Name: Emily Davis
Title: Director of Development, Volunteer Fairfax
What is it that you do on a day to day basis?
I am the one-person development office of a medium-size, local nonprofit. There is no such thing as a normal or typical day here. I spend most of my time meeting people, developing partnerships, and sharing information about who we are and what we do. This takes a lot of forms; sometimes I’m in the office writing grants or working through our social media platforms, sometimes I’m out in the community meeting new contacts and sharing information in a large group setting, and sometimes I’m meeting one-on-one to give a more in-depth overview of what we do and how you can get involved.
What are your favorite parts of your job?
My personality leans toward introverted. I really crave time alone to recharge, but I also love being out of the office and talking to people. Sure, I’d like everyone I meet to support my organization, but that’s not the only positive outcome. Going out and meeting people in the community, learning what they do to support the area and why, and looking for ways to work together is so interesting. I also love the challenge. Sometimes it’s more of a challenge than I would like, but it’s never dull and I’m never without something to do, someone to call, or something to write.
How did you get into this field? Was it something you always wanted to do or something you discovered bit by bit?
When I was little, I wanted to be a police officer. This was a very common career in my family and I knew I wanted to do something that would help the community.
I ended up going to school for Forensic Science and, while I loved the courses, I hated the actual work and soon realized it was causing me to take a very negative view on life and on society in general. While at school I was extremely active with the Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity. So when I graduated I thought I would move to DC and see who would hire me first; Forensics (my degree) or Nonprofit (no degree; but 4 years of experience). No surprise, the experience won and I took a position with National Wildlife Federation. My first few positions in the nonprofit sector all had a scientific element, but pretty quickly I moved into events management. I liked events, but after a while found it a little boring as it was the same events, year after year. I started getting more interested in corporate volunteerism and strategic engagement. When a development position opened up at my current organization – a local volunteer center –I thought why not give it a try? So, no, I never thought I would be in fundraising but it’s proved a surprisingly good fit for me.
What aspect of your work most surprised you? (Either in a good way or a bad way.)
I think the biggest surprise I found in development specifically is how like volunteer management the work really is. Working with volunteers was my first passion in the nonprofit sector. I was a de facto Volunteer Manager in college and truly loved it. Most of all, I enjoyed working with younger students, helping them fall in love with the community. Development is oddly similar; you get to work with people throughout the community – individuals and businesses – and help them connect to the cause. It’s amazing how similar some of the skill sets are.
Does your education (high school, college or graduate degree) matter in terms of the work that you do today?
There is no direct connection between my degree and what I do now. However, my degree program is the only reason I enrolled at West Virginia University, which is where I connected with Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and really feel in love with the nonprofit sector. And many of the skills learned through that experience, as well as the analytical and scientific thinking gained through my degree, are helpful today. I have worked to gain the direct skills for development through continuing education, mentors, and a little trial and error. I will say that when you are young and seeking that first job, it really helps to have an unusual degree program listed on your resume. At least, I think that got me one or two interviews.
What environmental factors have the greatest impact on your job satisfaction? (For example: co-workers, compensation, company culture, flexibility, work/life balance, etc.)
I do think that if you love your job and hate your co-workers, you will be miserable. For me, having a great team and really liking my colleagues is a wonderful bonus, especially when we are all working especially hard. Equally important to me is truly believing in the mission of the organization. I know what we do and why we do it and that is one of the most important motivations there is. Next to that, it’s really important for me to have a say in what the organization is doing, to be able to help steer it. I won’t say that salary is unimportant, but knowing what I do matters, working with a great team, and seeing the end result are all far more essential.
Any career advice you’d like to pass along to others? (My audience is comprised mainly of adults in their twenties and thirties.)
For me, the most important job decision I ever made was to take a major pay cut in order to move from a retail position into nonprofit. The retail position was well supported, with a good team and nice benefits, but it was not what I wanted. Moving into nonprofit not only meant a lot less money, but it was a limited time internship and there was no guarantee I would be picked up full time. Looking back, I am so glad I made the move and took that chance. That would be my advice; don’t stay somewhere because it’s comfortable. Don’t stay in a field because that’s what you went to college for, or that’s what you’ve always done. If you don’t feel like it’s the right fit for you, then there is a better position out there.