How Did I Get Here?

Last month my colleague, Laura Worcester, posted about her career path and posed the question of whether or not a degree is needed (or should be needed) for our profession.  Her comments generated some interesting conversation on this blog!  I wanted to add another perspective – and a timely one given a completely unrelated chain of events in my life.

I got an email a few weeks ago from a young woman just starting out it her career.  She found me through a series of happenstances that included doing some internet research which led her to this website (  From there, she found my bio and realized that we had not only attended the same undergraduate institution, but she is currently enrolled in one of the masters’ degree programs I completed.  Talk about a small world!  Her email to me was simple: these common connections were too good to pass up.  And, she wanted to know: how did I get to where I am now from a somewhat unsuspecting path?

A week or so later, I was at a professional meeting where an ice-breaker was used asking each of us what has happened in our own lives over the past month to reinforce why we are in the right career. I quickly remembered back to the young woman’s email I just described, and the accompanying email conversation we have been having about how I got where I am, where she is now, and what she knows/doesn’t know about where she wants to be.  I shared the story with my colleagues around the table, probably ranging in age from late 20s to early 50s.  The nods and gestures from around the table indicated that although we span three generations (Gen Y, Gen X and the Baby Boomers) it resonated with each person — we had all come from a slightly unsuspecting path.

What I have come to realize is that there has been a more dramatic and fundamental shift in career paths for Development professionals over the past decade than there had been in the multiple decades leading up to it.  In a volunteer capacity, I speak to many college students and recent graduates about their careers.  Even though most of them are still not sure exactly where they want to be in 5 or 10 years, most of them at least know that working in the non-profit space, and even specifically in fundraising, is a path they want to take.

As a ‘Gen-Xer,’ when I was in college, I did not know anything about fundraising being a career path, nor were there any real educational opportunities or classes related specifically to the field.  Now, at the college level, classes exist and degrees are becoming more common.  And, even at the K-12 level both social justice and volunteering have become more of a focus in the classroom.  As such, it is no surprise that ‘Gen Yers’ are seeking out Development as a career path.

Is it the chicken or is it the egg?  Have we as a profession done more to professionalize our field, leading to additional educational opportunities and interest?  Or, has the education sector begun focusing on philanthropy more prominently leading to more students and recent graduates being aware (and being interested in) a career in our field?

What do you think?  I’m not sure. But, what I do predict is that whether or not a degree is necessary we are likely to continue to see an increase of related-degree bearing people entering our workforce.  And, I suspect that even our most recent grads who think they know what they want to do when they ‘grow up’ may find themselves, in fact, in a different place 5, 10, 15 or 20 years out of college than where they thought they would be…my hope is that they find themselves somewhere as rewarding as where Laura Worcester and I have found ourselves.

*Melissa Bank Stepno is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at [email protected].