Wow, it’s been almost 25 years since I graduated from Ramapo and although I’ve moved around a lot and had a few different careers, everything I’ve done has grown out of my literature studies here. Right after graduating I worked at a small newspaper, copyediting and writing articles about such burning issues as salamander migrations across Highway 92: how can we stop the carnage? That was fun work but it didn’t pay very well and I was hankering for adventure, so I moved to Japan to teach English to businesspeople. ESL teaching required me to explain nuances of language very clearly and simply. After a few years of Japanese classes, I got good enough to get work as a translator on the side, getting my name on a few unusual books (an aquarium design coffee-table book, a history of Les Paul guitars).
When I returned to the US, I entered graduate school in pursuit of an English PhD, but realized that I preferred non-academic work when I found myself enjoying my job in the university’s communications department more than my scholarly research. I left the PhD program with a masters and edited one college’s alumni magazines, which entailed interviewing professors and writing about their research. Communications in nonprofits is always tied to development, which is the professional term for fundraising and my field for the past seven years. At university jobs, I wrote fundraising letters to alumni, brochures for programs and events, web page copy, and lots more.
After that I worked at an art museum and focused more on writing grant proposals for sponsors of exhibitions and education programs. Most recently I’ve worked to raise money for youth organizations that provide programs in poor communities. As a grantwriter, I’ve had to acquire a strong knowledge of the field, which entails a lot of research, and I need to condense a lot of relevant information into concise written proposals. I also work on fundraising letters and campaigns, which involves marketing questions like how to craft our message, and lots of logistical questions regarding our donor database, timing, costs, etc. And of course, we need to be able to talk clearly and persuasively about what we do to a wide variety of people.
Obviously I think nonprofit development can be a really good field for literature majors. It’s a good mixture of art and science, of business and social commitment. My work has often involved rewriting specialized texts for general audiences, which is a broadly useful skill that lit majors tend to develop through wide reading and a clear writing style. And nonprofit development is rewarding because there is (usually) important work at stake, work that won’t get done unless ordinary people are convinced to write a check.
My current organization is the National Equity Project, located in Oakland California and working with school districts and nonprofit organizations around the country to help them deliver on the promise of a quality education for every child. I work increasingly on marketing and communications, helping to explain our work and results to educators, philanthropists, and others.. So if any alumni want advice or information about working in nonprofit development and communications, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.