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Philanthropy's Next Wave of Jobs and How to Get Them.

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

A career in organized philanthropy vis a vis that of a nonprofit seems pretty good from an outside perspective. And you wouldn’t be wrong.


Salaries are some of the highest in the nonprofit sector, growing on the strength of investment performance and additions to endowments. This also leads to more job security, and as a result, lower turnover and an aging workforce.

But the sector is changing rapidly and this is going to disrupt this long-held status quo.

Traditional grantmaking approaches are changing. The vehicles of which funds are being invested are changing. Philanthropy is transitioning from funding as a charitable transaction to one with a social justice lens at its core, and to adapt to this paradigm shift, the sector is going to need new voices, experiences, education, training and expertise when it comes to executing these dynamic new takes on how we support programs and projects looking to deliver real systems change.

And it’s not just the type of staff that will need to change, it’s also the jobs that support the work. 

So what are the new jobs we can expect to see over the coming years and how can people crack into this field with purpose rather than ‘accidentally’ find our way there?

Jobs of the Future

Futurism is all about understanding the current trends and seeing how they can be applied in the future. But to do this you need to have a thorough grasp of where the sector currently is and to identify the gaps.

From a jobs perspective, Philanthropy New York created a good snapshot of current jobs in the sector and their core functions. These positions will still exist to a certain degree, yet if they are to deliver the scale and impact we envision over the next decade, they will either evolve or be replaced by positions that reflect the community dynamic and/or are more tech focused with digital solutions and delivery at its core.

The Future Roles* of a Modernized Philanthropy

As we move into a new decade and see new generations coming of age in the workplace, these are the new positions we believe will be a common fixture in philanthropic organizations the world over:

  • Investor Relations & Business Analysts – these roles will support the traditional chief investment officer position and help inform/diversify portfolios beyond the traditional markets and into impact investing and SRI’s (socially responsible investments). 

  • Product Managers & Coders – over the next decade, big philanthropy will shift away from establishing private foundations and link with nonprofit universities and associations to begin building platforms, tools and even physical products, providing them at no cost to drive market adoption. This approach will look very much like a social enterprise/start-up with deliverables required over a set period of time, where the project will either sunset or be absorbed by the sponsoring entity or adopted by government. 

  • Fundraisers – Fundraisers aren’t as regular a fixture in foundations as one might expect, they have never really had to fundraise given that their operating funds are derived from fund management and investment returns on their corpus.However, with a need for foundations to expand its unrestricted funds to fuel trends towards new programs and rapid response efforts, development staff will be needed to develop and execute new fundraising plans beyond traditional revenues.

  • Legal Officers – as philanthropic organizations begin to commit to systemic issues holding back some of the most vulnerable in our communities such as immigration, homelessness and human trafficking, on on-staff lawyer will be able to help adivse on the constitutional, legal and legislative aspects of advocacy and contracts that go beyond traditional MOU’s and funding agreements. Contract law expertise will also be needed for those seeking to drive action on impact investing and supporting the legal aspects and mediation for potential mergers & acquisitions of local nonprofits.

  • Organizers – as foundations increase their footprint and impact in the community through traditional grassroots engagement, they will begin to take the non-traditional route of hiring organizers rather than just funding them. At first this will be more partnership based, but the need to have a more dynamic staff that can help work in (& with) the community to drive real change that supports their advocacy will become apparent. We predict this shift will occur as a result of the evaluation process of philanthropy’s work on the census, especially if it leads to large under counts in urban areas.

  • Journalists – if one thing is for certain,the journalism profession is under attack. Whether it be dangerous rhetoric around its motives from DC or a dramatic shift in the traditional revenue models, we are seeing major layoffs in staff, the consolidation of local publications and moves from for-profit entities to a non-profit model (for those not currently a viable VC acquisition option). Philanthropy is acutely aware of the need to keep quality, independent media outlets operating at the local/municipal/state level and have a long history of also fueling new innovation (the Knight Foundation is a great example here) as the sector is uprooted by the changes in how folks get and digest their news. We see the possibilities of philanthropic institutions evolving from traditional marcom (marketing & communications) approaches as they lend their voice to critical issues in their community, with their own virtual newsrooms setting the table for some uncomfortable discussions.

