Millennial fundraiser thrives in the Buckeye State

Bethany Nussbaum is the advancement director at Central Christian School in Kidron, OH. As Bethany is a Millennial thriving in the field of development, AAI asked about the route she took to find her role–and what excites her about the profession.

AAI: Tell us about your development experience thus far.

Bethany: I’m starting my eighth year in fundraising. After serving five years at Mennonite Mission Network (Elkhart, IN) as a development associate, I am now beginning my third year at Central Christian School as advancement director.

My focus is on fundraising and marketing. Our advancement team consists of a superintendent, business manager, enrollment director, and advancement assistant.

AAI: What attracted you to the development profession (as a young person)?

Bethany: After graduating from Goshen (IN) College in public relations, I knew that I wanted to work with people to promote a cause I believed in. At first I was uncertain about the profession of fundraising, but I felt a nudge to take the risk. It’s been an amazing journey that has blessed me beyond belief.

AAI: What do you enjoy about your development work?

Bethany: This profession has deepened relationships with my community in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I’ve had the chance to become friends with some of the most giving and talented people in the church who are committed to doing their part to raise new leaders.

AAI: Why do you think it’s rare for young adults to consider development work as a career?

Bethany: I really knew nothing about it myself when I was in college. But now I want to spread the word that it’s a dynamic profession—communications, marketing, public relations, fundraising—everything wrapped into one! Plus, there’s a great need for young people in this field. We should encourage young adults to consider development work at an earlier age, in order to keep the pipeline flowing with qualified, committed professionals.

AAI: What would you tell a young adult considering getting into the profession?

Bethany: It’s one of the most inspiring and challenging vocations you can find—and there’s such an opportunity for young people to step up and lead in this field. Working in development offers experiences in many activities, including business, marketing and ministry.

AAI: What attributes do you think an effective development officer should possess?

Bethany: Basic people skills. A love for the mission of the organization. The ability to connect an individual’s passions to an organization’s needs. Unapologetic boldness. Thick skin.

AAI: Thick skin?

Bethany: Yes, it takes persistence to get people to say “yes” in fundraising.

AAI: What challenges do you encounter in your work?

Bethany: The economy has been a challenge, but some results have been encouraging as well. When people have less to give, but still give at the same level—that’s inspiring. One of the greatest challenges has been juggling various hats in a small shop, where fundraising, marketing and alumni relations all fall under one office.

AAI: What are some of the major misconceptions about fundraisers?

Bethany: We can be seen as beggars—asking and scrounging for money. People don’t always see that we simply create opportunities for them to support great causes.

AAI: Why is it important for Millennials and Generation Xers to step up their giving habits over the next several decades?

Bethany: The reality is that most church agencies and organizations are facing a lopsided giving demographic in relation to age. Unless we simultaneously steward relationships with our current supporters and intentionally cultivate new relationships with younger generations, a good number of the organizations we love will not be sustainable.

It’s also important for Millennials to identify their passions and philanthropic interests early on. I see a lot of that happening now, which is encouraging. Additionally, educating our children about giving is the key to this discussion, and sometimes it’s overlooked. What are our families, churches and schools teaching our youth about stewardship and generosity? Are we teaching them about the joy and responsibility that givers experience?

AAI: How may nonprofits better connect with donors between the ages of 20 and 40?

Bethany: Excellent question. I’m 31 and still ask myself this question, as I have much room for improvement in this area at Central. As young adults, our preferences can change rapidly. It’s almost as if we play this “catch me if you can” game with organizations.

People appreciate being asked for their advice and opinions, and young adults are no different—you simply have to meet them where they’re at. Just become their friend. Once trust is established, you may find that financial support isn’t far behind.

AAI: Do you see fundraising as a long-term career?

Bethany: I feel fulfilled in my current position. I think it’s vital to have a board and staff that support your work and understand the fundraising cycle. Without colleagues providing encouragement and investing in one’s professional development, fundraising can end up a lonely field.