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By Amy Eisenstein


Women make up about 70% of the nonprofit workforce. Yet when it comes to leadership positions, they still lag behind their male counterparts, especially at larger, well established, better funded nonprofit organizations.

4 Steps to Plan Your Career Strategically as a Woman Fundraiser

While you may not want to be in a leadership position at this moment in your career, there are things you can do today, and this year, to ensure you have more opportunities in the near or long-term.

Not only that, the more skills you have, the more likely it is that you will get a raise, a better job, or a promotion at your existing organization.

Step 1: Make a list of necessary skills.

Make a list of the skills you might need to get you where you want to go.

  1. Major gift fundraising

  2. Public speaking

  3. Management

  4. Budgeting

  5. Meeting facilitation

  6. Writing

  7. Capital campaigns


Step 2: Pick one or two skills to work on each year.

I once read that if you read 10 books on a given subject, you’ll have more expertise in that area than 99% of other people. Feel free to include podcasts, webinars, and classes (not only books) in that tally.

Once you’ve learned more than the basics, it’s time to start applying your knowledge. Look for real-life opportunities to practice your new skills.

Opportunity #1: Speak in Public

Review the list of sessions offered at your local AFP chapter for the last twelve months. Come up with a topic of your own and start submitting it to local chapters, as well as to the international AFP conference.

Once you’ve been accepted to give a talk, I suggest you:

  1. Read one book on public speaking.

  2. Listen to three podcast episodes.

  3. Follow three TikTok influencers on public speaking.

  4. Then, develop and outline for your speech.


Practice your talk twice a week for the two months leading up to the session. Rinse and repeat.

Opportunity #2: Facilitate Meetings

Ask your boss if you can lead a section of an upcoming board meeting. Join your local AFP chapter and inquire about volunteer leadership positions they need filled. Join the board of your favorite nonprofit (not one where you work).

In short, participate in meetings, volunteer to help current leaders, and make it known that you would like leadership positions in the future.

Opportunity #3: Get Published

Write an article and offer it to your organization and/or on other blogs or newsletters. The world is eager for free content, and many bloggers are happy for guest posts. Offer a submission to the AFP magazine or other industry publications. Start writing one page per day or one article per week — you’ll be a better writer in no time!

Opportunity #4: Lead a Capital Campaign

There’s no better fundraising / leadership skill then having successfully completed a capital campaign. It will force you to learn how to raise major gifts in a big and important way. In addition, it will probably give you the experience and opportunity to work with an experienced campaign consultant.

Learn more about capital campaigns at the Capital Campaign Pro website — we have loads of free campaign resources. And check out my weekly podcast, All About Capital Campaigns — you’ll learn a ton.

Step 3: Stick with your current job and improve yourself.

You can improve your skills at your existing job. Plan to stay at your existing or next job for at least three years (five is even better). No one likes a job hopper.

Think of one thing that would catapult your career to the next level and commit to working toward it for the next year. Great careers don’t happen by accident. Smart women plot their course strategically and methodically.

Step 4: Select your next job carefully.

When I was new to fundraising, my first job was in a one-person development shop. It was just me. My boss sent me to AFP, because she knew I was in a silo and had no one to learn from at the organization. No mentors. No other fundraisers to set a good example. I stayed for three years and learned how to be a fundraising generalist.

While the one-person shop was an invaluable experience, I knew I wanted to be at an organization surrounded by more experienced fundraisers and specialize in major gifts. So, I applied for a job at the biggest university in my area. The good news about big development shops is that they are always hiring!

Mentors Matter…

At Rutgers University, I was surrounded by fundraising peers and mentors. I learned how to raise major gifts from my mentor (just as you can learn directly from me) and even got to experience my first capital campaign.

Don’t simply apply to any fundraising job. Pick the place you’d like to be. Do you want to be in healthcare? Education? Do environmental work? Apply to the biggest organizations in your state in those fields to get better fundraising experience.

Final Tip: Assume You Are Qualified

Finally, assume you are qualified. (Men assume they are.)

  1. Assume you will get the job.

  2. Assume you will get the speaking engagement.

  3. Assume you will get the raise.

  4. Assume you will get published.


But only if you ask and put yourself out there. You deserve it. Now go get it!

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