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How about a Career in Fundraising for Students of Color?


Editor’s note: This blog post was co-authored by Nelson Bowman III.


From time to time, I like to write with others and this week my friend Nelson Bowman III, director of development at Prairie View A & M University, had some good ideas — so we decided to write about them together. 


Both of us spend a lot of time talking to young students of color about fundraising and philanthropy— we share an interest in diversifying the fundraising profession at colleges and universities and in the larger nonprofit world.  Although there is growing enthusiasm for the fundraising profession among young people, there are also many misconceptions about a career raising money for a nonprofit organization.


First, many students don’t see fundraising as a career choice because they have had little exposure to the profession, which is dominated by older White men and rarely talked about in most undergraduate programs. Second, many students see working at a nonprofit organization as charity.  They hear the term nonprofit and assume “no profit” and a small salary, not realizing that fundraisers make substantial incomes and have ample opportunities to move up quickly in the profession. Third, some students assume fundraising is only about money and, out of fear of asking for donations, avoid the profession all together. Due to lack of exposure, they are not familiar with the many aspects of the fundraising profession, including prospect research, alumni relations and stewardship.


Currently, there is a demand for fundraisers of color.  Minority-serving colleges and universities are in need of fundraisers as are historically White institutions that are trying to reach out to their alumni of color and have little insight into the best approaches to do so.  In addition, there are many nonprofit organizations that work with higher education institutions and other causes that are interested in diversifying their fundraising staffs.


So, what can be done to highlight the profession of fundraising, especially for students of color?  First, colleges and universities can institute student advancement councils in which students get experience raising money from their peers. The United Negro College Fund has been doing this for decades with its National Pre-Alumni Council, instilling the idea of giving back and raising money in its student volunteers while also introducing the fundraising profession to these young students of color. Second, institutions of higher learning could craft humanities and business-based programs in philanthropy and fundraising at the undergraduate level. There are some academic programs of this kind but they are rarely marketed to students of color. Third, career services offices at colleges and universities could team up with their advancement professionals, leaders of nonprofits and local chapters of the Association of Fundraising Professionals to showcase careers in fundraising. 


The U.S. Census predicts by the year 2050 there will no longer be a White majority. At this time and decades before, it will become even more important for colleges and universities as well as other nonprofit organizations to recruit fundraisers of color who can relate to their diverse student population.  That said, these new fundraisers should not be entirely responsible for working with populations of color but they should work with majority fundraisers in an effort to cultivate donors and alumni of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

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