Falling into fundraising? Where's the career path?

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Falling into fundraising? Where's the career path?

Falling into fundraising? Where's the career path?

According to research Cause4 conducted with Rogare, only 5% of fundraisers actively chose it as a profession. The majority (44%) become a fundraiser ‘by accident’ with no major decision to choose this as a job. And many of us (42%) gradually came to the decision to become a fundraiser over time. There’s such a shortage of talented fundraisers that this inadvertent route into the career is hampering charities’ success rates. 

Fundraising is a rather elusive talent, and the best fundraisers have a mix of skill, experience, knowledge and passion. But too few of the right people are even entering the profession and too many charities are unable to fill key roles or see their Development Directors staying for just a short time, burnt out by the role and its demands.

Commissioned by Cause4 and Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy, this latest report, entitled ‘Accident Prevention’, makes clear the urgent need to understand the training pathways and the support that fundraisers need to succeed, and to evidence where new partnerships, programmes and collaborations need to emerge. Ian MacQuillin, Director and Founder of fundraising think tank Rogare and the report’s author, thinks it’s time for a radical rethink. ‘We wouldn’t expect a surgeon or accountant to fall in to their profession so why do we expect the same from fundraisers?’ he says. ‘We must urgently remove the reluctance to establish a set of standard competencies and skills in fundraising.’

What the report shows is that while the charity sector attracts passionate and values-driven individuals, too often we leave finding good fundraisers to chance. Up to now, the recruitment process has often been haphazard. Should we be looking for experience and track record? How do we assess a candidate’s suitability for a role? We need to end the subjectivity entrenched in recruitment practices to ensure the charity sector attracts a skilled and diverse pool of talent for years to come.

By actively promoting fundraising as a profession and introducing formally-recognised qualifications the charity sector will acquire the competencies needed to plug the growing skills gap. The introduction of an industry-standard qualification will help to ensure quality and end the informality of training and career development currently on offer.

Ultimately, fundraising needs to follow other professions in providing a route to qualification. Intentional routes can include apprenticeships, entry-level trainee schemes or internships such as the Arts Fundraising Fellowship, underpinned by a range of on-the-job learning, mentoring, professional training, CPD and accredited routes.

A career in fundraising has no pathway and perhaps more worryingly, despite the presence of Occupational Standards such as those developed by Arts Fundraising, most organisations don’t recognise any defined criteria in either skills or knowledge that are requirements for fundraising roles – all are optional. Without an established entry route into fundraising, recruiters rely on entry requirements too often expressed as the behaviours/attitudes of candidates rather than what knowledge or skills are required. Like me, you have probably seen advertised on fundraising role descriptions phrases like ‘be passionate’, ‘have good interpersonal skills’, ‘be able to take pressure’. These vague personal traits are difficult to measure on paper, are open to interpretation, and could almost sound like a warning to potential talent that this could be a difficult and overly stressful job.

When I speak to most Development Directors they zone in on experience or track record as the essential requirements for the role. But how do we assess whether someone’s track record in another role makes them suitable to deliver in our environment? Some fundraising roles are far easier to deliver in than others.

I was certainly one of those who fell into fundraising. Quite early on in my career, I took what I thought was a Marketing Director role at an arts organisation, which was in fact a crisis fundraising role. I stuck with it, but it was a route into fundraising by accident, not design. Maybe I was lucky to find something that I loved doing but, as the charity sector faces a difficult future, managing and rebuilding post Covid-19, it’s not going to be good enough to rely on luck.

Research by the Oxford University Press identified two ideal types of entrants to managerial or professional jobs – the ‘purists’ who remain true to their own values, and the ‘players’ who play a positional game to understand how to package themselves up best to win the job. Fundraising recruiters can be faced with a choice of purists without appropriate skills and knowledge, or players with some appropriate skills or knowledge. It is likely that many fundraising recruiters would choose the unskilled purist over the skilled player when passion for the cause seems to be a charity driving factor. But surely the key to finding the right entrants to fundraising roles is the skills that they have? Prioritising passion over knowledge doesn’t seem to make sense in these vital income-generating roles.

We can only take action if the prevailing attitude changes. Our sector leaders should be demanding a diverse talent pool of fundraisers that have recognised knowledge and skills. It should no longer be left to chance.

Michelle Wright, founder and CEO of Cause4

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