Fundraising for Social Justice: Em Bookstein’s Job Search Success Story

Everyone’s job search story is different, but each individual story can inspire and empower others who are on their own unique path. We love to hear how our readers have found rewarding careers in Portland, and we want to share these stories with you to inspire you in your job search and to help us all better understand the local job market! In this job search success story, Em Bookstein, the Development Coordinator at Next Up, shares how they took time to examine their strengths, and pivoted from software engineering to nonprofit fundraising and development.

What do you do for a career?

I feel excited and privileged to say that nonprofit fundraising and development is now my career. In my mid-twenties, I stumbled into software engineering as a career, and for five years, I enjoyed that work. I also got involved with Resource Generation as a volunteer and plugged into local social justice efforts. Over time, I found that all I wanted to do was organize my coworkers – namely, asking them to commit time and money to social justice movements – and to focus on organizing projects outside of work. I became more and more checked out at work, before quitting in 2019 to try and make a leap into full-time organizing. 

A little over a year ago, I came across a job post for a part-time Development Associate on Mac’s List, applied, and found that development work really suits me. I’ve since moved into a full-time position as the Development Coordinator at Next Up, and took a 9-month certificate program through Willamette Valley Development Officers to expand my skills. In my role, I sit at an intersection of development planning, grant writing, community organizing, data management, anti-racist learning and action, self-examination, and asking for money to support work led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). I’ve appreciated every opportunity I’ve had to deepen my experience and knowledge, and see a long trajectory for myself in a role like this. As such, I now consider fundraising my career.

Who do you work for?

I work for Next Up, formerly known as the Bus Project. We work on making democracy more equitable and accessible, including winning policy victories that made Oregon the No. 1 easiest state to vote in, and shift power through youth leadership development and civic engagement. Our programs train young people ages 14-35 to be community organizers and activists, centering the needs and experiences of BIPOC. Next Up staff, board, and youth leaders are all under 35 years old.

How long did it take you to find this job? 

My active job search took me about two months total. But I didn’t start looking right away after quitting my tech job – a privilege afforded to me by how ridiculously overpaid many software engineers are – because I wasn’t sure what to look for and where to apply. For a few months, I mainly focused on volunteer work, such as raising money for the regional foundation Social Justice Fund NW, which funds grassroots community organizing led by the communities most impacted. I also took that time to think about what I could bring to the table at a future organization.

I think those reflections were actually what led me to fundraising at all – originally, my goal was to find a job as an organizer. But when I looked at the volunteer experience I had, and what I clearly gravitated towards, so much of it revolved around donor organizing through Resource Generation, and raising money for Social Justice Fund through organizing and building relationships. So I created two resumes and set up two job searches: one for work as an organizer, and one for work doing development. I found the Development Associate job post for Next Up on Mac’s List within a month of starting my search.

How did you find your job? 

I set up a couple of alerts on job websites like Idealist, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn. I was seeing a lot of posts for jobs in Seattle, and also a lot of posts for organizations I was not at all interested in. But I found Next Up’s Development Associate job post on Mac’s List. I don’t know how I got lucky enough to find Mac’s List at all – I had never heard of the platform before. And when I saw Next Up come up in search results, it immediately stood out to me. I realized I knew of the organization already, through someone on its board. I reached out to her to learn more, loved what I heard in terms of values alignment and mission, and excitedly applied.

What tool or tactic helped the most? 

Informational interviews are my favorite tactic during a job search. Every time I’ve had to search for work (and/or consider what the heck to even apply for), I’ve reached out to people whose work is interesting to me, ask them about their stories and how they came to do that work, and invite their advice on how I might follow in their footsteps. In this latest job search, I reached out to several people with organizing and fundraising roles, and asked if we could have coffee. A couple of these emails were cold emails, but others came as e-introductions from mutual connections. Those conversations not only gave me information about what these jobs were like and what skills they required, but also gave me some confidence. In one case, the conversation also led to some informal mentorship after I started at Next Up, which was so valuable to me.

What was the most difficult part of your job search?

The two biggest barriers were a lack of clarity about what to search for, and moments of low confidence about what I could bring to the table. Changing careers felt vulnerable: I felt unsure if I had the relevant skills and experience to actually contribute to work I felt passionate about. I also didn’t know for sure if I’d like what I found. I wondered if I’d made a mistake in trying to leave tech. I thought perhaps I was chasing an illusion, or that I’d over-estimated my potential or capabilities.

How did you overcome this challenge?

It meant a lot to me to have important people in my life cheering me on. I felt bolstered by the fact that they saw something in me. There were also the facts of my own experience to look to.  One nice thing about writing a resume is that it reminded me of all I’d already done, and forced me to think about my active role in contributing to many different projects over the years. I tend to underestimate myself, but writing about past experiences, I was reminded of what I have to offer.

What is the single best piece of advice you would offer other job-seekers?

Well, this comes with a heavy grain of salt, considering the privileged position I was in as someone who could take my time and be choosy in a job search. But I think I really benefited from doing some self-examination on what my strengths are. Even if I had trouble fully believing in them as strengths that somebody might hire me for, at least I knew what I’d bring to the table by looking at my actual experience doing those things. I’m somebody who feels most purposeful, energized, and happy when I’m clear on what I have to offer, whatever that looks like in practice. 

I didn’t know exactly what kind of role I wanted to play in the nonprofit sector, and I wasn’t sure I’d like what I found or that I’d be any good at it. Still, I did feel clear about the organizing and fundraising experiences I was bringing with me into the job search. Having those two separate resumes highlighting different parts of my experience let me pursue different options while feeling grounded in both possibilities. If you’re searching for a job but don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, I recommend creating those different avenues for yourself, highlighting your strengths in a variety of ways.

Why do you love your job? 

It may be cheesy, but I feel thankful to have found Next Up. I appreciate that I get to be in this environment where all of us are genuinely committed to the values of collective liberation, in which all our struggles and movements are interconnected, and where I get to learn so much from my coworkers and board about what that looks like in practice. We act on our values by building youth power centered around BIPOC, by integrating an intersectional understanding of justice, and by always seeking to unlearn and challenge the conditioning of white supremacy culture. These practices are a piece of what gets us closer to a world where Black, Indigenous, and people of color are truly free, where we are all free, and where we can be the most healed and whole versions of ourselves. 

So even though liberatory movement work is so much bigger than the limits of the nonprofit sector, I feel that my job at Next Up brings me closer into alignment with the deep, soul-level work I will do my whole life. On a day-to-day level, I also love my job because I get to do a lot of the things that bring me satisfaction: writing (grant proposals), talking to people (about what they care the most about), and developing plans and budgets (I adore a well-organized spreadsheet). Anytime I start to get bogged down about asking for money, I remember that it goes towards the young organizers and leaders within Next Up, who are changing the world.