Helping the Helpers: Fundraising from a Social Worker’s Perspective

Rutgers Futures in Advancement.  6/14/17 Photo by John O’BoyleAfter almost 10 years in development, I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “I fell into it” when asked how they entered the field. We talk about the field as a second act or say that it happened seemingly by accident.

I’m no exception.

While an undergraduate student here at Rutgers, I envisioned a career helping people through clinical social work practice. I was passionate about being of service to others. But then I started clinical work and I hated it. (Takeaway point: you can love learning about something but not actually enjoy doing it.)

I eventually found development while working in the nonprofit sector. It was there that I “fell into” development and connected philanthropy with my passion for helping people. I still remember my excitement to finally find a home for my social work education. It was electric!

Fast forward to 2016, I was given the opportunity to return to Rutgers School of Social Work not as a student but as a professional fundraiser. Much had changed since I graduated in 2005: the School had grown significantly as did my understanding of what it means to be a social worker.

I see many parallels between social work and development, one of which being that social workers effect change by assessing need, working in between systems, and providing resources. Development professionals do the same: we assess donors’ needs, work in between donors and institutions, and secure resources to have a targeted impact.

The skills I learned as a social worker—working across disciplines, managing relationships, thinking strategically, and being goal-oriented—have served me well in this profession. Yet, I envy the opportunity you each have to learn about development intentionally and with structure, not accidentally and haphazardly as so many of us have.

This is why Dean Cathy Potter and I chose to participate in the fireside chat last week and discuss the nuances of fundraising with academic leaders, which is essential in today’s higher education funding landscape. Our goal was to illuminate the good that is accomplished when a development professional truly understands an academic leader’s vision, believes in it, and transfers that same passion to donors.

I’ve mentioned passion several times in this blog because it’s that important. Wherever your path leads, be passionate. It makes all the difference. I am passionate about Rutgers School of Social Work because I see how it advances social justice through education, research, and training. I am passionate about Rutgers because it grew me, because it elevates the only state I’ve ever called home, and because it offers the hope of a brighter tomorrow. I am passionate about the Futures program and being of service to each of you because I know that, whatever field you ultimately decide to pursue, this program will give you indelible skills that you will use to do the work you are passionate about.

Don’t “fall into” development. Fall in love with it.


Erin Capone is a Director of Development for the Rutgers University School of Social Work. Erin holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Rutgers University. 

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