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Nonprofit Executives' First Jobs

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Dec 7, 2015 10:00:00 AM

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First jobs. We all had one, and they probably had nothing to do with what we do today, right?

Maybe not.

One of my favorite professors in college used to always remind us:

“Everything relates to everything.”

My first job was being a janitor at my church. At surface level, it might seem like that has nothing to do with running fundraising resources and education for a software company, but it relates more than you realize. It taught me the importance of process and routine. I did the same task every night I worked. Once I had my routine down, I was able to do a quality job quickly.

So I wanted to learn about the first jobs of nonprofit leaders and see what they learned from that job that helps them today. Some told me about their first jobs right out of college, others their very VERY first job.

Here’s what three nonprofit executives and directors had to say:


Naomi Hirabayashi - Chief Marketing Officer for

naomi.jpg“My first job out of college was a Agency Coordinator at The Weather Channel in NYC.

Something I learned from my first job that helps me today is the importance of asking questions to best understand the big picture context of your role in the org. The Weather Channel did a good job of exposing entry level employees to team members at all levels of the org, especially the executive team. Understanding the executive team goals helped give me context for my day to day responsibilities and how it all leveled up.”

Peter Pugliese - eFundraising Manager at Autism Speaks

peter.jpg“My first job was as an Internet Marketing Specialist at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. One of the best things I learned on the job, that I still use today was how to project manage large campaigns and the people involved in them. My boss at the time gave me a lot of autonomy and I was able to get a lot of hands on experience to learn quickly.”


Joe Moran - Director of Public Engagement at the True Colors Fund

joe-moran-542900-edited.jpg“My first job was selling Magic Pens at a booth in the South Street Seaport mall. I was one of those salespeople that savvy shoppers would avoid making eye contact with at all costs. Rather than aggressively approaching potential customers, which obviously made people feel uncomfortable (myself included) I decided to do art demonstrations to try and attract a crowd – and it worked! I realized this approach was ultimately successful because a) I was actually having fun doing my job (and it showed) and b) I was offering something of value by demonstrating how the product worked.”

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BONUS! Reactions from Twitter

I posed this question to the good folks at the weekly #fundchat Twitter group, and got some great responses as well. Check ‘em out!

Thanks for the input everyone!

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Topics: nonprofit leadership

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