Stephanie Blight

Coordinator, Fund Development (Communication Studies and Sociology, BA)

Stephanie Blight, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Guelph

Stephanie Blight has the best advice for students looking to pursue a career in fundraising, event planning and/or public relations: “Get!”

Stephanie graduated from Laurier in 2009 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies and Sociology. During her time at Laurier, she did not know she wanted to pursue a career in fundraising. It was following her experiences as liaison coordinator for Orientation Week and Fashion ‘N Motion’s Charity awareness coordinator, along with the personal experience of her family members struggle with cancer that made Stephanie want to pursue a career that was about making a difference.

Stephanie’s volunteer work as a student gave her first-hand experience and skills needed to secure her current role, coordinator of fund development and communications with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Guelph. Through her volunteer work Stephanie realized, “If I really put my heart into something, I can accomplish anything I want.” Her experiences at Laurier taught her crucial transferable skills that she draws on everyday in her position as fundraising coordinator. The most important being time management.

Stephanie is the “face of the agency”. Her experiences in public speaking (gained as well through volunteer work) permitted her the confidence and aptitude to go on Rogers TV every two weeks, be on the radio and author press releases. Stephanie stresses the importance of time management, creativity, public speaking, writing and knowledge of software and social media for a career of this nature. She states, “You need to be very well rounded and taking opportunities is the only way you can succeed.”

The great thing about Stephanie’s career is that every day is different and exciting. She never knows what she’s going to walk into. “If anyone loves a non-typical day, this is the perfect place for you.” She likes to spend the first 10 minutes of every day with daily updates on Facebook and Twitter in order to raise public awareness of Big Brothers Big Sisters in the community. She is constantly communicating with corporate sponsors, volunteer committees and her staff to keep everyone engaged. Stephanie is responsible for planning three major fundraising events per year, so every week is different to prepare for upcoming events. Stephanie is also responsible for writing grant proposals, as long as 70 pages. So while the job comes with a lot of excitement, it is not necessarily a nine-to-five day. Sometimes evenings and weekends are required for events and working with the volunteers’ schedules.

Being a fundraising coordinator for a not-for-profit organization does not come without its challenges, especially in times of economic recession as not-for-profit agencies depend on donations. Stephanie noted it can be challenging to ask for money during these times and to find creative ways to keep the community committed. That is why having an upbeat and positive attitude is crucial to this career. Stephanie and her surrounding staff continue to believe and have optimism in their cause. Positive attitude accompanied by a willingness to be a team player is the best personality suited for the challenges of working for a not-for-profit agency. Stephanie states if you are going to be in this sector, you have to “have heart”.

Many people in fundraising also pursue careers in public relations and event management as the skill set to be successful is similar. For instance, positions in public relations require the same type of constant communication and relationship development. Many corporations, banquet halls and not-for-profit organizations hire event managers. The future trends for these careers are promising in Stephanie’s eyes as long as you are flexible and willing to learn and adapt to economic and social changes.

Stephanie recommends a few ways to gain experience to get your foot in the door, whether you want to pursue a career in fundraising, public relations or event management. Gaining your Bachelor degree is a first step for a solid theoretical background, but going to college for a postgraduate degree in event management or public relations provides the opportunity to translate that theory into practical application. Stephanie says that learning how to communicate and develop relationships is the key to succeeding in these roles.

Stephanie emphasized those looking to pursue a career in fundraising to learn more about ‘major gifts’ as “major gifts is the way fundraising is going.” ‘Major gifts’ refers to knowledge of donor stewardship and relationship development. One way to get involved is to join the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), which is a national organization with different provincial chapters. The AFP holds annual conferences, which are a great opportunity to see what others are doing, grow from each other’s strengths and to share ideas. The AFP also runs webinars throughout the year on a variety of topics such as corporate sponsorship or how to develop a fundraising strategy. Participation within the AFP counts towards credits and eventually you can receive a certification. If you are going into fundraising, having these credentials at the end of your name will help you get recognized.

Fundraising coordinators at an entry level vary in salary from $30,000 to $50,000 a year. It also depends on whether the sector is not-for-profit or corporate. University and hospital foundations usually have higher salaries for their fundraising employees. These job titles range from fund development officers, development officers, directors of advancement, directors of fund development, director of Major Gifts and can make into the six-figure range.

Stephanie claims she never would have ended up where she is today if she didn’t get involved in Fashion ‘N Motion and O-Week. Message? “Do as much as you can now. It will help in your personal development, but also having volunteer experience on your resumé gives you that wow factor.” Stephanie utilized her undergraduate years proactively by getting involved and believes this has certainly paid off in terms of having helped her to both determine, and ultimately secure her current career. “Waking up every day loving what you do and loving what your agency stands for is a wonderful feeling.”