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How to Become a Professional Fundraiser

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Ultimately, raising money is the main task for professional fundraisers. How they secure this money, however, can be a long and arduous process, and it often takes a great deal of strategizing to make it happen. They raise funds with fundraising campaigns and events, as well as writing grants, identifying prospects, talking to potential donors and recruiting volunteers. Becoming a fundraiser usually starts with a degree and then gaining experience in the field.

Education Options

To enter the field of professional fundraising, a bachelor’s degree is often necessary. While almost any B.A. or B.S. can qualify you for a job, organizations typically seek candidates with degrees -- or at least coursework -- in English, journalism, communications, public relations and business, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Earning a master’s degree in fundraising or philanthropic studies can strengthen your skill set and often improve your employability, but most graduate programs require some level of professional experience in the industry. Working, interning or volunteering for a nonprofit during your undergraduate studies can help ensure entrance.

Professional Certification

Professional certifications are available in fundraising, with the standard being the certified fund raising executive. Although not a prerequisite, the CFRE can help illustrate your knowledge and expertise in the field of fundraising to potential employers. Don’t expect to get this certification upon graduating from bachelor’s or even master’s degree programs. Eligibility is available only for those professionals with at least 60 months of full-time experience as a member of a fundraising staff, notes CFRE International. Other requirements include continuing education, managing projects, raising funds and volunteer service.

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Work Experience

Even with a degree, it can be difficult to land a job as a fundraiser. The field can be highly competitive. Volunteering as a fundraiser can lead to a full-time position at an institution. But not everyone can afford to go this route. Another option is to find a position within the development team at a nonprofit and work your way up. Look for titles such as planned giving associate, major gifts associate and grants coordinator.

Path to Consulting

Working full time for a nonprofit isn’t for everyone, and many fundraisers go on to become fundraising consultants. But you’ll need a solid background in identifying prospects, raising funds, managing campaigns and recruiting volunteers, explains Tony Poderis, a professional fundraising consultant, in “Philanthropy News Digest." When heading down this path, expect to develop new ideas for securing funds, managing existing campaigns, strategizing on tactics to improve giving and working with members of the client’s development team to ensure they’re working toward the same goals.

About the Author

Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.

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