A fundraiser’s practical guide to delivering engaging training

A fundraiser’s practical guide to delivering engaging training

Paul Marvell, Head of Fundraising Strategy at the British Red Cross provides an actionable toolkit for how to deliver effective fundraising training sessions in any size organisation

By Paul Marvell


Across disciplines, it’s impossible to generalise about fundraiser characteristics and learning preferences, but whether you’re delivering to fundraisers or financiers the principles of good training remain the same. Effective training fulfils its objectives while being engaging, interactive and relevant to the group.

Over the last couple of months, we at the Red Cross have conducted a series of interviews across the fundraising division, examined our fundraisers’ professional development plans and analysed our people survey, in order to gain an understanding of what our learners’ needs are.

Gaining this insight is the key first step, however you go about it. But what comes next?




Once the learning needs are understood, the next steps are: 

  1. Write clear, stretching and measurable objectives
  2. Taking each objective in turn, ask yourself all the questions that learners will ask to   fulfil the objectives, writing each question on a separate post-it note
  3. Group post-it note questions together to create your session’s topic areas
  4. Next, take each topic in turn and decide on the most direct and interactive way to enable your learners to gain the required understanding
  5. Create the resources you will need (scenario cards, pre-written flipchart pages or PowerPoint)
  6. Complete a detailed session plan, including activity set up instructions:

What are they expected to achieve?

  • How much time will they have?
  • Are they working alone, in pairs or in groups?
  • If working as a group, how will that be organised?
  • Are they going to be feeding back to the group afterwards?
  • If some people struggle or excel, what can I do?


Naming the session


A session’s name should inspire attendance – for example ‘Transform your results through great storytelling’ is far more attractive to potential attendees than ‘Storytelling workshop’!


Starting the session


Training sessions should start as they mean to continue, with a warm welcome, a prompt start and the trainer role-modelling the behaviours that want to see in people.

After a quick trainer introduction, this one-minute structure is a good way to introduce a session (or a section):

  • Grab people’s attention with a closed question, for example :“Want to learn how to structure a powerful and compelling fundraising conversation?”
  • Explain why the topic is important (in one or two sentences)
  • Explain what will be covered and in what order
  • Share the session’s objectives (“By the end of the session, you will be able to…”)
  • If there’s time, ask people to share their personal objectives

Then it’s time to get people involved. The sooner they get involved, the more likely they are to participate and engage with the session.




Training must be relevant and useable (ideally straight way). This means the trainer must know their subject and how it applies to fundraisers.

For skills development, which can take longer to embed, wherever possible we ask people to practice and then attend a follow-up session, to reflect on their practice, discuss the challenges and successes they have experienced and create a plan for future development.




  • Fundraising trainers are great storytellers, so:
  • Use a varied tone of voice, which is interesting to listen to
  • Have warm, open body language and good eye contact
  • Don’t speak too quickly – slow down
  • Emphasise the key ideas within a story
  • Use varied, non-clichéd and passionate language that everyone understands


Session narrative and pace


Even if your content is spot-on and the learners are engaged, the way the session flows and its pace can have a huge impact on the usefulness of the session.

A well-structured session should consist of clear, logically ordered, and connected sections, delivered at a pace which allows time for reflection, practice and questions. Otherwise a session can feel like a blur and key points can fail to stand out.

How much content should be covered in a training session? Well, it depends on the length of the session and the knowledge base of the participants, but far better to cover a small number of topics really comprehensively than cram lots in and hope some of it sticks. So, if you have lots of objectives to meet, it’s worth considering different ways to cover the content, such as chunking the content into bite-size sessions or using a blended approach.




Unfortunately PowerPoint has become a default when there are many other ways of delivering information (hand-written flip charts, for example).

Firstly, ask yourself: “What is the best way of delivering this information?” And if the answer is PowerPoint, then:

  • It should never be the beginning of your session design process (as described above)
  • Use it only when you need to (and turn it off when you don’t)
  • Follow these simple design rules.

Because bad PowerPoint is really bad.




People learn most when they learn it for themselves – so use activities to enable learning wherever possible. This also has a number of other benefits:

  • A session with a range of activities is inclusive of a range of different types of people
  • A session with periods of high and low energy creates a good flow and helps people to stay focused
  • It’s less pressure on the trainer, as there is less to remember to sa
  • It enables the trainer to check understanding and whether people have met the learning objectives:
  • If the outcomes of an activities demonstrate understanding, the group can move on
  • If not, the group can spend more time building understanding (this is more difficult with a lecture style)


Some activity ideas


Paired exercises with post-its, card sorting and matrix exercises; brainstorming; informal Q&A; project work; process jigsaw; critique exercises; graffiti exercises; multiple choice; role-play; case study; jargon busting; pros and cons; self-assessment; timeline (step-by-step); labelling activities and model building; structures discussion;, review activities; true or false; video clips; action planning; purchased activities; demos.


Tracking progress


Using a training cycle (such as ADDIE: analysis, design, deliver, implementation, evaluation) can be a useful tool during a session.

While delivering, also consider:

  • How well is this working for the people?
  • What needs are not being met?
  • What adjustments can I make?
  • How do I deliver these adjustments?


Feedback and follow up


If done well, practice followed by the giving and receiving of feedback helps people develop new skills and behaviours.

To be most useful, feedback should: 

  • Be positive and balanced
  • Concentrate on what you, as the trainer, have actually seen as well as what is in the other person’s control
  • Be specific
  • Be concise: less is more.


Ending a session


As with the introduction, this one-minute structure is a good way to finish a session (or section):

  • Briefly summarise the session
  • Ask if there are any final questions
  • Review the objectives
  • Share the references used throughout the session
  • If the session is part of a programme, link forward to the next session – what happens next?


A note about the trainer


In order to deliver effective training, we must use quality trainers. As with other areas of professional life, authenticity, empathy, storytelling, listening and questioning skills as well as the ability to manage groups and track learning are the basis for a good trainer.


Paul Marvell is head of fundraising strategy at the British Red Cross.


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