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Full Circle: Jennifer Williamson’s ‘06 ‘07 Nonprofit Leadership Career Takes Her Home to Virginia

In honor of National Volunteer Month, we’re spotlighting an alumna who has dedicated her career to helping nonprofits thrive. When Jennifer Williamson ‘06 ‘07 earned her undergraduate degree directly after high school, she didn’t exactly have a career plan mapped out. She was trying to figure out her next move when she stumbled upon something unexpected. 

“While looking for a real job, I temporarily got a job as a fundraising telemarketer,” she says. 

Her role was to call people and ask for money, and it turns out she was good at it. Her employer recognized that right away, and what began as a short-term gig became the start of a successful long-term career in nonprofit management.

“I hadn’t thought about this as a career prior,” she says. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

In the zone
At her first job, Williamson was exposed to many elements of the nonprofit world and built an impressive range of skills as she was given several promotions in fast succession. One thing led to another, and she decided to move back to Northern Virginia where she grew up. With the experience she had gained, she landed a job at a trade association where she drew on her strong writing, development and interpersonal skills.

“In all my non-profit roles, I have been the person who goes out and gets the money,” she says. “It’s very important to know how to fundraise, and donor, member, and community relations are a bit part of that. It’s all interwoven.”

A mentor opens doors
After three years, she moved to a new role at the Northern Virginia Technology Council where she oversaw membership and member benefits. There, the CEO took her under her wing and became her mentor.

“She really nurtured me in my early career. She really believed in professional development and education,” notes Williamson.

With her mentor’s support and tuition assistance from her employer, she decided to return to school.

“I was relatively young, and it was early in my career,” she explains. “I was very ambitious and wanted to learn more about the profession of nonprofit management.”

Williamson enrolled in the Master of Science in Nonprofit Management and MBA programs at UMGC, ultimately earning both degrees in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

A rising career
In the years that followed, Williamson held several nonprofit association roles in different cities where she continued to apply her expertise while building on her strong foundation. Each association supported a different industry, ranging from court reporters and infomercials to insurance and women’s healthcare. She also had a brief stint working for an independent insurance agency before returning to the nonprofit world.

“I picked up expertise in the industries I represented,” she explains.

She also created a strong professional network, which ultimately helped her secure a role she hadn’t contemplated taking yet.

Full circle
Last June, Williamson assumed the role of CEO of Volunteer Fairfax, an organization dedicated to strengthening the capacity of local nonprofits by connecting for-profit resources to community needs. This job happens to be in her hometown.

“I was not looking for a job,” she says. “I had the best CEO I had ever worked for, and I had no intention of leaving.”

That is, until a recruiter contacted her about the position. After she read the description, she realized it could have been written specifically for her.

“I have been a lifelong volunteer, and I bring my passion for volunteering and love of Fairfax to my role,” she notes.

Volunteer Fairfax helps match volunteers to meaningful service. 

“Our nonprofit partners are the best,” she says. “We support everything from food banks and homeless shelters to friends of the park's groups. 

Since she began her role, Williamson has helped the organization, which had been without a CEO for a year, get back on track. With a new strategic plan, updated training for board and staff, and complete dedication for Volunteer Fairfax’s mission, she is finding great meaning—while enjoying being back on her home turf.

“I feel like I am absolutely where I ought to be,” she concludes.

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