image-20230308204926-1Jillian Fish (She/Her)
Philanthropic Gifts Officer, Guide Dogs for the Blind

How long have you been involved in the nonprofit sector? And in fundraising?
I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for over 15 years and in development/fundraising for almost 10 years.

Please describe why you chose to work in nonprofit fundraising.
It is gratifying that my skills and experience can be put to good use in serving an organization that is doing so much good in the world. I feel fortunate and humbled that Guide Dogs for the Blind is where I get to come to work every day. The level of talent, knowledge and passion on the Guide Dog’s staff from the trainers to the veterinarians to the breeding department and everywhere in between, is incredible. Working for a nonprofit organization with a tangible and quantifiable mission is both motivating and inspiring.

Please tell us about your current role and responsibilities.
As a Philanthropic Gifts Officer, I work primarily with individual donors, managing relationships and soliciting major gifts within my assigned geographic regions. We are a small but mighty team, so we are also called upon to wear many hats including various speaking engagements and managing special projects. It can be challenging but having a strong team and an amazing mission makes it fun and rewarding.

How has Covid-19 affected your current role, organization, and career path?
At the start of the pandemic the world felt very chaotic. Everything felt unclear and confusing. I found that my work became a place of consistency and routine that was very grounding.

Guide Dogs for the Blind’s leadership did a fantastic job managing the pandemic and the countless moving parts that impact the success of our organization. That includes thousands of volunteers, client/dog teams and dogs in training while keeping everyone well informed and most importantly, employed. They always leave space for employee questions and concerns and that is immeasurably beneficial to the strength of our community. Our mission was impacted because we lost the ability to bring our clients to campus and train teams in person. However, we’re almost back to our pre-pandemic numbers which is a sign of the strength and resiliency of our leadership, volunteers, and staff.

My job and career path made a shift when we had difficulty filling a Development Operations leadership position about a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and I was asked to step in and step up to manage the gift processing team. It wasn’t something I had envisioned myself doing in my career but was a very rewarding experience. I had to learn quickly while also providing structure to a team that was overwhelmed and understaffed. From there I was promoted into my role on the Philanthropic Gifts team. It was a winding path, but I think my career and experience in fundraising is more well rounded because of it.

What are some silver linings since the pandemic began in March 2020?
I had the opportunity to explore unfamiliar areas of development, such as gift processing, data base administration and configuration, and development operations.

During the first several months of the pandemic, the Guide Dogs Development team started the “Gratitude Project.” We recruited 36 staff members and the entirety of our board to reach out to our donors individually to say thank you but also to be a warm friendly voice in an uncertain time. We provided lists, an FAQ and some loose scripting so our staff and board could make calls and report back on how the conversations went. Not only did we touch base with over 950 donors, but the project strengthened the culture of philanthropy within our organization.

If it weren’t for the pandemic forcing our team to pivot, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to coordinate the project or strengthen my depth of knowledge in fundraising and development.

What are some highlights in your current role and in your career?
One of my favorite moments in my fundraising career was soliciting and securing my first major gift! It was a fun challenge aligning the donor’s philanthropic interests with our organizational needs. Eventually the donor chose to make a restricted gift to fund pieces of equipment for our vet clinics in San Rafael and Boring, Oregon. Her generosity made a substantial and immediate impact for our vet clinic teams and our dogs. This specific instance increased my confidence and solidified my passion for major gift fundraising.

In my current role, the highlight is our development team. As I mentioned, we are a relatively small development shop, but we get a lot done and we have so much fun while doing it. I have so many people I can call upon for a helping hand, mentorship or thought partnership. We support each other both personally and professionally which is invaluable to me.

What professional knowledge would you impart to other nonprofit fundraisers?
First, find a mentor! Look for someone who will share information and knowledge but also work with you on brainstorming creative donor strategies. Next, seek out knowledge about different areas of development and fundraising that you may not think correlate directly to your position. It will allow you to be a better teammate and bring creative ideas and solutions to the table.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the nonprofit fundraising profession today?
The fundraising landscape is evolving and everchanging. While it can be important and necessary to stick to traditional methods that worked in the past and continue to work, I think fundraisers and development teams could all benefit from exploring different revenue streams and approaching these changes with creativity and an open mind.

How do you manage to balance your personal and professional life?
I try to involve my family and friends in events and invite them as often as possible to participate so they can also become engaged in my work and organization. It helps that I have a supervisor who allows me to prioritize time for myself and my personal life when I need it. Otherwise, I’m a work in progress and am constantly striving for that balance!

What are some activities you enjoy outside of work?
I love to read (primarily historical fiction but really anything that captivates me), travel and practice my amateur bartending skills on my friends and family.

What is the last book you read or movie you watched?
I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The story is sad, but beautifully written. The book is being adapted into a Netflix limited series starring one of Guide Dogs for the Blind’s clients, Aria Mia Loberti as the lead character. I can’t wait to see it! 

What career goals do you still want to pursue or accomplish?
I have a ton I’d like to accomplish but ultimately, I’d like to lead a development shop someday and have the opportunity to manage a team of people again.