I have to admit it has been a while since I was a shiny young professional in the nonprofit sector. It may have been pre-iPhones, but I was eager and thrilled to learn as a newbie. I jumped right into a wonderful organization that was an educational star in the area. But, the development team was under-resourced and overworked. There is no doubt that the nonprofit sector is a unique and amazing environment to grow your career – but no one ever said it would be an easy path. What we do is hard. Carrying out our missions, raising funds, managing volunteers – often with too few resources and not enough staff – is difficult. On top of that, we are expected to do more every year. Raise more, do more, serve more! It can be overwhelming. What I have learned is that professional development, including membership in a professional organization, is critical to your success and well-being.
Why, you ask?
Making time for your own growth and creating a network of colleagues with whom you can share, learn from, and lean on is essential. In the nonprofit field, we are givers by nature, and we have to find a way to fill our banks back up at the end of the day. Trust me, you need a network. Sure, you can do this on your own, but the benefits of professional association membership far outweigh the cost of the membership fees.
Three tips for choosing a professional association:
Do your research. Ask around, and you will soon hear about the organizations/associations that cover your sector. Decide whether to specialize or generalize – or both. Sometimes it may be beneficial to be a member of multiple organizations.
Consider what membership benefits each organization offers and if there are credential opportunities or aspects that help you rise above the rest. Find the right fit for you and determine how the organization can help you grow as a professional.
Get involved. Need I say more? Yes, it really does make a difference. It has for me, and it will for you as well if you choose to serve.
I truly can divide my professional experience in the nonprofit world by my involvement with my professional association of choice, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). Pre-AFP, I dabbled a bit with conferences or opportunities to network, but it was not a priority. In 2010, I moved to Houston, and I found AFP. With encouragement from new friends, I dove in. I joined committees and made an effort to go to programs and conferences. That effort has paid dividends. This may sound like an exaggeration, but truly every professional connection and position – and now clients – has come to me via a connection through AFP. Every single one.
Of course, now as President of AFP Greater Houston I am certainly biased toward AFP, but I encourage you to take your membership in whatever organization you choose beyond just a line on your resume. Learn, share, and lean on those who understand. Find an organization that can provide that support.
About the Author
Sara Wise is the president of Sara Wise Strategies, a nonprofit fundraising consulting firm based in Houston. She has dedicated her career to the nonprofit sector, with 18 years serving organizations in education, social services, cultural, and fine arts. Her professional experience includes fundraising at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Virginia, the Episcopal School of Dallas, American Red Cross Greater Houston Chapter, and the Houston Zoo. Since launching her consulting business in 2016, Sara has worked with over a dozen nonprofits to execute development strategy, events, capital campaigns, and more.
Beyond her work, Ms. Wise serves the community as 2019 President of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Houston Chapter, the 2018 and 2019 Chair of the Salvation Army’s Youth of the Year Scholarship event, a member of the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary Executive Committee, and a member of the Strawbridge United Methodist Church Council and Campaign Leadership Committee.