The 7 Steps I Took to Retire in my 30s

Updated: Nov 2, 2018


Welcome to our "Dreamcatchers–Women at Work" series. The first lovely lady I want you to meet is a friend, fellow St. Louisan, and author, Mary Valloni. She is doing incredible work to help people change the world as she coaches fundraisers and nonprofits to reach their fundraising goals. Be sure to check out her podcast in collaboration with Mike Kim called Fully Funded.



The 7 Steps I Took to Retire in my 30s

At 33, I made the decision that I was done with my day job. I had been a nonprofit development director for twelve years and I loved the work I got to do, but when my dad passed away 3 days before my 33rd birthday I was done. He was 69 years old and had only retired a few years prior, when he found out he had cancer. I was determined that a cancer diagnosis or any other diagnosis, for that matter, would not be the reason for my retirement. I spent that following year asking myself, “What would I want to do if I was retired?” The answer to my question was, I’d help teach nonprofit and ministry leaders how to fundraise.

In 2009, I put on the most incredible fundraiser that net $500,000 for my charity, quickly becoming a resource of knowledge for a lot of young fundraisers. The common question I received was, “How did you do it?” That was a great question, and one I tried hard to figure out. With a notebook in hand, I spent months reflecting back on what I did, and I figured it out. I broke it down into 7 easy steps and called it my 7 Steps to Fundraising Freedom. In early 2017, those steps came to life in my #1 Amazon New Release, Fundraising Freedom: 7 Steps to Build and Sustain Your Next Campaign.

The thing about these steps is that they can teach any charity how to fundraise, but they were also the 7 steps that gave me the FREEDOM to retire in my 30s, and here they are!

  1. Focus Your Vision – What kind of life do you want? What is the dream, and is it possible to achieve it? I asked those questions as I tried to figure out what gave me energy and life. I loved to fundraise and it gave me joy. This is where I created my vision to becoming a fundraising coach, consultant and trainer who helps nonprofit and ministry leaders raise the funds they need to fulfill their mission.

  2. Run Your Research – If I wanted to retire in my 30s, what would I need to do to make that possible? How could I still bring in an in doing my retirement job? I pulled out an excel spreadsheet and wrote out every organization I would volunteer my time with, but the catch was that I would do it regardless of pay. One of the charities on that page was a campus ministry that I loved, who later became my first client.

  3. Enlist Your Team – I wrote on a sheet of paper who I needed to surround myself with to make retirement a reality. Who did I need to bring into my life during this season? I hired a business coach, I reached out to a missionary friend, I locked into the group of people who could help me fulfill my vision, and I leaned into the Jim Rohn quote, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

  4. Enhance Your Brand – I rebranded myself. I was no longer just a fundraiser, I was a fundraising coach, consultant, and trainer. I couldn’t hide behind my nonprofit’s big name any longer and I had to become my own brand. I was Mary Valloni Consulting, and it was just me. My husband, who is an amazing graphic designer, built me a website, a logo, and a one-page document with my 7 steps listed out. Mary Valloni Consulting had come to life, and I had clarity and new-found confidence in what would become my new retired life.

  5. Deploy Your Team – My team came around me and encouraged me through the process, but they also went to bat for me to share my message and introduce me to the right people. One by one, my team helped encourage and walk me through some tough days of self-limiting beliefs, but together we walked through it, and I was able to continue to spread my message and my mission.

  6. Organize Your Ask – I told my story to everyone I could, and I invited nonprofit leaders to follow my steps. I started with one presentation, and it led to two. I started with one coaching client, and it lead to two. I started with one consulting client, and it led to two. Not everyone said yes, but with every ask, I had more clarity about how to help my nonprofit friends the best way possible.

  7. Make Your Difference – This is why all the other steps mattered so much. Why would I have gone through all the work if I didn’t want to make a difference? I wanted to see lives changed and ultimately, I want fundraisers to never feel alone in the process. As I continued to work with nonprofit and ministry leaders I saw HUGE impact and more dollars were being raised.

I realized I had not only retired in my 30s, but I had also in the process found FREEDOM. We all want certain things in our lives that seem to make life easier, but I’ll be honest. There isn’t a magic bullet to life. You’ll always have ups and downs and successes and challenges, but one thing I’ve realized is that I don’t ever want to feel trapped in a day job again.

There are way too many exciting things that are happening in the world, and I want to be a part of it. I don’t ever want to feel trapped in the 9-to-5 grind asking for permission to live my life the way I want to live it. None of us are guaranteed any number of days in our lifetime, but I’ve decided that while I’m alive I’d like to be truly ALIVE in the process. I believe our world would be a drastically different place if we all felt free. I hope you can find the thing you love and are passionate about, and I invite you to join me and retire too!

For more information about Mary, visit maryvalloni.com.

#womenatwork #inspiration