with others. And I want to energize you about continuing education, too, which is why I write about investing in you about once a year.

In preparation for a course I am teaching called “Nonprofit Leadership,” I looked at reasons why a person leaves an employer. (I had a lot of ideas of my own, but I wanted to find out if I was whiny or kind of normal.) The three reasons I found (no surprises here) were:

  • I don’t fit in with the culture.
  • The compensation is insufficient.
  • There’s no opportunity for me to grow.

Chances are, unless you are in charge, you can’t change the culture of the entire organization; you can influence it, perhaps, but you won’t be able to force change. You also may have little input on compensation; the leadership may not truly value long-term employees and thus always go with the lowest cost option.

But you can impact your opportunity to grow—if not where you are now, for your next job and for the rest of your career. But you have to make the investment. Here’s how:

  1. Own your own growth. No one else cares as much as you do about your career development. No one else is waking up at night and asking if you are growing in your career or stagnating. I’m not suggesting you go into debt to get a master’s degree or anything else. There are many, many low-cost or free opportunities that bring fundraising pros right to your computer screen on e-reader, or in your mailbox. Read everything you can find and develop a system to save what you want to reference in the future. You are in charge of your professional growth. If you’re thinking someone else is, you likely are going to be left behind when it comes to advancement.
  2. Seek out a mentor. People likely won’t ask you if you want to be mentored, but some will be honored if you ask. Sincerely make a commitment to being mentored. Don’t be afraid to ask; after all, we fundraisers need to be askers!
  3. Volunteer for more responsibility at your office. Even if you don’t know how to do it, you can learn. This is a great way to deepen your portfolio of skills while exploring potential new career paths.
  4. Volunteer at another nonprofit organization. Yes, I know you have no time. But investing in yourself will have long-term value to you so it’s worth sacrificing for. As a volunteer, you can do things that your own organization may never think you are capable of, and you will build your resume. (Be aware of any conflict of interest policies, of course; wisely choose the volunteer organization and the work you do.) Not only will you gain additional competencies; you will also deepen your network and that could lead to a future opportunity.
  5. Remember that it takes time. Viewing one webinar or even taking one course may not gain you an immediate promotion. But each one is a step to taking charge of your professional development. Everything you do, every time you have an opportunity to demonstrate your deeper knowledge, brings you one step closer to the next opportunity for growing your career.

No matter where you are in your career, remember that almost everyone you admire got to where they are by hard work. Sure, a few people were seemingly just born lucky. But most respected fundraisers worked hard, tried new things and never waited for someone else to do it for them. This old dog hopes to never stop learning, and I encourage you to embrace that, too. Fundraising is constantly evolving, and fundraisers need to be evolving too!

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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