laid-off fundraisers

As generators of key revenue for nonprofits, fundraisers typically feel job security. There’s always more than enough work to be done, and the sense of juggling the work of what could be spread among two or three professionals may be overwhelming, but soothing in that your role feels critical.

However, the pandemic has upended the economy, and business is not as usual. What do laid-off fundraisers do if they find themselves furloughed, or their position permanently eliminated?

It happened to me earlier this year, after nearly 20 years in the profession, having fundraised through crises before (Post-9/11, the 2008 recession). To be honest, it was a complete shock and I had a little more than a week’s notice to prepare for no longer receiving a regular salary. Mere weeks after that, I learned my and several other development positions in the organization would be permanently eliminated, which also meant the end of critical benefits such as health insurance.

So where should laid-off fundraisers start when you receive this challenging news?

1. Assess finances: Immediately, take stock of your personal income and expenses. Are you eligible for unemployment benefits? If so, you may also be eligible for Medicaid health coverage (in the U.S., will help you assess this and route you through the process for your state).

Next, review your monthly expenses. What must be paid, and what might be postponed or cut back? For example, many credit card lenders have allowed for a few months’ suspension of payments to allow those furloughed or laid off time to regroup. Take a close look at all those recurring charges on your credit cards or debited from your bank account and determine if you can live without some of them for a short period of time (though you may find after cutting back, you may not resume some of them).

Once you have a picture of any temporary income opportunities (whether unemployment or part-time/side hustles) and your revised expenses, then review the shape of your savings. How many months can this help meet the gap? Additionally, in the U.S. thanks to the CARES Act, you may take a distribution from your retirement account without paying the 10% penalty (but you’ll still pay income tax). Build a plan for the months ahead, and continue to review it as you go to adjust as needed to meet your goals.

2. Allow time to experience emotions: The loss of a job is exactly that … a loss, and this brings many emotions. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve, be angry, even be relieved at no longer dealing with aspects of your position which annoyed you. Reach out to friends or family for support to chat (voice, video, or safely distanced in person). Consider journaling your thoughts during this transitional time for reflection.

3. Ponder your next step: Personally, I took a few weeks between receiving the news of my coming layoff and its actual effective date to decide what I wanted next. I knew once I shared that news, my networks would ask what I was considering and how they could help. I had to decide: did I wish to continue in philanthropic development? What kind of role was I seeking? Did I want to continue living in my city? Having the answers to these questions made seeking opportunities easier to discern.

4. Network, network, network: Once you’ve set your goals and plans, it’s time to share these widely and ask for help. Fundraisers (and now laid-off fundraisers) are used to asking for help to benefit others, so it can be uncomfortable at first to ask for help for yourself. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get! As when seeking a job change while still employed, you never know where a connection will lead. In fact, it’s a little less of a nervous process as you don’t have an employer to worry about … even if you are simply furloughed, you have the right to seek other work if your employer hasn’t given you specific return expectations.

5. Try to find joy in the journey: While an experience no one hopes for, there is much opportunity for personal growth on the other side of losing your job. It provides an opportunity for reflection on where you’d like your life to go. It may give you additional time with your family or friends (or pets!)  that you’ve been wanting. It may propel you towards an even better career situation in the long run. While the process of searching for a new position can be time-consuming, try to find sources of enjoyment to distract yourself from the wait. Maybe it’s reading books that have piled up on your shelf, maybe it’s focusing more on eating well and being physically active. Maybe it’s just being sure you get a good night’s sleep more often! Find the small victories, and celebrate them.

Someday, you’ll look back on this time and see how it shaped your career and your life. A furlough or layoff can be challenging, but it also provides a new layer in the storytelling of you.

What other tips for laid-off fundraisers would you share?

Lisa M. Chmiola, M.S., CFRE
Lisa M. Chmiola, M.S., CFRE, has nearly 20 years in philanthropic development experience. She has served in major and planned giving roles in education (public and private) and religious institutions, following initial career experience in event-based philanthropy. An AFP Master Trainer since 2014, Lisa has presented at four AFP International Conferences, and a variety of AFP and other industry association regional conferences, chapter meetings, and webinars. She also serves as an adjunct instructor in Rice University’s Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. As Chief Fablanthropist for Fablanthropy (the intersection of fabulous and philanthropy), she is available for consulting, training, and speaking opportunities. Lisa also is an active volunteer, serving on the board of the AFP New Orleans chapter and the U.S. Government Relations committee for AFP International, a board member of the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners (and past president of the Houston chapter), a sustaining member of the Junior League, and a graduate of Leadership Houston. Additionally, she has co-authored several pieces for AFP’s Advancing Philanthropy magazine. Lisa is the proud mom of Ava, a Mini Schnauzer with her own social media presence (@avalynndog).