Are graduates of fundraising diploma programs secretly feeling superior?

Posted by on December 3, 2010 in Uncategorized | 11 comments

I love my AFP Toronto Chapter. Congratulations to all of the committee who delivered one of the most successful Congresses ever – over 1,000 delegates-WOW! Thank you for your hard work.

Catching up with friends and colleagues is my favourite part of the conference experience. Since I started using twitter to turn `connections`into real relationships these face to face interactions are even more special. However, one conversation I had this week was a little bit uncomfortable. It really stuck with me so I think it is worthy of further exploration.

Every time I see this person she seems to have a new job and we were talking about her most recent transition. During which she referred to her former colleagues as `uneducated fundraisers`. Of course I inquired for understanding – it sounded like she felt superior to fundraisers who hadn`t attended a formal college fundraising education program. Embarrassment set in for her when I clarified that I was in fact one of the `uneducated fundraisers` she was referring too. (All these years she assumed I was a graduate of the same program since we met in that context.) After that the conversation turned awkward. Thank goodness the session started.

I won`t use this blog to talk about the difference I`ve noticed between us `accidental fundraisers` and graduates of formal fundraising programs. That conversation really doesn`t serve much purpose. However, I would like reassurance that those who graduate formal fundraising programs don`t see themselves as superior to those of us who learned through our sweat and mistakes on the job.

Frankly after raising a lot of money, recently being recertified as a CFRE and having attended countless educational events and congresses – I consider myself pretty educated too.

A diploma from an educational institution is not the mark of a good fundraiser. A good fundraiser to me is someone who:

1. Can get and keep a job.
2. Can deliver the budget they are responsible for.
3. Teaches others along the way.

What do you think – are graduates of fundraising diploma programs secretly feeling superior to all of us?

Thank you for spending time here.

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  1. As someone currently enrolled in Humber College's Fundraising and Volunteer Management program I am saddened to hear that people feel that way. Almost everyone I met at Congress is an 'accidental' fundraiser, and I envy all the other experiences that they bring to their organization.

    I do believe that the program is giving us an amazing start to our careers and is the best choice right now, for me. I hope to, and believe I will, soon find myself among those who may have had a different path but are just as committed to their organization, their profession and lifelong learning.

    -Heather Jewell

  2. As a classmate of Heathers, I completely agree. I feel like I am struggling to learn as much as humanly possible from everyone with real experience, and I hope to continue to do so for the rest of my life. I only hope that this program can get my foot in some really great doors. I can see how business, communications, PR, etc would also give people a really great educational base for this field and I wish I had it all but we all take our own path and nothing beats experience. Leave your egos at the door! When people talk down to you, it usually just means they're insecure.

  3. As one of those "un-educated" fundraisers, CFRE and someone who has also learned through trial and error (and continues to learn), I have also come across some individuals who protrait an air of superiority because of their post-grad education. I do feel that these individuals are in the minority though. I had the pleasure of meeting many of this year's graduating class at Congress and while these "kids" have the academic leg up that I didn't have, they are ready to continue to learn from us and make their way through this chosen field. I'm also certain that I can learn from them as well.

  4. Dan Pallotta reminded us this week that we need to question our practices to be sure that they are, in fact, the best way of operating. Yes, many of us grew up learning on the job. But so did lawyers and doctors in the early years of their professions. Professional education is, in most realms, a prime indicator of a profession’s maturity. Do law schools, medical schools, and now Humber turn out poor grads? Of course, but it's hardly a reason to abandon the model of formal professional education. I would always favour seeing a doctor that graduated from medical school and then continued to learn on the job over those that simply started practicing without first achieving a medical degree. Advances in many areas of medicine – particularly women’s healthcare and care of minorities – came about because recent grads questioned the practices of those with more years in the profession. Good for them! So similarly, I think we should encourage people to seek professional education in our field now that it is available and we should tolerate the occasional misstep by young professionals because many of them can, in fact, teach us things we should know.

  5. Many of the students that I met while studying at Humber College were fundraisers who had spent many years in the profession. Most were seeking professional qualifications to add to their practical experience in order to advance their careers. Some like myself were in a bit of a chicken and egg situation and found they were unable to break into the sector without more senior work experience in the field and unable to gain the right sort of work experience without professional qualifications.

