Updated: Oct 27
In the interview (it was in context) I shared the fact that most of the development professionals I know well have taken a circuitous and unplanned route to their success.
This did not align with the experience of the interviewer and so she questioned it. She asserted that she, and “all” of her colleagues, had intentionally pursued careers in development. I asked if it was possible that she knew people who had entered the field through program delivery? … I was labelled argumentative and was not offered the role.
Of course, I had yet to write a blog explaining why I ask so many questions (long story short - it’s because I don’t know the answers). And obviously (!) it was not going to be a good organizational fit for me … there was an expectation of group-think that made me uncomfortable. But I’ve been wondering ever since - how do people really find their way to careers in development - and what are we doing to invite and attract the next talent to our world?
I had this on my mind yesterday when I spoke with a young person who is starting to imagine his future career. He wants to have an impact on the world but doesn’t know what the work of repairing the world might look like for him. I tried to paint a broad picture of non-profit work - but it quickly got confusing to us both because there just seemed to be so many options.
So I broke it down as we looked for the areas that would allow him to 1) apply his skills, 2) those that would bring him joy, and 3) those that would put him on the lifepath that he currently desires. Did he envision his first job being programmatic - say, mentoring children in an after school program? Or did he think that his academic path was leading him to a more desk based role - was he interested in the data and the communications process? Maybe his outgoing, fearless attitude would be a good fit for frontline fundraising… ?
Of course, even as I was coaching him to identify a preference, I knew that I wanted my role (always) to include a little of each of those things. I want to be up close and personal with the impact of the organization’s work, I want to understand the how and why of the budget and the processes, and I want to tell the story - so that others can join me in changing the world.
In small nonprofits staff is often called upon to wear many hats. But it is still important for morale and efficiency that individuals work in the areas of their greatest affinity and skill. And it is important that they see these hats/roles as components of their job rather than as “favors” to leadership. There is opportunity in these jack or jill-of-all-trades positions but there is also a path to burnout that can be avoided by training and open communication. A job description that includes “and other tasks as required” does not count as communication!
This point was recently explained by Rob Katz, a friend who has had a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. An extrovert who loves building his sales pipeline and managing long term relationships with clients, he can point to the moment that he stopped resenting the 20% of his week that was required for paperwork. It was when he recharacterized it as part of his sales job instead of as a separate and unique role. Rather than feeling that the administrative work was a drain on the time available for his “real job,” he started to define his job as 80% outside sales and 20% administration. Suddenly the paperwork wasn’t a favor he was doing and it wasn’t an imposition. It was part of his job.
The Social Media Coordinator who is called upon to reach out to donor prospects in the days leading to a gala may feel that s/he is being asked to do something “above and beyond.” But the need provides an opportunity for training in a new area of non-profit work, a chance to better articulate the mission and the need, and a way to either reaffirm or redesign her current path.
Maybe the colleagues of the interviewer started in widely defined roles that included fundraising - and they gravitated towards development when offered opportunities across their organizational missions.
Maybe they learned to define themselves as developmental professionals because they saw that as the best way to find joy at work.
Or maybe they are still crafting a lifepath that meets all of their needs. We’ll only know if we continue to ask questions and include training and communication so that the path, and the definitions we create for ourselves, can continue to evolve.
Need help finding just the right additions to your team? Defining a job description that allows (strategic) exploration of your mission and the many tasks needed to reach your development and programmatic goals may be a starting point.
Or - when is the last time you questioned where you are on the path you want for yourself…? Are you working in the way that uses your very best skills? Are you finding joy in your work and its impact? Is it time to ask more questions? We’d love to brainstorm with you and see if there’s a way to reimagine your role to highlight the talents and dreams of everyone on the team.
Team Kat & Mouse can help. Our nonprofit consultancy has the experience and ability to successfully recruit your next team member and to help your current team work together with the goal of efficiency, strategic success, and retention.
Reach out today!
1.Don’t ever try to convince a passionate, idealistic 20 year old that the path they envision today might be different than the path they desire at 30 or 40 ...