Think tanks in the network often say that finding talent is one of their biggest challenges. In the public policy world, that can be especially true for roles outside of policy research that are not as well known.

This month, State Policy Network launched a new talent development program to connect rising young professionals to an area where career opportunities and needs within state think tanks abound: development.

SPN’s Development Apprentice Program places participants at SPN state think tank affiliates across the country where they receive a combination of intensive training and on-the-job experience in nonprofit philanthropy. This inaugural program kicked off last week as SPN hosted the 2018 class of 12 development apprentices for a Welcome Seminar at its headquarters in Arlington, VA. During this week-long seminar, apprentices learned about the fundamentals of fundraising, received general professional development training, and connected with a peer network of fellow apprentices and professional mentors.

Development apprentices heard SPN staff’s stories about how they came to the network and what they learned from their previous work experiences at think tanks. 

“It was surreal to see this program launch last week, and it was only possible thanks to the hard work and support of SPN’s donors, staff, and the development directors and leadership across the network who truly have embraced development as a crucial part of organizations’ success,” said Kristina Mitten Sanders, SPN’s senior director of leadership and philanthropic strategy, who has spearheaded the creation of this program.

So, who are the development apprentices? Here are a few interesting facts about the 2018 inaugural class:

  • Total Participants: 12
  • Recent Grads: 7
  • Current Students, 4 rising seniors, 1 rising junior
  • 6 males, 6 females
  • One has prior experience working in development to date.
  • Four have previously interned with a free-market nonprofit. For the rest, this program is their first exposure to the free-market, state think tank network.

Apprentices will spend the remaining nine weeks of their program working full-time at their placement organizations. During this time, apprentices will train alongside seasoned development leaders to learn the day-to-day aspects of development operations, as well as the high-level components, such as development strategy and donor engagement.

“Our hope is that this program will continue to  build the culture of philanthropy in SPN’s member think tanks and raise awareness of nonprofit development as an exciting, fulfilling career option for new graduates,” said Sanders.

On June 4-8, SPN welcomed the 2018 class of development apprentices to the network. 

What apprentices are saying about the program:

“All the seminar speakers and SPN staff love what they do, and you can genuinely tell. It’s reassuring and exciting to think I could love my job that much too.” – Kelsey, Bluegrass Institute

“I worked in media in summer 2017 and found it unfulfilling. I felt like media was only advancing partisan narratives. When I looked at SPN, I saw that partisan narratives took a backseat to values like freedom and opportunity. Those values mean a lot more and transcend the political machine here in Washington, DC. I’m excited about building relationships to get people invested in change at the state level.” – George, Georgia Center for Opportunity

“Some of the greatest changes come from the state and local level. I’m excited to see what is happening on the ground. I wanted to be involved in the nonprofit world and in policy. I wasn’t sure how to do both, but now I see that development is exactly the place where that overlaps.” – McKenzie, Washington Policy Center

“State policy and state think tanks make the most difference. My goal for the future is to promote liberty. Working at the state level may not seem as ‘sexy’ as national politics, but we need more people doing this work—on the ground, practically making a difference, walking the walk and getting things done.” – Kelvey, Show-Me Institute

“I’ve always been really proud to be from Missouri. It’s a state with a lot to offer that is falling behind, because, when it comes to policy, Missouri has things that are getting in our own way of growing. I never realized that philanthropy could be an opportunity to change that. I’m excited to be part of the fuel for change—philanthropy makes it possible.” – Carson, California Policy Center

Learn More

If you are interested in learning more about this program or serving as a host organization or mentor, please contact Kristina Mitten Sanders at