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Building a Career in the Nonprofit Sector (Or Why I Stayed in Nonprofit Work for 44 years), Part 4

Building a Career in the Nonprofit Sector (Or Why I Stayed in Nonprofit Work for 44 years), Part 4

March 7, 2023
Pamela Barden

As I wrap up this series, I hope some of you are thinking differently about making the nonprofit sector your career path of choice. If you need just a little more convincing, here’s what Alex Walton, a person in her mid-20s and the client support coordinator at Lighthouse Counsel, says: “Young adults are constantly asking, ‘What can I do to make a difference in this world?’ Through working in the nonprofit space, I feel fulfilled because my daily work is directly impacting others – whether that is by solving immediate needs or by investing in longer-term solutions.”

Before I share comments from others who, like me, have made working in or for the nonprofit sector a career of choice, I want to give you two more tips to help you look back on a long and fulfilling career in what can be a challenging field.

  1. Create a file of “I did good” emails, letters, etc. Some days, no one seems to appreciate you, “attaboys” seem few and far between in the often stretched-too-thin nonprofit world. When you are ready to give it all up, grab your file and start reading these positive messages from others. You will be encouraged as you remember that your work matters and you are appreciated. 
  2. Finish well. If you have been in the workplace for more than a few years, you have likely encountered the person who “checks out” before they leave. Now we have a term for it – silent quitting – but no matter what you call it, it’s a pain for those trying to work around this slug that is just occupying space.

When your departure is planned for whatever reason, prepare others to step into your role. Several years ago, I worked for a nonprofit that was moving 700 miles away. My team (including me) was not moving, so we chose to finish well. We documented every process we did and then tested the accuracy and clarity of the documentation by having a team member who didn’t do that job perform it, using only the documentation. I can honestly say I have never been prouder of a work team than I was as we handed over three large notebooks of precise documentation to help our successors succeed.

To close out this series of posts, I asked Lighthouse Counsel consultants what they would tell someone questioning why a career in the nonprofit space made sense. Here are some of their comments:

“Even though nonprofit work can be challenging and extremely demanding, especially fundraising, it is also so rewarding and inspirational. I highly recommend finding at least one mentor who you can talk to when you are having one of those difficult moments.”

– Senior Consultant Susan Hosbach

“Being surrounded by good people in the nonprofit sector, both staff and donors who are committed to making life better for others, has enriched my life.”

– Senior Consultant David Snow

“An ultimate life goal is to make a difference in the lives of others. A career in fundraising does just that! My 30-year career was indeed a joy and I highly recommend the position of fundraising to those with the skills of critical thinking, who love to interface with people, are creative and organized and have the patience to produce a positive outcome.”

– Senior Consultant Joan Adams Bahner

“The nonprofit sector is full of amazing people working to make the world a better place. I count myself lucky to spend time each day with people who choose to focus on generosity.”

– Director of Business Development Ryan Woroniecki

“I highly recommend a fundraising career for young professionals because it offers career advancement at a faster pace than the for-profit world. More importantly, every day provides an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.”

– Senior Consultant Karen Kemp

“My career in nonprofits and in fundraising allows me to be a part of the transformational work that nonprofits do. Fundraising as a profession has evolved and matured, and I heartily recommend it as a wonderful career with great opportunity for professional satisfaction and achievement – and the personal satisfaction of making a difference.”

– Lighthouse Counsel President Jeff Jowdy

“This profession has enriched my life in so many ways, and I would encourage young people to pursue a development career.  It is never boring and will bring you great satisfaction.”

– Senior Consultant Kathy Gaston

“Unlike the view of those who do not understand our profession, we are not beggars; we are life changers. It is through our work that lives are changed for generations. There is nothing more fulfilling or rewarding in a career than that.”

– Senior Consultant Karen Meshad Baldwin

I hope one day you will look back, as I am doing, and say, “I LOVED my career!” That’s the best feeling a retiree can have.

Read Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this four-part series here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


Pamela Barden

Pamela has amassed more than 40 years of non-profit experience. As president of PJ Barden Inc., she counsels non-profits, helping them develop their fundraising strategies and writing copy to achieve their goals. She previously taught fundraising courses in the Master of Public Administration program at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California, and the Fundraising Certification Program at UCLA Extension. Pamela is a former vice president at Russ Reid. Before that, she led fundraising efforts for non-profit organizations such as World Relief and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, getting hands-on experience in everything from direct mail to DRTV, from major gift solicitation to event management. Pamela is the recipient of a Silver ECHO Award from the Direct Marketing Association, winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and a Distinguished Instruction’s Award from UCLA Extension. She is also the coauthor of “The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management” (John Wiley & Sons), and author or hundreds of articles for fundraising publications. A Certified Fund Raising Executive, Pamela is a graduate of Wheaton College (B.A), Dominican University (M.B.A.), and California Southern University (Doctorate in Business Administration). Her hobbies include travel, hiking and reading. The most-frequently heard quote by and from Pamela is what she has told clients and students alike for many years because, as a fundraiser, she knows it’s true: "I am not the target audience.”