Ebenezer After Christmas? Profit to Non-Profit: Making the Leap

Jennifer Sydenham

By Jennifer Sydenham

A few years ago, I made the transition from being Ebenezer Scrooge as a Corporate Lender at one of our big five banks and joined the forces of good as a fundraiser with The Salvation Army.  In some ways its been a big transition, but in a lot of ways I am using the same skills that are needed in the for-profit world.  Personally, I have found it to be very rewarding to work for a non-profit and I believe that there are many business skills that can be of benefit to a variety of charitable endeavours.

When I say that I am in fundraising, most people seem to react by saying ‘eww I could never ask someone for money’.  Which is interesting because I don’t see that as what I do.  I am not a beggar!  In fact I find being a fundraiser to be quite similar in many ways to banking as most jobs involve sales to some extent.  I was certainly required to try and increase the number of loans we had, which meant going out and asking people for their business.  We would always have some kind of proposal to put in front of them to show what we could offer.  The kind of fundraising I am doing now, which is major gifts, is quite similar.  I don’t just walk up to people and ask them for money – I have a proposal for them, which tells them what we can do with their help.  If they finally decide not to proceed with a gift I don’t take it personally – the worst case scenario is that they have information about The Salvation Army that may resonate with them in future.

I have not found the actual fundraising part difficult.  I have found the relative lack of resources to be more of a challenge – I no longer have an assistant for example! I have to be careful to manage my own time so that I don’t take on more than I can handle.  The major transition for me, however, was going from an environment where I was constantly answering the phone and responding to emails to an environment that requires a lot of proactivity.  Donors generally don’t send you an email and say that they have an urgent need to give you some money.  Therefore, you have to stay in touch with people and make arrangements to see them and that requires a lot of self-motivation.  You have to pick up the phone and reach out or nothing is going to happen and that does take discipline and energy.

That being said – The Salvation Army recently opened a new location in Fort St. John, and I helped with the fundraising.  When we opened the facility I really did feel that I had helped to do something that would be of real benefit to the community and it was extremely gratifying.

When I made the transition to the non-profit sector I was fortunate because I had some connections with The Salvation Army who gave me a recommendation, but if you are considering a move I would make the following suggestions:

  • First of all – recognize your strengths.  You may not have a background specifically in fundraising, but you may have sales experience for example.  So look at the job qualifications and relate them to what you are doing now.
  • Use your contacts.  Many business people volunteer with charities and may be board members or key supporters.  Ask them for information or an introduction.  Or you can start by doing some volunteer work yourself.
  • Do something that you feel strongly about.  As I mentioned above, fundraising takes energy, and charities generally don’t have a lot of resources to provide support either in terms of staff or technology.  This means that there may be many areas in which you can demonstrate a better way of doing something, but it can also be frustrating, so it is easier to deal with any bumps along the way if you feel that the end goal is really important.

I really like what I’m doing and feel that I am able to make a real difference to the organization and also to the community.  I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a huge variety of different tasks in different places and have met some wonderful people – donors, staff and clients.  So like many jobs it can have its ups and downs, but in general its been a lot of fun and very rewarding.  Oh and by the way – if you are passing by The Salvation Army – we DO accept donations!

Jennifer Sydenham graduated from Queens University with a BA Hons in Art History and holds a MBA from UBC. After 20+ years in corporate and commercial lending with a major bank Jennifer decided to make a transition into the non-profit sector and has been a successful major gifts fundraiser with The Salvation Army for over five years.

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