It will be five years ago in August that I quit my job as a fundraiser for a Chicago law school to spend 13 months traveling and volunteering throughout the former Soviet Union. At that time, I wrote about what I might do when I returned. In short, I didn’t really know, but I had a lot of ideas. More than anything, I wanted to use that experience to propel myself into a more meaningful career, ideally incorporating my passion for travel.
And within weeks of my return, that dream job seemed to land in my lap. But the more I thought about it, I realized it really wasn’t (you can read why here). I turned it down and continued my search, eventually taking a job back in Chicago doing much of the same work I did in the job I left. I fully admit, I felt a twinge of regret as I hung up the phone after accepting my offer. Part of me felt like my year off was wasted if I just went back to doing the same thing. What was the point?
Well, three years later, I know what the point was.
I spent the last three years giving that job my all – and at times, more than my all. As I wrote about in my 2015 wrap-up, that job ended up burning me out. But it also taught me a lot. The last few months notwithstanding, it was overall a very positive experience that allowed me to work for one of the best bosses I’ve ever had; gave me the opportunity to develop new skills and build my resume; and, most importantly, reinvigorated my interest in fundraising as a long-term career.
In the meantime, I stayed in touch with a woman who worked at an organization that was the epitome of the kind of place I thought I eventually wanted to work – the National Geographic Society. Now, this wasn’t someone I met through traditional networking. She wasn’t a friend of a friend or someone I encountered at a networking event. No, she was someone I reached out to on LinkedIn. Completely cold.
You are probably wondering, how exactly did that work?
Here’s how: I saw an open position posted at National Geographic and searched LinkedIn for connections who worked there. While I didn’t have any first, second or even third degree connections, it did show me one “connection” who was in a group with me. I clicked on her profile and saw that we had similar backgrounds – she had also worked in fundraising in higher ed and had spent time overseas. I carefully crafted an email explaining why I was interested in speaking with her, including a couple specific questions I hoped she could answer about working in development (fundraising) at NatGeo.
She was kind enough to respond, which led to a phone call. That eventually led to lunch while I was in Washington, D.C. months later. And that eventually led to me applying and interviewing for a different job that I did not get.
And then, last October, when I least expected it, she emailed me asking if I had ever considered working in planned giving (planned giving is basically fundraising that focuses on donors who want to include a charitable organization in their estate plans). Indeed, this was an area I had explored almost ten years ago when I decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore (planned giving involves a decent amount of legal and tax knowledge so a lot of planned giving professionals have law degrees). It turned out a planned giving officer position opened up at NatGeo and my contact wanted me to apply. The position couldn’t have been more perfect, combining all of my past professional experience in law, tax and fundraising with my passion for the work that NatGeo does.
I happened to be in Washington, D.C. for my old job when I got her email and by the next afternoon, I was at NatGeo interviewing for the position. Just days later, I got the offer and just days after that I broke the news to my boss that I was leaving (her response of “that’s f*cking awesome” was priceless).
Within two months, I wrapped up a whole life in Chicago and embarked on a fresh start in D.C. – the start that I wanted three years ago.
So yes, I sent a completely cold email through LinkedIn to someone with whom I had no existing connections and that eventually led to me getting hired for my dream job. Patience and persistence paid off, even if it took three years.