Mastering the Art of Fundraising: A Nonprofit Executive's Journey and the Value of Fundraising Education

Julie-Ripoll-casual_850x567-(1).jpegPhoto: Julie Ripolli

Anyone who has worked in the nonprofit sector will tell you that one of the primary challenges is always funding.
Although the term “nonprofit” suggests that the organizations might be more concerned with doing good works than making money, that can be a misnomer, too.
“At the end of the day, you have to make it work like a business,” said Julie Ripoll, Executive Director of Alliance Française San Diego, the local chapter of an international organization that promotes the French language and francophone heritage around the world.
“If I want to pay my teachers and staff well and afford all my overhead costs, I need to raise funds to make ends meet,” Ripoll continues. “That's the number one thing you can never forget.”
Ripoll is a graduate of the UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies Professional Certificate of Fundraising and Development program which helps nonprofit organizations and nonprofit professionals alike develop the skills and tools necessary to become better fundraisers.
She credits the education and instruction she received from the program as what has helped her grow Alliance Française San Diego, despite the ups and downs they experienced during the pandemic.
We sat down with Ripoll to learn more about her perspective on fundraising, what she learned in the program, and how she’s applying it today.

The Challenges of Running a Nonprofit

As the executive director of Alliance Francaise San Diego, Ripoll’s responsibilities include everything from the day-to-day administration of the organization to planning events, working with teachers and volunteers, and—most of all— fundraising.
Since taking over as head of the organization in January 2022, Ripoll has applied her newly learned skills to improve fundraising efforts and, in turn, expand the organization’s reach and impact.
“Raising money allows you to reinvest into the organization. You can offer more programs and make something available that people might not have had otherwise,” said Ripoll. “It’s very valuable.”
For Ripoll, the expansion of Alliance Française has meant hiring more teachers, growing class offerings, introducing more students to francophone cultures, and even starting a film festival. These are especially great accomplishments considering the organization was on the brink of bankruptcy when she took over.

Getting Into Fundraising

Getting into fundraising was never a direct path for Ripoll either. She has a unique background that brought her to her current position, both in having had a previous career in a very different industry and also in being from another county.
“I was a professional in France,” she said. “I have a bachelor’s in computer science, and I was running a geographical information system service as well as being on the City Council in my small town. I was a very active young woman.”
Her journey into nonprofits began with volunteer work at her son's school.
“When I arrived in the U.S. through my husband's H-1B visa, I couldn't work,” said Ripoll. “I was able to raise my kids, but I wanted to find something to do and be valuable for our society even if I couldn’t generate an income. So I started volunteering at my kids’ school. They tasked me with fundraising.”
Through the work she did as a volunteer, she developed a passion for fundraising, both as a vocation and as a way of bringing communities together.
“I was asking the parents to help and participate,” Ripoll said. “I was saying, ‘It's not about the amount of money you give, it's about participation, so please donate whatever you can.’ And it worked! We got great participation and several new donors that year.”
It was at this point that she discovered the Certificate of Fundraising and Development program at UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies and saw the opportunity to make fundraising her full-time profession.
“It was perfect. I was able to learn to be a better fundraiser while still volunteering, taking care of my kids, and doing something good at the same time,” said Ripoll.
Being able to take classes at night and have a flexible class load was helpful for her, too.

The Value of a Fundraising Education

The true value of the certificate program to Julie was that it covered so many different aspects of nonprofit fundraising and gave her tangible examples of how she could add the methods to her fundraising toolbox.
“You learn many tools during the certificate but you also have to learn when it's wise to use one and not the other one,” Ripoll said.
Some of the class topics include Donor Relations and Stewardship, Annual Giving, and Major Gifts and Planned Giving.
The broad education in all aspects of fundraising was especially valuable to Ripoll as a one-person development department. It helped her develop a sense of how all the different tools and options interacted with each other, such as the value of building up a membership, the relationship between marketing and fundraising, and creating more engagement by hosting events. This all helped create more social buy-in for the aims of the nonprofit.

Classes Led By Professionals In the Field

Another aspect of the program that Ripoll found especially valuable was the hands-on nature of the classes, taught by professionals who are active in the field.
“What I really enjoyed is that all the teachers were professionals in the field of fundraising,” said Ripoll. “The curriculum wasn’t overly academic or theoretical in a way that could be hard to understand or implement. It was all real-life cases, practical skills, and project-based learning. It was like having multiple mentors guiding us to outperform our skills every day at work.”         
Through the program, Ripoll discovered that she learned a lot about herself, too. This helped her get more in touch with the reasons people give and become a more effective fundraiser in the process.
“When you know yourself better, you know how to interact with others better, too,” Ripoll said. “You understand why they do things the way they do, and why you do some things your way.”
“It helped me to realize that there are many reasons why a person would donate,” Ripoll continued. “You donate to a cause you are interested in, to help others, or when you feel aligned with the mission of the organization. But you also donate with your heart. It's an emotion, like when you buy a present because it makes you happy to offer it to someone you love. I think it's wonderful.”

How to Get Started 

Ripoll shared that one of the most helpful steps she took was attending a free online information session hosted by the program. The session helped her get a feel for the program content and how she might be able to apply what she learned.
“At least try out the first introductory class, Introduction to Fundraising and Development, and see if you like it,” said Ripoll. “Even if you already run a nonprofit and you don't think you need a certificate, it can still be helpful to take a look. You never know what you don’t know. This class showed me how much there was to learn.”
Through it all, Ripoll expressed the most gratitude for being able to do work that she truly enjoys with the Alliance Francaise de San Diego.
“I'm very happy to be here,” said Ripoll. “When I see what I've done in France and what I've done in the U.S., I see that it's a good mix of everything I love to do.”

The UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies Fundraising and Development Certificate program has become even more accessible to aspiring professionals in the field. The Program is now 100% online and is CFRE approved. To ensure wider participation, the program cost has been reduced by $1,000, making it more affordable for individuals seeking to enhance their fundraising and development skills. The units requirement has also been decreased, enabling students to complete the program more efficiently while still acquiring the comprehensive knowledge necessary to excel in this dynamic industry. These changes aim to empower a broader range of individuals to pursue their passion and advance their careers in fundraising and development.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Fundraising and Development Certificate program, there are regular free online information sessions to help you find out if the course is right for you. For more information, please visit the program website or send an email to
Posted: 6/12/2023 11:53:53 AM with 0 comments
Filed under: fundraising, Fundraising-and-development, Fundraising-courses

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