*Given the specialized nature of many of the aforementioned jobs we want to ensure we take this opportunity to highlight ongoing issues around equity, especially when it comes to positions in financial investing and tech development which see far lower employment numbers of women and people of color than other sector wide roles. Philanthropy should continue to expand its efforts to diversify it’s staff to better reflect the communities they serve, and which begins through its recruitment efforts – job descriptions, requirements and where they advertise their open positions.

So How Do We Get These Jobs!?

We receive many questions on how to get a job in philanthropy and wrote this part of the article on the basis that much of the advice we have found on the web is to focus on ‘following your passions’ and working on your soft skills. We’re here to tell you that  there are far more practical approaches that will get you closer to your dream job and thrive when you get there…

Network – there are many opportunities that exist within the sector that are geared solely towards engaging new and diverse voices in the field. Keep an eye out on conference scholarships that give you full program access including the pre-conference networking events and link up with the professional groups that can help expand your knowledge an understanding of the nuances within your region. Your local chapters of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP), and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) are great organization of which to connect with. Join a committee and then progress to their board, it’s a great experience and you learn quickly about programming, fundraising, and governance through a professional development and membership lens.

Power Mapping – a visual tool & process that is often used by social justice organizers to identify those of influence and used as a way of building a comprehensive lobbying strategy to affect change through these groups and individuals. This methodology can be readily applied for those seeking to break into the philanthropic sector – list all of the leaders driving change and innovation and then create a sub-tier listing of emerging leaders that you want to connect with – follow them on social and then begin to understand the groups they align with and then begin connecting the dots.These dots will then lead back to the top-tier leaders given the often two degrees of separation we see through the sector.

Build Your Own Group – create an informal group of your peers (much of this can be organized through a simple Facebook group), meeting regularly to discuss opportunities, sector trends and to work through ideas and pain points to advance your career. We have seen a number of ways that this approach has been applied – from round tables where prominent community leaders are invited to speak, book clubs and happy hours and the more intentional and intellectually enriching 8-3-1 events championed by fellow futurist Trista Harris in her book Future Good. The overall premise for this event was to gather 8 individuals for 3 hours to discuss one major issue affecting their community.

Become a Funder – We are beginning to see the democratization of philanthropy through giving circles, so what better way to learn more about organized philanthropy, grantmaking and your community than by joining or starting a giving circle. Many giving circles let members give at a level that is meaningful to them and there are plenty of platforms (such as GrowFund and Amplifier) that help you receive and distribute funds to make the process simple so you can focus more on the giving part! Other options include opening a Donor Advised Fund which is very much like a charitable bank account. It is a bit more expensive to open an account with the lower access points an initial contribution of between $2,500 – $5,000 (however we here at Future Philanthropy believe they will become exponentially more affordable in the near future). Perhaps you pitch to your parents the benefits of opening a family fund as a way to give back to your community, espouse your values and invest in your professional development.

Credentialing – While degrees and masters programs are questionably still pre-requisites for senior level & executive positions, what institution you receive them from is becoming far less important in the greater scheme of things. The core learnings from an MBA and MPA (Masters in Public Administration) are what is of the most value, not whether you received a graduate degree from an Ivy League school. Many private nonprofit universities now have month long courses meaning you can graduate in little over a year. Together with the availability of additional professional accreditations such as the Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) and Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP), there are plenty of options to build out your resume while building up your own experiences. Don’t let a year go by waiting for the right time or trying to be flexible for the right position, get back to school, get credentialed and you will get ahead in the long term, it’s a lot more affordable than you think.

Learning Groups – there are an abundance of new niche leadership organizations spreading out all across the country – progressive, identity focused, urban and sector specific cohorts – providing participants with the core skills across organizing, strategy and PR and all underpinned by learning the history of the movement that the ideals of the group aligns to. The best part of this is the strong bonds you make with sector wide peers and the alumni network of which you now belong, one where numerous job and other unique opportunities are made available. 

