How to Boost Your Non-Profit Career in Five Easy Steps (part 1)

Career-boosting tips(image from the US Navy. ahem.)

Career-boosting tips
(image from the US Navy. ahem.)

This post is based on a super-fun presentation that I deliver to organizations here in Vancouver. But why not share the love? Part one will cover face-to-face career-building tips. I’ll publish part two later to cover online options. The steps are listed in ascending order of awesomeness and likelihood of you getting that big raise.

Step One – keep educating yourself

Whether you’re a fundraiser, office manager or executive director, you know how important it is to keep learning. There’s a real difference between those who only know their own organization’s best practices, and those who stay up-to-date with the evolving sector. You want to be the latter!

Try a BCIT course on major gifts or law & governance. Or attend the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) seminar on planned giving. Or sneak away to the next AFP international fundraising conference.

Remember, even if the session doesn’t blow your mind you will still walk away with new information and professional connections. Your colleagues will say (with fear and admiration) “how do you find the time?!” and your boss will notice the effort.

Step Two – get involved with professional groups

If you’re a fundraiser, the AFP is your friend in this category. Go to their networking minglers, volunteer on the professional development committee to help plan seminars, or get involved with the awesome mentorship program.

Better still, find your own group at There are local groups meeting near you that cover a million topics like Blackbaud Users, Young Non-profit Professionals, and NetTuesday (tech for good). Meetings are usually informal and free. Develop your interests through Meetup and become even smarter and more interesting than you already are!

Step Three – find your opposite number

This one really worked for me. When I was at the Canadian Cancer Society, I’d get a bunch of calls from people looking for the Breast Cancer Foundation. I finally called their office so that I could find a specific person to send the callers to. That’s how I met my opposite number, Leanne Denis. The best practices and information we shared helped our organizations and our careers, and over the years she has become a valuable friend and ally. Who’s your opposite?

Step Four – become a leadership volunteer

I’m not talking about licking envelopes at your local food bank, although that kind of volunteering is also important. I’m talking about a role on a non-profit board. This is one of the best ways to enhance your experience and build up your resume. Being on a board gives you increased experience in governance, management, financial responsibility and more. Think you’re too young? Boards are always looking for younger members! Think you’re too inexperienced? Boards will jump on you if you have even the slightest fundraising expertise. Find a position that floats your boat at

Step Five – become a presenter

See? I told you this would get more sophisticated as we moved through the list! If you have never presented before, why not start today? Offer to present at a staff meeting, to a local volunteer group, to your strata council. Once you’ve built up some confidence, move on to Vantage Point, your local Board of Trade, or a fundraising conference. They all need dozens of speakers and are always looking for new blood. You don’t have to be Richard Branson people!

Good luck and stay tuned for part two.

–          Siobhan : )


About Siobhan Aspinall

About Siobhan Aspinall: I am a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), passionate about the environment, social causes and surfing. I have been fundraising in Vancouver, Canada for over 20 years and love working with people who have a fear of fundraising. Call me for help developing a first-time fundraising plan, starting up a major gifts program, writing a case for support, or anything else that's keeping you awake at night! Please find me on linkedin and tell me what you'd like to see in future posts! : ) Photo Credit (sanddollar header): Minette Layne via Compfight cc
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