In the last several years, I have seen a disturbing trend.
It’s requiring degrees in a discipline that seems to require experience more than a degree to do well.
For instance. Outreach.
I have a friend who has 20+ years experience in outreach, but no college degree. She has been given the run-around by many different employers, who all can’t get around her lack of degree. She has won multiple awards at her job for outreach, and is constantly sought as a subject matter expert. But the lack of degree is dragging her down.
In the fundraising world, I was not given a second look because I didn’t have fundraising experience. So I went and got some as a consultant before I was hired as a fundraiser, and that served me well.
In the last several years I’ve had lots of people asking me if they need a fundraising degree or not.
To this I respond, “No, you don’t.”
In my experience, a year of hands-on fundraising work will always be better than education.
It simply helps you do your job better. There is no better way to learn than to actually do the job. I always see fundraising jobs that require a great deal of experience. They may want a degree, but if you don’t have the right experience they will not hire you. As they say, beware education, that’s all preparation. That’s why I create courses only for people who are working in the field.
My templates, checklists, books and toolkits allow people to take immediate action in the course of their jobs. I don’t think my courses would be NEARLY as useful for someone who is just trying to get a grounding in a theory or to read pure research in the field. You should certainly get that education if you want it. But if you think theory will be useful in a hands-on fundraising role, I doubt it very much.
This article disagrees, and believes the professionalization of fundraising requires a degree.
My friend Vanessa Chase of the Storytelling Nonprofit responds, and says, “Asking for a fundraising degree is problematic.”
WHY is asking for a degree problematic my friends?
Because you are separating people by class, and often by other markers of privilege. Degrees have always been markers of class. But now they are also markers for people who have fewer or no children, who have the financial means to further their education, and the leisure time in which to do so.
Some of my friends are single mothers, and did not have time to get a degree while working a full time job and raising their children. Others are people with disabilities who have had little ability to get the income to continue their educations. Still others are people who simply worked in the field, getting results, and did not have time to get a degree. Now they are in their 50s, wondering, how can I get a job when no one will give me a second look, despite my experience, because I don’t have a degree?
Single moms, people from less financial means, people who had to work instead of getting a degree, and people with disabilities ALL deserve our respect and the wages that go with director level roles. Denying them the right to even interview with you because they don’t have some unrelated degree from 20 years ago is elitist, classist, and a symptom of white supremacy, which worships the written word.
Does a degree actually tell you who will be better at a job?
Well, riddle me this batman.
In the last 10 years we have seen a proliferation of degrees that are at the most charitable interpretation, a way to show that you are dedicated to lifelong learning, and at worst, a way for colleges to become middlemen, to take a stance that you have to jump this hurdle to get a decent paying job in the field you already have 10-20 years of experience in. Colleges could have made our soft science degrees more scientific. We could have detailed studies on which appeal letter works, how grantsmanship is changing, even studies of social entrepreneurship. We could require each degree program to give several 3 month internships in different aspects of fundraising or nonprofit leadership. Instead we are churning out people who have a theoretical understanding of nonprofits, without the real world experience to help them be truly successful.
As my friend Aaron says, if a degree is a phrase, it’s probably bullshit. Degrees in leadership, nonprofit organizations, public relations or, for example, “Master in Strategic and Creative Planification for Brand Communication” (this is a real degree) fall under this category. He writes, “An academic discipline, one dedicated to a life-long journey of learning, is usually one word or is dedicated to one focus of a larger sphere of science. When these degrees are too specific, require too many words to explain effectively, it’s almost like the degree/program/college/entire institution of academia is trying to explain why it should be the middleman between you and a good career in the first place.”
Does an MBA help you do a better job in fundraising?
Why do I say an MBA doesn’t make you a better fundraiser, or even a better leader? Well, I had two CEOs with MBAs. Both of them lacked nonprofit experience. Both came from the board. AND what happened? Both were fired for pretty egregious behavior. Both did not really know how to fundraise, or want to learn. Perhaps they never sought out the education they needed. Perhaps they simply didn’t care. It’s hard to say.
There has been a proliferation of bullshit jobs– for example administrative bloat in colleges without end. What is a bullshit job? Legions of people stuck in dull, dependent repetitive work- that doesn’t really need to be done. And someone has to pay for all that. Enter bullshit degrees to pay for the bullshit jobs.
Please believe me, I am not anti-education. Hard science degrees are absolutely necessary. I want my bridges to stay up. I want my electricity to run without problems. If you make a mistake in fundraising, it’s part of the learning process, and nobody dies.
Let me reiterate. I love learning!
What I DON’T love is a $100,000 price tag attached to a degree that you “have to have” just to get a job that pays a living wage.
This does not increase equity. Do you want to live in a just world? An equitable world? You can be part of this change, by considering people without college degrees.
A degree in such a soft science just doesn’t help you do your job better. Experience does. We need to do away with the degree requirement for most fundraising jobs, and allow people who have successful fundraising experience to do their jobs, and do them well.
I have a degree in poetry, and that has served me well in fundraising. I know people with degrees in history, dance, and philosophy that have ALSO served them well in fundraising. Fundraising is a field that allows you room to be creative. A degree in marketing would work well. Or a degree in education. Or simply a few years of experience doing the work.
What I do know is that I am now seeing more and more jobs requiring a degree simply because they can. Simply because people are desperate for jobs. It’s simply one more hurdle for people to jump over, to take themselves out of poverty and into a better paying job. This is problematic. And it needs to change.
Next time you’re looking for a nonprofit worker, unless they’re doing a job that really MUST have a degree, like social work, or accounting, consider just asking for a few years experience. This can make a more equitable world for us all. And isn’t that the world we want?