There’s one vital question you should ask yourself before taking on a new fundraising role – and it’s nothing to do with slick professionalism, says Angela Cluff
In the early days of my fundraising career I applied for a job as a corporate fundraising manager with an organisation that campaigns for a social cause that matters to me. I was excited to be invited to interview, and was asked to prepare and deliver a presentation about why my (corporate) audience should support the charity. The problem was the charity they wanted me to ‘sell’ wasn’t the one I was applying to join; it was a donkey sanctuary.
Those of you who know me and especially those who know me well, know I’m actually rather fond of four legged creatures – especially those with large eyes and large ears. But when it comes to causes I want to support and fundraise for, my passion lies elsewhere.
The interview was just a few days away when I sat down to prepare. And within minutes I knew what I had to do. I wrote an email pulling out of the interview – I knew I couldn’t pull off selling a cause that didn’t truly inspire me. What’s more I knew I didn’t want to work for an organisation that didn’t understand that they were about to make a recruitment decision based on a flawed premise – that good fundraisers can ‘sell’ any cause.
Substance over style
At the time, years ago, my response was a gut feel about what was right for me. But now I know this story underpins a fundamental belief I hold about fundraising and fundraisers. And it’s why I’m right behind one of the principles that the Commission on the Donor Experience has concluded should underpin the changes needed in fundraising to put donors back at the heart of organisations’ fundraising strategies. The principle is simple – that donors usually value passion more than technique or slick professionalism.
Over the years, I’ve been drawn into numerous debates about fundraising and fundraisers – what matters most? Technical expertise? A track record? Transferable skills from sales or marketing? Of course, all of these are valid. But they mean nothing without a deep underlying passion for the cause. They are an ‘and’, not an ‘or’.
In our work as fundraisers we are not ‘selling’. We’re building relationships with those who share the values our organisations – and we – represent. It’s not surprising then that donors respond more positively when our genuine commitment shines through. And this is incredibly important when we are talking about major donors – the project I have lead for the Commission – where we have personal, one-to-one, face-to-face relationships.
Another story. In my day-to-day work as a consultant, I have reviewed numerous major donor programmes. One sticks in my mind – an international organisation, a small UK team, exceptional gifts from ‘under the radar’ donors. Why? A long-term fundraiser in post with a personal commitment, both to the cause and the organisation’s Christian ethos, that shone through to the donors she met, nurtured and inspired.
I interviewed a few of them for the project I was working on. What did they say about her?
“Jo (not her real name) is wonderful – she shares our support for x (the organisation).”
“She’s been with x for awhile now – she’s committed and we like that because she knows about us and why we support too.”
“She really takes time to listen to us and knows what we’re interested in – she’s very thoughtful, often sending a snippet of information that she knows we will want to see.’”
I really believe that, unlike passion which can only come from the heart, fundraising techniques and skills are something that can be taught – proven by the fact that many organisations are now successfully recruiting from outside the sector. They’re recruiting people with the right characteristics – the personal qualities to build relationships and with a passion to change the world. And then they are investing to make sure they are fully equipped by immersing them in the organisation’s work and building their fundraising skills.
For me, you can’t be a great fundraiser without deep passion for the cause you fundraise for.
This is one of the principles that the Commission has concluded will underpin the changes needed in fundraising to rebuild public support for both fundraising and fundraisers. And that’s vital, because without it, it will be impossible to inspire people to support our organisations to end poverty, save the planet, cure diseases and build a better future.
If you want to find out more about how the work of the Commission of the Donor Experience will transform fundraising for good, click here, sign up and get involved.
If you’re applying for your next role, ask yourself just one vital question – is this a cause and organisation that genuinely inspires you? Take the time to find out about the organisation’s vision, programme and people; but most of all find the hook that will demonstrate your passion to donors – and the recruitment panel.
If you’re recruiting to your team, look for the candidate who demonstrates passion that matches yours. Hire them. Then remember it’s your job to equip them to succeed – so invest in onboarding, in equipping them with fundraising skills and knowledge, and most of all in supporting them to deliver an outstanding donor experience.