Sarah Morris came to law school with a passion for the nonprofit sector and a curiosity about estate planning. Through cultivating mentors and staying true to her passions, she was able to use her law degree to advocate for causes she cares about as a fundraising professional. Today, she puts her relationship-building, personal finance, and advocacy skills to work as manager of external relations at the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project.
I am currently the manager of external relations at the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) after serving as manager of major gifts at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains for the last two years. JWRP’s mission is to empower women to better the world through Jewish values, so this was a perfect continuation of my work at Planned Parenthood, and I feel fortunate to be working on behalf of another cause I’m passionate about. My new role is still focused on individual, major giving, however, I also work with a wide variety of foundations and international partner organizations.
As a fundraiser, there is no typical work day. Some days, I’m in the office for hours, strategizing how to build relationships with a wide variety of individuals and foundations, managing donor and prospective donor data, and reaching out to seek networking opportunities and meetings on behalf of JWRP. Other days, I bounce between community events and visits with donors and manage the great deal of follow-up this work necessitates. Recently, I traveled to Israel for work, where I met with potential funders and observed JWRP’s flagship Momentum trip for mothers to experience Israel and be empowered to return home as leaders of their homes and communities. There is nothing like traveling with 400 women!
A lot of networking and relationship building! I spent a long time soul searching after law school. In the long-term, I knew that I would wind up in the nonprofit sector, through working in that arena since my earliest internships and later earning an MA in nonprofit management. I also knew that my strongest suit was relationship building, and I saw great opportunity for growth as I shaped my nonprofit career. But I also went to law school with an open mind and a curiosity about estate planning after lawyers in the nonprofit field recommended I take tax law courses if I wanted to do anything as a lawyer in the nonprofit world.
I loved the intimacy that estate attorneys build with their clients and saw parallels to the role of fundraising professionals with their donors. Yet as the networking journey manifested itself, it became clear that the best fit for me would be fundraising, and my knowledge of estate planning was ideal for talking with donors about their long-term charitable goals and planned giving. I continued meeting professionals in this particular field, and after a very long search, I eventually landed my first dream job managing major gifts at Planned Parenthood. I kept in touch with the mentors I gained along the way, and one of them recently recruited me to my current role at JWRP. She’s now my supervisor. It certainly wasn’t easy, and I had to do a lot of explaining to reassure potential employers about my long-term objectives in the nonprofit world, but I couldn’t be happier about how things worked out.
My best decision in the job search was choosing to participate in Colorado Law’s mentor program. I was paired perfectly and had the opportunity to develop relationships with two amazing women. Mary Beth Searles, Colorado Law’s assistant dean for development, and Darla Daniel, vice president and trust officer at Colorado State Bank and Trust and a former adjunct estate planning professor. Mary Beth and Darla were truly instrumental in my search. They introduced me to countless contacts, including fellow fundraisers, other nonprofit professionals, and a wide variety of trust and estate advisors; they advocated for me; and they gave me their honest input about what might be a good fit as various organizations and jobs came about.
Before I went to law school, I met with attorneys practicing in the nonprofit arena, and they recommended that I take tax law classes. Not only did I pursue this coursework, but I was also able to take nonprofit law, taught through the lens of the tax code, and social justice classes on topics ranging from education to juvenile justice. As part of one of these classes, an experience that will always stay with me was teaching constitutional literacy in public high schools and working with Professor Melissa Hart to help develop the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project. Having these networking and teaching experiences gave me important insight into the local Colorado community and prepared me for the work I now do every day: building relationships with and educating donors, comfortably talking about personal finance, and advocating for organizations.
My network has made my career, thanks to so many mentors who invested their time and energy in me. I feel incredibly honored and fortunate to be surrounded by such generous individuals, and especially female role models, who embody the idea of “paying it forward.” I would never have had the opportunity to build such strong relationships had I not prioritized networking—not to mention the fact that all my networking through Colorado Law helped me to realize that it was my “people skills” that would make me such a perfect fit for fundraising.
Get to know yourself and your individual strengths. Don’t hold yourself to an idealized standard of what it means to be a lawyer. There are so many different ways to be an advocate in the world, so try not to limit yourself to the areas of practice you may have planned for yourself before coming to law school. It’s okay if being a litigator or making appellate arguments isn’t your best skillset, and it doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good communicator or orator. Know that your strengths may not be perfectly aligned with your desired area of practice or maybe they are, but we all have room to learn and grow, and surround yourself with people who are willing to help you do that.
I met some of the most wonderful people at Colorado Law, from professors to faculty to peers. Law school is competitive most places you go, but at Colorado Law, I was able to surround myself with people who inspired and challenged me.
The atmosphere was so welcoming and comfortable when I came to shadow a friend of mine who went there. The people I met were interested in work-life balance and being outdoors in the most beautiful state where I also grew up, but the classes were also interesting and challenging.