A Career Raising Cash for Animal Causes . . . Is It for You?
By Paula Fitzsimmons with Angela Grimes
All animal protection and care jobs are important in their own right. Animal caregivers, administrators, veterinary professionals, humane officers, sanctuary operators, and others working in this field all play a vital role. Yet their important work wouldn’t be possible without incoming cash. Animal food, rent, employee salaries, vet services, and administrative costs don’t come cheaply. Yep, it’s similar to running a business.
Enter fundraising and development, a category of professionals that includes grantwriters, membership coordinators, large donor managers, event planners, assistants, and others. (For an overview of the different positions that occur under the fundraising umbrella, read “Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees: Help Raise Funds for Animal Nonprofits.”)
Another job title that often appears on the radar is that of development director. Wanting to know more about what this position entails and what it takes to enter the field, I asked Angela Grimes for her input. Angela is development director for Born Free USA, a leading international nonprofit wildlife conservation and animal advocacy organization.
Angela has nearly 20 years of experience in nonprofit administration, fundraising, and executive level leadership. She served as chorus operations manager for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and prior to joining Born Free USA was the executive director for Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Kendalia, Texas. An active volunteer, she serves as president of the board of Chicago Chorale; and sits on the board of the Fraternity Housing Corporation of Kappa Alpha Theta. Angela lives in Chicago with her four rescue cats.
Born Free USA‘s mission is to end suffering of wild animals in captivity, conserve threatened and endangered species, and encourage compassionate conservation globally. They lead vital campaigns against animals used in entertainment, as exotic “pets,” trapping and fur, and the destructive international wildlife trade. They use litigation, legislation, and public education to accomplish their mission. This is the vision of the United Kingdom-based Born Free Foundation, established in 1984 by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the iconic film Born Free, along with their son Will Travers. To find out more about about this awesome nonprofit, visit their website at www.bornfreeusa.org; they’re also on Twitter, and Facebook.
Angela shared a wealth of information with me . . .and with the exception of minor edits on my part, the following is in her words.
AJD: What characteristics & skills do you seek when hiring assistants?
“This depends on the position. An entry level development assistant position requires attention to detail and database skills. Someone on the front lines answering donor calls and emails needs to be articulate and able to write clearly and properly. If the position requires event planning, I would look for experience in that – which wouldn’t have to be specifically experience in planning charity galas, but could be planning corporate retreats or sporting events.
Higher level positions in major gifts, grant writing, or planned giving would require relevant experience with proven success in those particular areas. I also look for personable team players. No task is too menial for anyone in the department to pitch in and help with when needed.
I appreciate candidates who show initiative; have the ability to solve problems; and who want to learn, grow, and push boundaries to better the organization. A personal commitment to animal welfare is a basic requirement – I want to hire people who want THIS job, with Born Free USA, not just any job.”
AJD: Can you describe your responsibilities?
“I oversee all of our fundraising initiatives. This includes direct mail, online activities, events, foundation research and grant writing, major donor communications, planned giving, and corporate relationships. As a team of three, my staff works closely with me on all of these areas to make sure we have the funds to continue Born Free’s vital work for animals.”
AJD: What are the toughest aspects of your position?
“There are tough parts to any job, no matter what the field or position. If we apply for a grant that would have made an enormous difference in our work, and we don’t make the cut, that’s a disappointment. If we host an event and the turnout is not as strong as expected, that’s also hard to accept.
You cannot always have big wins. You evaluate the situations, learn lessons, move on, and do better next time. This makes fundraising challenging and fulfilling. Some days are harder than others, but we keep pressing on because the animals need us to. I wouldn’t trade any of the work. I love it.”
AJD: What are your favorite aspects?
“Everything! Whether it’s stuffing envelopes or completing a $100,000 grant application, it’s all fulfilling because my work saves lives. I’m also fortunate to work with a supportive CEO (Adam Roberts) and a wonderful team of people throughout the global organization.”
AJD: How many hours do you typically put in each week?
“I typically work around 50 hours a week, but I don’t track hours. Some weeks may require less, some more. Grant deadlines have to be met; donors must be thanked promptly; and there is always more on the list, or could be added to the list. This is the kind of job you do until it’s done.”
AJD: Is there a specific college major you’d recommend?
“A number of college degrees could lead a person on a path to becoming a development director or nonprofit executive. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and French from Drake University, for instance.
A business degree is a good route; nonprofits are businesses just as for-profit companies are, but instead of making widgets the “product” is a benefit to the greater good. Fundraising requires excellent writing and communication skills, so marketing, public relations, or English would provide a foundation.
A person may also major in a content area of interest, such as zoology or biology if wishing to work in animal welfare. In terms of graduate level degrees, an MBA or MPA (Master of Public Administration) would be most helpful.”
• Association of Fundraising Professionals. Angela says this organization is a valuable resource for seasoned professionals, as well as those entering the field. The AFP site also has a general (not animal-specific) fundraising jobs board.
• The NonProfit Times is an industry publication with helpful articles, blog posts, and a general fundraising jobs board. It’s not a career-oriented journal, but it’s a good place to learn about industry trends.
• Looking for grantwriting and fundraising management classes? A great place to check is at your local community college or college extension office. Also, Grantspace (a service of the Foundation Center) offers a selection of free, intro-style courses.
If you’re passionate about animals, are willing to work long hours when needed, and have above average problem-solving and communication skills, fundraising may be a career to consider. It’s a field currently in demand, with positions available at rescues and sanctuaries, animal protection and conservation organizations.
The experience, temperament, and qualifications required will differ with each position – for instance, grantwriting requires a different set of skills than does event planning.
Fundraising and development can be stressful at times. Animals and people are depending on you to bring much-needed funds to the table (no pressures there). But being part of a team that helps fund life-saving work can also provide the ultimate in career satisfaction.
Is this a field you can see yourself working in?