That Time I...Worked At GLSEN
Welcome to the second post in a series titled "That Time I..." where I reflect on past experiences and share how the lessons learned still influence me to this day.
Today, I'd like to share with you about that time I worked at GLSEN, an organization which advises on, advocates for, and researches comprehensive policies designed to protect LGBTQ students nationwide.
It was 2011. I was barely 23 years old and I had landed my dream job. After a few interviews and many sleepless nights, GLSEN had offered me the role of donor database administrator in their National Development department. I could not have been any more thrilled. I'd been spending my days preparing for this role at Teach For America (or as I like to call it, database boot camp) and knew I could handle whatever was about to come my way. Little did I know working at GLSEN would change my professional life.
Wearing Many Hats Proved to be Beneficial
To me, GLSEN was a small operation. My only prior development experience was at TFA which, in 2011, had 100+ fundraisers on staff and raised over 180M+ in revenue annually. I was shocked when I was told only five people would be responsible for keeping GLSEN afloat. I had built a very niche development operations skill set while stationed at TFA but I didn't know the first thing about writing appeals, stewarding a board, planning a gala or writing a grant. Thankfully, that was about the change.
While I am no stranger to 'wearing many hats', I was determined to look at this shift as an opportunity rather than a burden. Small fundraising shops require staffers to be agile, adaptive and well rounded. While my primary responsibility was managing their fundraising data & operations, I never shied away from learning something new. Thanks to my time at GLSEN, I was able to develop as a fundraising generalist by assisting my colleagues with their tasks and owning some of my own projects over time. Before I knew it I was working with the board, planning (and attending!) galas, drafting strategy and owning vendor relationships. With all this being said, there is a fine line when it comes to the ethical treatment of staff and maintaining a work / life balance. Thankfully, GLSEN never crossed this line and I was able to move onto my next gig with a deeper understanding of fundraising. My advice to those at small shops, collaborate as much as you can but be sure to set boundaries from the very beginning.
Meeting My Mentor
It’s invaluable to have a mentor whose journey is complementary to yours and who is personally invested in your success. Thankfully, I met my first mentor while at GLSEN. Stephanie Blackwood is one of my most cherished mentors, for several reasons. She’s brilliant at her craft, strategic, civically engaged, and supremely knowledgeable about fundraising and marketing. Each time Stephanie and I meet we discuss my goals, I ask her for advice, and we catch up on our shared connections. She knows how to both challenge me and make me laugh. I feel fortunate to count her as one of my mentors, not just because she is a great leader, but also because she is emotionally available and present when we meet. Throughout the years I have learned valuable lessons and can always count on her to introduce me to at least three people in any given room. I didn't know it at the time, but Stephanie would grow to become a friend. I know I can always count on her and am proud when I get the opportunity to return the favor.
If I have learned one thing from my time chairing the AFP-NYC Mentorship Program it's that whether were in our first or thirtieth year serving in the fundraising sector, we all need mentors. At times it might be someone assigned to us, a friend or a new connection. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are in a “mentorship,” we are just supporting one another on our journeys. It always starts with us to take that first step and it is always worth our time.
Deepen Your Understanding Of Your Strengths
One of the best way to grow you strengths as an entry level fundraiser is to pursue professional development opportunities that will distinguish you from your peers and prove that you are a dedicated, well-rounded, and competent fundraiser. Don't be afraid to shadow a project, take risks, complete coursework or volunteer for similar organizations. No matter your method, taking a strategic approach to your fundraising career empowers you to leverage your skills, shift in new directions, brand yourself, and excel in the field. Knowing what aspects of fundraising you enjoy and at which you excel will help you to define how you can best serve the industry over the long term.
That's all for now, folks. Stay tuned for the next post in this series where I will discuss what I learned that time I...worked at the Ms. Foundation for Women.
Juliana M. Weissbein, CFRE is a respected leader and decision influencer in regard to fundraising operations best practices. With over a decade of experience, Juliana thrives on professional growth, team success, measurable results, and inspiring fundraisers to utilize data-based strategies. Juliana currently serves as the Associate Director of Development Operations at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She is AFP Global's 2019 Outstanding Young Professional Fundraiser and is a member of the AFP Global Women's Impact Initiative. Juliana is immediate past chair of the AFP New York City chapter’s Emerging Leaders Committee and currently serves on the chapter’s board chairing their mentorship program. She resides in Brooklyn, NY and never turns down a good kombucha.