For over 30 years Melanie Hamburger has worked in staff and consulting roles focused on helping mostly small nonprofits grow sustainable revenue. She has helped raise over $10M for racial, social, and economic justice, health equity, and the environment in the Bay Area and nationwide. Major donor fundraising is her favorite, “There’s just nothing like asking someone what they care about, and then giving them an opportunity to invest in it,” she exclaims.
Currently, she is focused on removing barriers to this career, building an ecosystem to support more people transitioning into fundraising roles, explaining,” My work through Community Grantwriters offers fundraising consulting and career pathways and I am having so much fun teaching Careers in Nonprofits and Grantwriting at a few community colleges and at the YWCA. Of nearly 100 students, some join me on projects as paid interns, building skills and work samples for their future fundraising jobs. My consulting work focuses on small nonprofits with 0-1 fundraising staff, helping with whatever they need. It usually starts with grantwriting, but often morphs into individual donor development, capital campaigns, and recruiting and training permanent development staff.”
Melanie continues, “Over a long career in fundraising, I’ve tried to make sense of how the stories of diverse clients served by nonprofits are told mostly by middle-class, white fundraisers like me. I teach to support greater access to this career and am committed to supporting community members, clients, staff, and others in their desire to bring their deep, lived experience to rewarding roles as fundraisers. I ask colleagues: do you really need that degree requirement in your fundraiser job posting? We all know that college isn’t what makes us good fundraisers—we’re good at storytelling and authentic conversations that inspire giving because of things we learn in life.”
Like many of us, Melanie did not set out to work in fundraising. She thought she would be an international banker in Paris but, instead of getting an MBA, she moved to SF for a summer job at Levi Strauss. “I fell in love with the Bay Area and real-world experience seemed more relevant than a degree,” she says, “I was volunteering, planning lots of events with the young alumni network for University of Colorado.”
When she got laid off from corporate finance, she decided to see if she could make a living doing nonprofit events. That grew to major gift officer and development director roles. “Early in my career I worked in conservation, but in 2015 my environmental interests shifted to people and racial justice,” she explains, “When a job came up a few miles from my home to be the first fundraiser for Marin City’s public health clinic, I jumped at the chance.” She is grateful to colleagues who’ve schooled her on equity and my privilege and continues to serve on the Marin City Health & Wellness Center board.
Melanie has found that parenting has taught her skills useful in her work. She says, “Raising children (now young adults) taught me humility, curiosity, the power of listening, and the joy of seeing things from new perspectives. Now, as I travel back and forth to Florida to care for my 94-year-old dad, I’m seeing another skill related to my own parent—patience and the ability to find shared values that bridge widely differing ideologies.”
Melanie has been a member of DER since the 1990s and loves the group’s collegial spirit and its utter “unstuffiness.” She also appreciates DER’s jobs page as a fantastic resource which she shares with her students. Currently, she is in discussion with a few members to explore how mentoring can support those new to this field or help nonprofit colleagues transition over to fundraising.
Outside of work, Melanie loves DIY projects around the house, “It’s so rewarding to see things transform with a little paint or a new fixture or something more ambitious. A few years ago, I bought a tiny home houseboat, with walls that slope out to make it look larger. Painting an exterior wall turned into a project to replace siding and I didn’t want the same, bland plywood. With the encouragement of my partner, we put up beautiful, barn-red aluminum siding that had to be installed in a crazy pattern to accommodate the lack of 90° angles!”