After earning her bachelor’s degree in her home county of China, Le (Elle) Yang knew she wanted to continue her studies in a master’s degree program. When circumstances drove her to begin looking at schools in the United States, she found, applied, and was accepted to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
“I’m interested in helping people, and that passion drove me to study and pursue a career path in this direction,” Yang said.
She soon learned a great deal about philanthropy and fundraising in the United States. One of the classes that taught her the most was Principles and Practices of Fundraising with Dr. Tim Seiler.
“I didn’t know anything about fundraising before I enrolled in that class,” she said. “During it, I learned all of these concepts and case studies and what good fundraising is. In addition, Dr. Seiler is a fundraiser himself and is a perfect example of what a good fundraiser is.”
Yang identified other individuals at the school who made a strong impact on her, including philanthropic studies professor and founding dean emeritus Gene Tempel, who helped narrow Yang’s passion to a specific area of interest and suggested that she go into applied research. She also praised Pamela Clark, director of student services and admissions, for her impact: “Pamela always asked how I was doing. She helped me balance being an international student with my life and work.”
Andy Baker, associate director of annual giving and alumni relations and Yang’s graduate assistant supervisor for a semester, introduced her to many experiences and people.
“He constantly took me into meetings where he talked about fundraising ideas and plans and how we could help the school achieve its goals,” Yang said.
Yang also mentioned Dr. Xiaonan Kou, associate director of research: “I worked with her when I served as a research associate for the school. She’s very thoughtful and detailed-oriented and always had me look at a problem in different ways before finding a solution.”
Yang’s graduate assistantships with Baker in development and Kou in research gave her practical experience in fundraising and research. With Baker, Yang worked in prospect research and identified prospective donors who could become connected to the school.
“We were interested in alumni and individuals from other countries and what their philanthropic and social investment goals are. I provided concrete strategies for donor qualification and helped create major donor profiles,” Yang said.
In the research department, Yang learned about the practical applications research has to the field of philanthropy. She researched, coded lists, and reviewed literature for projects such as the Million Dollar List and Giving in Chicago.
These experiences helped launch Yang into her first job post graduation as a research assistant at United Way, where she worked in prospect research and data analytics. She realized that she wanted to go back to school though and is now enrolled in the graduate program at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). She also works part-time at the Public Policy Institute and focuses on data analytics, statistical analysis, and graph creation.
For Yang, the combination of fundraising and research has shown her the path she wants to continue on.
“Nonprofits need to utilize scientific models to figure out markets and increase capacity development. Statistical analysis will help illustrate trends for the entire industry, while also helping specific nonprofits frame their unique styles of fundraising,” she said. “I’m very interested in using those forms of analysis and combining them with prospect research to enhance the field.”
In the future, Yang would like to become a leader for a prospect research or resource development team for a renowned nonprofit organization in the U.S.
For now though, Yang is continuing school and working while also volunteering as the fundraising chair for the China United Education Assistance Foundation (CUEAF), a local nonprofit that is helping rural children in China achieve higher levels of education, while also fostering educational and cultural exchanges between the U.S. and China.
“The organization is completely run by volunteers and they put 100 percent of the donations to the programming work,” she said. “These resources are transforming the lives of children and teachers in rural China. To see the impact of philanthropy in this different context is very interesting and empowering.”
She is grateful for her time at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, saying the school is “the first and best school of philanthropy in the world. It has the most advanced theory and research.
“The resources the school has brought to me and can bring to other students are limitless. The relationships I developed there will continue to be a positive influence on my life and career.”
Her advice for current students?
“Narrow down your interests to two or three specific ideas and go with those. Keep your eyes open but be realistic about working in the nonprofit sector. You’re not going to solve an entire issue like poverty, but you are going to be able to say that you made a difference.”
Abby Rolland is the blog content coordinator for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.