March 31, 2015

Should Aspiring Fundraisers Go to Graduate School?

Do graduate degrees help aspiring fundraisers land jobs at nonprofits? Eli N. Goldman, an AmeriCorps alumnus who wants to land a position helping nonprofits raise money, asked the question in our LinkedIn group and received a wealth of advice.

He’s currently enrolled in a part-time, online graduate-school program and is considering switching to a more traditional, in-person program that provides networking opportunities, but he isn’t sure what path to pursue. He’s heard from people working in the field that graduate degrees are nice to have but not necessary.

The answer depends, people in the field said, on his career goals and how financially burdensome the programs are. They agreed that the type of program can make a difference but not on which is best. Possibilities include a master’s in business administration, fundraising, or subjects like public health or social work.

Many group members agreed that on-the-job experience is the most important factor during the fundraiser hiring process.

"Development is one of those areas you need to learn by doing," wrote Robin Puchala, co-chair at Greater New Britain Collaborative.

Others pointed him toward MBA programs, which Mr. Goldman said seemed logical. "It’s essentially a sales job, but sales for good," he said in an interview.

But the high cost of some MBA programs is off-putting, he said. New York University’s program, for example, which Mr. Goldman researched, costs more than $100,000.

One commenter pointed out that a generic MBA degree may not be as relevant as a degree that aligns closely to an organization’s mission, such as a degree in public health or a clinical master’s in social work.

Still others encouraged him to continue his education through less-expensive means, such as association membership, workshops, and independent research.

Mr. Goldman also wondered about the potential benefit of another aspect of attending school: avoiding a time gap on his resume while he looks for work.

"I want to make sure it looks like I’m working toward my goals and building the skill set, too," he said.

What do you think? Get in on the conversation by visiting The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s LinkedIn discussion thread or in the comments below.

Send an e-mail to Rebecca Koenig.