Bonnie Osinski
MPA-PNP 1981

Director of Development
CAMBA

How did you decide to attend Wagner?

I studied sociology at Mercyhurst College and did social work after I graduated, so I’ve always had civic-minded interests. I had been working in advertising and wanted to make a career change. I was fascinated with New York City and wanted to understand how the city worked, so I looked at various graduate programs and Wagner had the best program for understanding how the city operates. Originally, I thought I wanted to work in government, but as I went through Wagner, I took courses in urban planning, criminal justice and the economics of poverty, all of which contributed to a knowledge base applicable to a broad range of endeavors. Learning the importance of sound overall management to effective public service was really interesting to me.

How did Wagner help you on your career path?

As part of the work I did at Wagner, I studied organizational theory, policy implementation and project management. At the same time I was reviewing grant proposals for Vista Programs. I became convinced that a successful proposal has to be based on a well-developed project so it can appeal to funders and support good management on the part of the applicant organization. While at Wagner, I designed a training curriculum on proposal development (I hate the term “grant writing”!), based on effective project design, utilizing many of the organization theory and policy implementation principles I was learning.. Wagner gave me the opportunity to present this curriculum at the summer Nonprofit Management Institute for about 10 years. As soon as I received my MPA, I was hired by the National Legal Services Corporation to present it to their grantee organizations around the country. That eventually led to my career in full-service fundraising management.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Fundraising is great because you learn so much about the philanthropic sector – both donors and the organizations they support. And when you are working with individuals or institutions who are considering a contribution, you see them at their altruistic best.

What are some of the challenges your organization faces, and how do you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges for any fundraiser is entering an organization and making sure you have the support you need from the board and staff. The most of the people in a service organization are focused on fulfilling their mission – providing health care, fostering life skills, addressing poverty or homelessness etc. - not fundraising. But donors are not giving to the fundraiser, they are supporting the mission. So the board, the leadership, and the staff have to work with the fundraiser, who functions as a catalyst.

Were there any skills you gained at Wagner that have been particularly useful / relevant?

Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, work that I did in organizational theory, resource development theory and project implementation was invaluable. Organizational theory was fascinating because, as a fundraiser, understanding the culture of the organization is key to getting support. The way you raise money (direct mail appeals, government grants, individual donor appeals, etc.) and kind of money you raise (government, major gifts, earned income, restricted, unrestricted, etc.) determines the very nature of an organization and how it functions.

What are your future goals for your career?

I would like to continue to use my skills and experience to the fullest extent. I want to do more teaching and consulting so that I can have a broader impact by sharing the extensive experience I have gained from working with so many different kinds of organizations.

Do you have any thoughts or advice for Wagner students/alumni interested in development?

The development field is a pretty mature field of knowledge that requires continuous work and study to stay on top of a rapidly changing field. You can actually get a graduate degree in fundraising, although I feel that a broader management background is more effective.. It’s a field that has a range of components and requires a variety of skills that are very portable. Development is a great field if you like to learn new things because you find out a lot about an issue when you’re fundraising for it. But you should understand that good fundraising is based on sound management. The money is only a means to an end; good fundraising ultimately makes an organization stronger and more effective at fulfilling its mission. The theoretical and management skills you learn at Wagner can be directly applied to fundraising.