Melissa Irish is the Managing Associate of Partnership Resources Group (PRG) a northern-California based fundraising consulting firm. She and the founder, Elliot Levin, share responsibility for running the firm and delivering high value through capital, endowment and major gift projects.
Melissa started her nonprofit career nearly 30 years ago after a year of volunteering in Nicaragua following college. She explains, “When I came home, my parents said they were not going to pay for me to go to school or volunteer anymore so I had to get job! I had been writing grants to support the project in Nicaragua, and was hired at Job Train in East Palo, where I learned from a master, Sharon Williams.”
Over the years, Melissa has seen changes big and small in the development field, one being the democratization of philanthropy through the rise of the internet and social media. She notes, “Giving and supporting your favorite organizations is now wide-spread among all age groups. People have realized the power to mobilize support for causes that matter to them by using social media and a few clicks of a button. The Presidential campaigns in the early 2000’s (especially Obama) paved the way, showing the power of grassroots online fundraising and how small gifts can move the needle through scale. This brought the power of philanthropy to almost everyone anywhere in the world.”
She has also seen a growth in professionalization of the field. She asserts, “While I think anyone over 35 would say that they ‘fell into’ fundraising, younger fundraisers can take college courses and formal career tracks, and the choice to become a fundraiser is more intentional. However, I think the role of the fundraiser is still a mystery to the general public. Most think it’s only asking for money. It’s getting to the ask that is the art and science.”
Melissa took a 4-year break from development to get her MBA and work in the for-profit arena. She’s proud to have migrated back to the nonprofit sector using her business education and skills while leveraging 10 years of hands-on fundraising experience. She says, “That combination of perspective and experience allowed me to bring something special and valuable to the table – a keener business sense to apply in the nonprofit, values-driven world.”
During the pandemic, Melissa has come to believe more than ever in the importance of listening – to our clients, colleagues, team, and the world. “We need to understand what is happening to folks and pivot our programs and services to meet the needs,” she observes, “It has been very rewarding to lean-in to these relationships and come up with new ideas and solutions to meet the moment. I look forward to continuing to learn from my colleagues how they navigated, and continue to navigate, their way through this life-altering pandemic.”
Melissa has been a member of DER off-and-on for over 20 years. “I have always enjoyed and valued the excellent programming, and the opportunity to connect with colleagues. I have also posted many, many jobs on the DER listing and am grateful for that resource!”
Outside of work, Melissa enjoys travel, soccer, biking, hiking, and swimming in beautiful Marin. She also relishes her role as mom and the many adventures she shares with her two wonderful boys, aged 16 and 11.