Leadership – join the board of a nonprofit to learn about governance and the very real needs of an organization. Understanding the difficulties of fundraising, sustainability and capacity will give you a greater appreciation to those that are the main beneficiaries of philanthropic funds and give you a unique lens when it comes to enhancing the process and impact of a funders investment. It is on boards and committees where you will also start to be at the same table of funders with many major donors of those organizations (both corporate and individual) traditionally playing leadership roles. One pitfall to be aware of – folks early on in their career feel they have to be asked to join a board or shy away from service due to ‘give and get’ requirements. This is not the case, seek out organizations where there are mission and values alignment, volunteer or serve on a committee to get a feel for that organization and then simply put forward a case to join that board and manage expectations, you will be surprised at how accommodating organizations will be for the right skills, ideas and energy.

Skills vs Experience – we are of the firm belief that generalists (those that have applied their talents to a multitude of different roles and sectors over there career) know enough to hit the ground running and in a number of cases have a higher ceiling in terms of reaching their potential. We wrote a whole article on this one through the lens of undiscovered talent and the skills that translate into successful roles in philanthropy. See how being the non-traditional candidate – one rich in a diverse, yet complementary set of experiences – can be the ace up your sleeve. Don’t be deterred from applying for that dream job due to those elusive ‘preferred experiences and qualifications’ (another HR equity issue that needs to be resolved, but we digress).

Fellowships – technically a one year paid internship and a position you will still need to apply and interview for, but one that more often than not results in becoming a full-time employee and that what this article is technically about. The added benefit here is two fold – the position is often endowed or named by the donor that has made this capacity building position possible which provides that extra bit of prestige and the role is normally created to help drive a particular issue or emerging trend in the sector. This is a great opportunity to make yourself indispensable to the organization. 

Brand Yourself – highlight your skills in a way that compliments your resume and enhances your personal brand. A personal website allows you to build out a portfolio of your work and refine your personal narrative, values and goals in ways resumes just can’t. Immediately after you finish that article, go to a domain marketplace and buy your name or a close derivative. Set up your personal email and link it on all of your networking bio’s, and cover letters – it looks super professional and gives you more control of your content.

Blog until your heart’s content too – think of it as a way to develop your voice and complimentary to your professional growth which could lead to speaking and consultancy gigs if leveraged correctly. According to Value4Brand resonance and relevance are earned only for minutes, hours or days on social media channels while blog post content lasts around 2 years.

Mentors – there are plenty of other articles that will talk about the benefits of identifying a mentor and given that the sector is quite niche/narrow, wise counsel and feedback on how to navigate a career in the sector are extremely important. There are also other benefits – being taken to events as their guest, leveraging their relationships to recommend your candidacy (and acting as a reference). In truth, many of these connections have helped us open doors we didn’t even know existed, and we’re sure that will happen to you too!

Engage Online – There has never been a more accessible way to connect with leaders in the field. Build lists of who’s work and values you admire/aspire to, and interact with their posts. Develop your own voice and cultivate your own audience by using hashtags such as #causes #philanthropy #dogood #charity #socialgood & #change. Another great use of time is to periodically host a twitter chat – we have a template available to use. Just reach out to us and we will send it over!

Volunteer Can’t afford that $1000 ticket to SXSW EDU? Heck, most professional one day summits are $100+. There is however a way in if you miss out on those aforementioned scholarships, volunteering. Reach out to organizations hosting interesting conferences in the field, volunteer to help out at registration or to be a note taker in breakout sessions, this will either be 2-5 hours (where you get to meet and greet guests) and then are given the opportunity to check out the rest of the conference for that day. The conferences of Regional Associations of Grantmakers and National Philanthropy Day functions are a hot tip to get involved with, also National Associations coming to your city that will need local support. Bonus – highly likely you get a complimentary lunch!


We have taken a strong look at talent identification as a way of diversifying the approaches to philanthropy and charitable giving. It’s important for those seeking to build a career in philanthropy that you understand that identifying and acquiring the skills, experience and leadership required to deliver real impact through an evolving philanthropic landscape is paramount, and with a number of recent changes and emerging trends in the sector – and the possibility of many more over the next decade – more opportunities and entry points now exist for you to be approach this career shift in an intentional way. 

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