Book #17: The Importance of Educating Fundraisers


“I always thought I would go back to school for my master’s.”

I spoke to Valerie Livesay, a professional fundraiser and class of 2006 graduate from the University of San Diego, Masters in Nonprofit Leadership and Management

Through the program, she received:

  • a comprehensive understanding of all facets of running a nonprofit organization
  • access to an extensive network of nonprofit professionals (fellow classmates, and past and future program alumni)
  • exposure to and a greater understanding of many different kinds and sizes of nonprofits and many different roles in these organizations (“because, I worked for a large, bureaucratic organization, I had to work with other organizations on most of my applied projects.  It was much more work for me, but such a blessing for the varied experience.”)
  • a few really wonderful friends
  • a portfolio of projects that would exhibit to any future employer that I was able to walk the talk

She also gained a professional promotion through a new position as USD’s Director of Annual Giving.  She credits this promotion to the knowledge she received in the masters program (as well as the program’s reputation in the community).

“I think working with so many different organizations on such a variety of projects definitely improved my confidence in all areas of my work in nonprofit.  I could speak (and think) from a broader, more knowledgeable place, and that was huge in my future professional development.”

Ultimately, the masters program inspired Ms. Livesay to continue her higher education and pursue her PhD in Leadership. “The program provided me with enough exposure to the theoretical aspects of leadership to make me want to return to school in pursuit of my doctorate, so I would have the opportunity to learn and experience more.”

I spoke to another student, Jason Jarvinen, class of 2012, who recently completed the fundraising course through USD’s nonprofit master’s program. Unlike Valerie, Jason’s fundraising experience was much more limited.

“I work in a direct service position at the International Rescue Committee in San Diego, a refugee resettlement agency.  Prior to the class, I had some experience with grant writing, grant reporting, and building relationships with private foundations and corporate grant officers.”

Jason hoped to gain additional fundraising skills with federal grant writing, private donor cultivation, direct mail campaigns, and fundraising events.

“I wanted to get a broader perspective and understanding of nonprofit resource development and fundraising.  I saw (this class) as essential to being able to develop more diversified funding streams for my organization and programs.”

Jason felt that learning about moves management (donor strategy and tracking) and relationship building was most valuable to him. Specifically, he learned how to estimate prospective donors’ capacity to give, likeliness to give, and the importance of segmenting donors. Most importantly, it made Jason realize that moves management is really just about good relationship building.

“At first (moves management) sounded like a cold marketing term to me.  But in fact, it’s really just about trying to precisely determine prospective donors’ interests so that you can approach them with a request that will be most meaningful and appropriate for them.”

For his final project, Jason worked with a fellow classmate to write a letter of intent and grant proposal for an organization to submit to a private foundation based in Los Angeles. This organization runs a mentorship program with recently released ex-offenders and had recently lost their principal funding due to state budget cuts. They worked closely with the organization to develop a strong needs statement to reflect the broader population of at-risk youth, not just juvenile ex-offenders.

Jason was able to help this organization apply for much-needed funding and expand his fundraising skills.  Ultimately, the class has helped Jason in his current position:

“In my day job, I have applied much of what I learned in the class about how to frame proposals in a compelling way and how to make an ask in a letter of intent or proposal. In terms of moves management and relationship building—in my day job this is still most applicable to building relationships with foundation grant officers as opposed to private donors.  But I can certainly say that I have been more mindful of thinking of my interactions with these funders in terms of longer-term relationships.”


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