August 12, 2019
Claire Ralston fell in love with fundraising in high school. She discovered you could go to college for nonprofit management and fundraising at IUPUI’s Lilly School of Philanthropy, and with that came the realization that this might be her calling. A few years later, with graduation approaching, Claire still had questions about the best place to start her career. Do I want to work with individuals? Would I rather focus on developing relationships with corporations? Should I focus on volunteer engagement?
We’re so glad Claire had the gumption to cold email United Way looking for an opportunity to explore these questions and more through an internship. Once aboard, she impressed the team with her curiosity, thoughtfulness, and willingness to roll up her sleeves and pitch in—so much so that her internship turned into an offer for a full-time position! We chatted with Claire about why she chose a nonprofit career path, her experience transitioning from intern to full-time staff at United Way, her thoughts on Generation Z and more.
Tell us about how you initially approached United Way about an internship.
My internship came in an unconventional way. Even though there wasn’t an opening listed, I sent an email and resume to the general email. I tried this with a few other organizations, and United Way was the only one who replied!
Why did you choose United Way of Central Indiana?
I grew up here, and knew that United Way was well regarded. To bolster my studies in philanthropic management at IUPUI, I wanted an internship where I could learn from the best of the best. There was always that hope an internship might lead to a full-time role.
More importantly, I believe in the mission of United Way. Quality of life for our neighbors is so important. Not just surviving, but thriving. Poverty is complex and it can’t be solved with a simple fix. We need collaboration. United Way can bring together all these organizations and lead large-scale impact work.
Once you were here, what was your day-to-day like?
My role as an intern was focused on general fundraising. Specifically, I joined the research and operations team, but I ended up collaborating across the organization.
My primary role and project was a lapsed donor initiative. It started with calling donors who gave in 2017, but not 2018. I made 300 calls and talked to many different people. I learned a lot from making those calls. I also helped with research about organizations United Way engages, trying to learn more about our partners and their needs. I got the chance to help with volunteer engagement to get a well-rounded experience.
Did you find answers to some of the questions you had about your career?
Discovering my place was a big goal of mine and the leaders in the fundraising team helped me think through that and assess how I fit in a bigger picture at a nonprofit. Halfway through my internship, I got advice from a United Way employee. She said: just go for it, and don’t sell yourself short! This was great advice that helped me feel confident in applying for the full-time role here.
What do you hope to accomplish through your work here?
I find joy by connecting individuals to their passions with the United Way mission. We each have a desire to help people, and we all have our own way of expressing it. I want to come alongside people and help them find their own path toward philanthropy.
What would you say to other young people who are making decisions about what to study and where to start their career?
When it comes to working at United Way, more young people should consider this path. There are so many opportunities to grow personally and professionally here. This is a place that will invest in you early on, with great benefits to help get you set up. People think they need experience and couldn’t get hired at a place like this. I say, apply! Put yourself out there. That advice worked well for me.
We also heard that you are now a LINC Steering Committee member. Congrats! Even as you continue to settle into your full-time role, what made you decide to join LINC?
I joined LINC to connect with other young professionals my age and continue to make an impact through the steering committee. As a part of the LINC steering committee, we meet monthly to collaborate and plan the LINC events throughout the year, as well as strategize the best way to engage young professionals in Indianapolis through our work. LINC is an awesome opportunity for young professionals in our city because it provides a unique opportunity to serve, have a great time, and meet other likeminded individuals. Our upcoming event at the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center is the perfect opportunity for new members to jump right in, do some good, and learn more.
As our first official full-time Generation Z employee, talk to us about your generation.
We are a generation that has lived in a fast-paced and innovative world. We must overcome the fact that we grew up surrounded by competition, and that we have gotten accustomed to instant gratification. But the flip side or the silver lining is that all of this forces us to be creative. We are facing obstacles that weren’t there before, like high student debt and escalating generational poverty. We will be the ones who need to solve this. I want life to be better for when I have kids.
Now for some fun facts! What else should the world know about you?
I’m a lifelong Indy resident. I grew up in Franklin Township and I still live there and love it. I’m a big fan of Central Indiana. I love the city, the pace. It’s a good Midwestern pace. You get city life without tons of traffic. Some of my favorites are First Friday, art and food trucks in Garfield Park, Mass Ave restaurants, and Friday Night swing dancing in Fountain Square. I’m also getting married in November, so that’s keeping me busy for now!