That Insidious Comfort Zone

Many of my individual coaching clients are development types stuck in jobs that no longer interest them.  It is time for them to move on, but something is holding them back.  That something manifests itself in them looking at a job description that has multiple job responsibilities and desired qualifications and focusing on the one thing that doesn’t describe them. If I got paid for every time one of them told me “I can’t apply—they are looking for someone with major gift experience, and our biggest gift is…..”  Or “I really haven’t managed anyone…(Really?  You don’t think managing your board shows you know how to get and keep people on track?).  What is more interesting is the fact that they don’t seem to even see the other things—those they do have experience with.

So I ask—what’s the downside of applying?  You won’t get an interview?  You don’t have one now.  No loss there.  Or it is that you might, and you may one day get offered a job that is out of your comfort zone.

Staying in one’s comfort zone is not de facto a bad thing.  There are times in one’s life when walking off the edge is not what you want to be doing.  But your comfort zone can become a prison.  Just as having a job that takes not much thought can offer freedom to focus on non-work issues and activities, it can also prevent you from growing and being creative.

Feeling stuck in a job—unable to change things and make them better—affects every part of one’s life.  And the longer you feel stuck, the harder it gets to unstick yourself.  This is true even if you don’t want to change jobs, just change your job.

It’s about considering the possible, instead of focusing on the impossible.  For job seeking it’s about how you frame what you know.

So if the job you’d like a shot at calls for experience in major gift fundraising and the largest gift you’ve ever brought in is $5,000, does this mean you cannot compete for this position?  Of course not.  But you will have to work harder.

For reasons I don’t agree with, many organizations want only to hire people who have had exactly the same experience.  Because I was a VP of Advancement, I still—seven years after I started consulting and stopped looking for full time work—get calls about, yep, VP-level jobs.  “This would be perfect for you,” I’ve had headhunters tell me and I wonder why they haven’t wondered why if being a VP was “so perfect” for me I stopped being one after a scant year?  I hated being a VP and would never again take such a job.

Rather than focusing on what someone did, I want to consider what they are ready to do.

So you haven’t done major gift fundraising—what have you done that relates?  Fundraising is all about building relationships.  Tell the organization about your skills in doing that.  In bringing new prospects to the organization.  In keeping existing donors connected and happy.

You won’t get a shot at every job, but the ones that will consider you are the ones you want to consider yourself.  You just won’t know which ones those are unless you put yourself out there—and offer the organization an opportunity to hire an enthusiastic, creative, hard-working you.

 Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity.  Learn how she can help you and your organization at or email her at