If You Know How to Ask for Money, You Will Have a Job for Life

Photo: Jacki Zehner, Kathy LeMay and Liz Vivian, Executive Director of Women’s Funding Alliance

Published on LinkedIn, March 23, 2016

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I left Goldman Sachs and the private sector in 2002, and since then, I have worked primarily in the nonprofit space. To this end, I have served on Boards and Advisory Committees and joined several philanthropic-giving circles, and I currently serve as both Board Chair and the Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions (WMM). My industry is the world of nonprofits, and with over 1.5 million registered nonprofits in the United States, I’m not alone in this endeavor. It is estimated that fully 10% of the U.S. workforce is employed by a nonprofit organization, translating to a workforce of over 10.7 million people, and nonprofit employment is the third largest industry in the U.S. behind retail, trade, and manufacturing.

Jobs in this field are plentiful, but like most industries, so is the competition, so what exactly do you need to stand out? What are the hottest jobs in this industry? More importantly, what can you do to land one of them? Like most things in life, much of it comes down to money.

One of the greatest myths about nonprofit organizations is that because these entities don’t aim to turn a profit, money isn’t the driving force. Wrong. Nonprofits aspire to change the world and better society, and they do this by providing health services, education, awareness, advocacy for positive social change, and much more. Admirable ambitions for sure, but providing these services and programs is rarely cheap. Nor are the salaries of the extremely talented people who deliver them, and rightly so. If we want the best talent working in this sector, we simply must be willing to pay for it. Yes, even in the world of nonprofits, money still makes the world go round, and every nonprofit knows full well that in order to survive and thrive, effective fundraising is the key.

Now, asking for money is rarely viewed as a fun endeavor, and most people will go to great lengths to avoid doing this. However, there is that rare breed of people who excel in this area, and let me tell you, if you are lucky enough to fall into this category, you will have a job for life in this industry. Nonprofit organizations live and die by their fundraising, and with a high turnover and lack of truly excellent candidates to fill these positions, these jobs are constantly in demand.

So how do you land one of these jobs? Excellent interpersonal and sales skills are a must, but what are those special qualities that will get you noticed? What should be on your resume? To answer these, I turned to one of my good friends and an expert in this area, Kathy LeMay, founder and co-President of Raising Change, Inc. and author of The Generosity Plan. A self-described global social change fundraiser, Kathy has spent her life in the nonprofit industry, and she is an expert in getting the necessary funds to the right organizations. I asked her a couple of questions about her work, and here’s what she had to say.

Why did you personally choose to work in the nonprofit world?

I always knew I wanted to make a difference. I joined the nonprofit world in 1993 because it offered the chance to lead with values and the belief that given the right tools you can make the world a better place. Today, with the rise of social innovation, socially conscious companies, and digital platforms designed to improve humanity, the field is just beginning to show us what is possible. 

Why is fundraising and development so important to an organization’s success?

Fundraising and development are more than the money that fuels the work. Powerful, thoughtful, and innovative partnerships with philanthropists can take an organization from mission potential to mission possible. If we can begin to see that building values-based relationships and mobilizing human, financial, and brain capital is the work of development, I think we’ll see a lot more success in the nonprofit sector.

What type of person is best suited for these positions?

The person best suited for fundraising and development is a present listener, one who can connect the dots between a philanthropist’s passion and an organization’s undertaking. The best that I have seen possess a combination of rabid curiosity, courage of conviction, and a deep desire to create transformation.

What would you specifically look for on a resume when considering candidates for a job in fundraising?

Risk taking and interesting experiences. Anyone can be taught how to close a gift. What matters is how you go about closing gifts. I’m looking for someone who believes in building authentic relationships by bringing their best and highest talents to the table. I’m looking for someone who knows that great donor conversations can be the difference between an annual gift and a gift that transforms the organization forever. Candidates that adapt well to ever-changing economic, social change, and philanthropic landscapes I believe hold the keys to great development and fundraising.

Is there any one trait that a person must possess to be successful in these positions?

A mentor once told me that she listens so intently that she is sweating. She calls herself an “athletic listener.” I agree completely. If you really listen, bring your curiosity, and ask great questions based on what you heard, you will not believe what you can accomplish.


Thank you, Kathy!  As a donor myself, I am constantly being approached for gifts, and I will tell you, for me, Kathy’s comments felt spot on. I would also add that a passion for the cause, a deep understanding of the work the organization does, and being able to clearly articulate their organizations’ theory of change and impact are what I need from the person asking me for support.

If you are a professional or volunteer fundraiser, I invite you to share things you have learned along the way below, including tips for those interested in entering this field. If you are a donor and have worked with someone exceptional, please give them a shout out below as well.

Here are a few books I have read on the topic of fundraising to get the ball rolling:

Oh and I urge you to subscribe to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  Love that publication and I always find myself reading it cover to cover.

Be sure to check out the Raising Change website for fundraising tools.

Photo: Jacki Zehner, Kathy LeMay and Liz Vivian, Executive Director of Women’s Funding Alliance

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