As I See it | Karen Perry, CFRE | Senior Consultant

Longevity in Fundraising: What Makes You Stay?

Every September, I think back to my first development job because it marks the beginning of my career and another year in this field that I’ve loved from the beginning. This year marks my 20th anniversary in development. In September 2000, in my late twenties, I didn’t understand what I was getting into with my new job, which caught my attention with the opportunity to write, organize volunteers and plan events. I honestly didn’t realize it was a fundraising job when I went to the interview! Up to that point I had done a bit of meandering in my professional life but longed for a career where I could invest in meaningful work alongside great people and be continually challenged to grow and advance.

What makes you stay?

The average tenure of a development professional in any given job is less than two years. I upheld that statistic in my first development job, leaving right after the two-year mark. Much has been written and said about the revolving door in our profession. The challenges that make development officers leave their organization (or even the profession) have been named and analyzed again and again. But what makes them stay?

As I reflect on two decades in the nonprofit arena, I think with gratitude about the experiences I’ve had. I think about why I love what I do and what makes me stay. Here’s my own list of why I’m in this for the long haul:

  • Passion for causes I love
  • Belonging: being part of something big and meaningful that’s driving change and  improving lives
  • Relationships with colleagues and clients I respect and enjoy, donors who invest in the community, and peers from other organizations
  • Learning from colleagues and others in the field through continuing education opportunities
  • Ethics: an expectation for ethical fundraising as articulated by and required of members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and professionals who hold the CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) credential
  • Growth in confidence, responsibility and pay

These things have boosted my career satisfaction and longevity. They also reflect why I so enjoy working directly with nonprofit professionals as a consultant.

When I was in college, someone advised me to do what scares me. Professionally, I’ve done that a few times. In 2011, as a new parent of twins, I left an organization after nine years (an eternity in development!) to gain flexibility in my schedule. I was determined to not lose my CFRE certification after I left, so I quickly used my connections to find contract and consulting work, which grew over time. I worked part time for several years and that worked very well for me. Development is a field where you can do that.

Life transitions can challenge anyone’s longevity in a career, even one they love. In 2016, I moved across the country, leaving behind every donor, funder, colleague and nonprofit I knew for a brand-new nonprofit community. When I moved to Texas, I made a beeline to AFP and transferred my membership to the Fort Worth chapter. That was the beginning of connections that lead to my first clients as a solo practitioner here and ultimately, to M. Gale & Associates.

For me, AFP connections and maintaining my CFRE have been two constants throughout my career; in a sense they’re the glue that have helped hold things together in my career. As I celebrate another year in this field, I also celebrate a profession in which passion, belonging, relationships, learning, ethics and growth are woven into the fabric of the work.

So what’s your why for staying in fundraising for as long as you have? What are the barriers to longevity for you? What scares you? What’s the glue that helps you hold everything together?

About the Author

Karen Perry, CFRE, approaches her clients with a deep understanding of the work of growing a development program over time, as well as experience addressing broad nonprofit management concerns. Prior to joining M. Gale, Karen spent more than 10 years in lead development roles with two organizations in Atlanta, Georgia, followed by 8 years as an independent fundraising consultant to organizations in Atlanta and Fort Worth. Her experience includes annual giving, major gifts, grant writing and events, as well as marketing, strategic planning, planned giving, and capital campaigns. Karen is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and has served on the boards of the Fort Worth Metro Chapter and the Greater Atlanta Chapter. She is a member of the Junior League of Fort Worth and serves on committees at her church and on the PTA of her children’s school.

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