    Attending Humber gave me the opportunity to gain work experience through course work that was done for real organisations and a placement with a respected charity. It also brought me in contact with fundraisers with decades of experience who were willing to help me learn from their experiences (good and bad).

    There will always be individuals in every profession that consider that their list of accreditations makes them more qualified than someone with on the job experience. Likewise there will always be those that feel their years of job experience are worth more than a degree or diploma. A strong fundraising team is made up of individuals who can offer both. One is never a substitute for the other.

  6. Being a Humber student myself I would say that yes, it has definitely helped me to gain the fundamental knowledge of the sector. However, when you start working as an fundraiser you have to continuously update your knowledge, or you can say you have be prepared for a non-stop learning process. Therefore my quick advice to Humber students, your course is just a trailer, you still have to see the whole movie and if you want to be a director of your movie than keep your self down to earth and be prepared to be on top of everything and learn everything that comes your way……

  7. Back in the "dark ages" when I was in college (the 70's) to my knowledge there was no degree program in nonprofit or fundraising – at least at my college. I don't even consider myself an "accidental fundraiser". When I entered the nonprofit world, it was not with the intention of becoming a fundraiser, but once I was here, I took it upon myself to continually educate myself to be of the best benefit to my organization. Let's face it – we all know the best teacher is experience. Plenty of plans look great on paper, but they just don't work in reality.

  8. Hi my name is Laurie and I'm awesome… tell all your friends! 🙂

  9. Ok – now on a more serious note…

    I could’ve written your post about people who work in the NFP sector and feel “superior” to those who work in for profit businesses… and people who work in for profit who look down upon NFP sector workers.

    The world is full of stereotypes and discrimination… the NFP sector is no exception.

    People have every reason to be proud of their investment in their education. People also have every reason to be proud of their work experience. There are shared and unique lessons to be learned on both paths. Neither makes someone better or worse than anyone else. That said – there are a lot of people with great educational “pedigrees”, and people who can tout years of experience, who are utter morons. (there I said it!)

    In the end, a fundraiser’s job is to get results (for as many or as few organizations as they work for). Everything else is talk and ego.

    Laurie Pringle ~ and I’m still awesome 🙂

  10. Hi folks,

    Please forgive the delayed response to your comments. I've really enjoyed watching, reading and thinking about them.

    Of course I knew when I posted this that it had the potential to spark some lively debate.

    Denny, your point about professional education being a sign of maturity for a profession is a very good one and something I had never thought of before. Thank you.

    It is however, important for me to be absolutely clear that this is not a debate about whether full time fundraising education as part of a diploma or even MBA program is worthwhile. Resumes with a diploma or formal education always make the first round of cuts when I hire. Always.

    Nor was this post aimed at the misstep of a fundraising student. Rather someone who I have known for many years and I consider a peer – which is why I was so surprised at the superior attitude toward her 'education.'

    The question was: Do fundraisers who graduate from post secondary programs feel superior to those of us who learned through other channels and on the job?

    I love the comments from the students/grads of Humber as much as the comments from folks like me who were trained through other programs like CFRE and AFP. Yes this sector is constantly evolving and changing and we all must continue to be students of this profession and of people in general in order to be successful.

    I think it is perhaps Laurie's comment that brings this fabulous conversation together for me though. Laurie you are absolutely right. This is an issue that goes beyond our sector. I have also met highly 'educated' people who made absolutely no sense whatsoever and were extremely pretentious about their education. On the other hand I could name several people who were highly educated, extremely generous is spirit and taught me a lot.

    So folks, thank you again for posting your thoughts here. Let’s keep challenging each other. Learning from each other in order to advance the profession. I believe without a doubt that those of us willing to do that will be wildly successful regardless of which certificate, diploma, degree or battle scars we have.

  11. Hi all,

    Just to throw in my two cents…. as someone who recently joined the not for profit sector, without formal education in it OR experience (gasp!), I have found that people with years of experience in fundraising mostly looked down on me, although a couple, thank goodness, encouraged me wholeheartedly.

    The ONLY way to gain respect, as others have said, is to prove your worth and be a kick-ass fundraiser.

    It doesn't matter if you have a certificate or not, and it doesn't matter if you have been doing it for twenty years or not. You can be brilliant, and you can suck.

    Let's not judge people. Through sites like we can all teach each other to be better fundraisers, thus increasing the good that can be done in the world – surely THAT is what matters?

    – Happy New Year everyone.

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