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Life and Work with Jess Campbell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jess Campbell.

Jess, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My first job out of college was working for a start-up nonprofit organization in Boulder, CO called There With Care. This small, but mighty organization did the important work of helping families with critically ill children. As the first paid employee (yes, the founder paid me before she paid herself!), I did a bit of everything – including working closely with the families. It was an honor and a privilege to serve these families who had a sick child, but 22-year-old me didn’t have the maturity to practice what I now know to be self-care. I had no boundaries, no weekend was off-limits and I was often the first call a family member or doctor made if a medical situation turned bad. I loved my job, but this wasn’t going well. So, very early in my career, I had to decide that if I wanted to work in the nonprofit space long-term, I would need to be on the storytelling side.

That is how I found myself in nonprofit fundraising.

Over the last 14 years, I’ve been a nonprofit fundraiser for giant organizations raising $40+M annually to teeny-tiny startups with 1 staff person. I consider myself a master at relationship building and because of that – fundraising to me – feels like making friends. I love love love that moment when a donor sees/feels/experiences the impact their gift makes first hand or when they share that experience with those closest to them – like their children.

Just this past summer, after working as a fundraising consultant for the last two years, I had a light bulb moment. I was sitting with a client who has been running his nonprofit for the last 15 years. As the leader of the organization, his primary responsibility is to raise money yet, he was asking me basic questions like, “Well, HOW do I treat it like making friends?” or “What do I do if my follow up goes unanswered?” or “What do you think is the best way to follow up?”

Then it dawned on me: no one is teaching this important set of skills to anyone. In fact, we have an entire industry of nonprofit fundraising professionals who are feeling unsupported, under-skilled, discouraged and burnt out.

I aim to change all of that.

Since that meeting this past summer, my company, Out in the Boons is shifting its focus to be directly on the nonprofit fundraiser. I want to build a community where people can go for education, peer-to-peer support, expertise, and time-saving applications to allow fundraisers to be their most effective, productive, and happy.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Entrepreneurship for me has been anything but a smooth road. There is SO much no one sees behind the scenes. For example, you have to be an expert in so many things that have nothing to do with the business I am working to execute. Things like SEO or online marketing or how to publish a podcast episode or build a website on Squarespace – there is so much that goes into running a business. Because it’s my “baby”, I could give to it endlessly. It is not unusual for me to work an 80 workweek and still feel like I have more I can do.

On top that that – I have yet to find a leader in my specific space that I can seek out as a mentor. Most of the fundraising coaches or teachers out there are from a different generation and have a different style and mentality that for me – isn’t for me. I also see very few people focusing directly on the nonprofit fundraiser specifically. This is both an opportunity as well as a limitation because I am literally paving the way.

For anyone starting – and who wants real talk – I have a few things:

1. If at all possible – save at least six months of income or hold on to that steady job for as long as you can. Money is such a waste of time to worry about and if you can be organized – you don’t have to.

2. Time is the one commodity you can never buy more of. Therefore, if there are items in your business that you can offload (social media, website updates, copywriting, bookkeeping, etc.) so that 100% of your time is maximized – do it. I just invested in a VA starting at 5 hours per week and it’s been such a gift to me and my business.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Out in the Boons – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
Out in the Boons is a small shop designed to inspire, educate and support nonprofit fundraisers. Through group and 1-1 coaching, workshops, live events and (coming soon!) online courses – we aim to give fundraisers what they’ve been craving: professional development, time, and support.

The name Out in the Boons came out of a feeling I had as a nonprofit fundraiser myself. Like I was off on my own or stranded on some island: Out in the boons…

I don’t want nonprofit fundraisers to feel like that, but when I explain the genesis of the name – everyone always nods back in agreement.

In the short five months since I’ve pivoted my business focus, I’m super proud to have worked with four coaching clients with a new group cohort beginning in early 2020. These students have achieved everything from hosting their first nonprofit fundraiser, received their very first donations, recruited new board members or hit major revenue goals. One student and veteran fundraiser said to me, “I’ve been looking for a coach for a while now, but they all wanted me to do what they wanted to do. You help guide me through what I want to do and I really appreciate that.”

Were there people and/or experiences you had in your childhood that you feel laid the foundation for your success?
I’ve always been a leader. As a kid going to school, my mom would always replace, “I love you!” with “Be a leader!”. It really imprinted on me the value of leadership and what it means to be a positive example to others.

I can remember growing up and landing on wanting to be a teacher. After learning this, my dad sat me down and explained that while it would be ok for me to be a teacher, it would be difficult to be an adult and raise a family in the way I was accustomed to.

I grew up very middle class, but my dad was an entrepreneur too which meant there was always the possibility – a real opportunity of being economically successful. Sadly, in this country – our teachers don’t have that upward mobility.

Nonetheless, I found myself in the nonprofit space (which I promise, definitely doesn’t pay the big bucks!) and I’m sure my dad shakes his head wondering where he went wrong. In the end – as an entrepreneur – I have the perfect mix of teaching nonprofit fundraisers and the possibility of being successful.

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Image Credit:
Lisa Amezcua

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