Fundraising news, ideas and inspiration for professional charity fundraisers

Stop trying to find great fundraisers – and grow your own

Stop trying to find great fundraisers – and grow your own

It’s undeniable that we have a shortage of talented and experienced high value fundraisers in the UK; the demand far outweighs the supply, and we have a scary and widening skills gap across the sector.

Paul Nott, Recruiter from NFP Consulting says: “Major gifts fundraising recruitment has been a candidate’s market for years, with salaries and incentives creeping up beyond levels small charities can afford”.

Charities are struggling to find and retain senior fundraising talent, and experienced fundraisers are alone in shouldering the burden of increasingly difficult targets, as well as the risk of burnout. Junior fundraisers are the ones with the potential to fill the gaps, but aren’t being given the support to gain the right knowledge, skills or experience.

Most of the charities I advise face these issues, but every so often I come across one with noticeably low staff turnover, where principle fundraisers have been in post for more than 5 years, and junior staff are on track to becoming well-rounded, skilled fundraisers, with the ability to think strategically. It is from working with these kinds of organisations (and seeing the positive impact their practice has on the wider sector) that I have concluded the following advice.

Provide , coaching and mentoring to junior staff

People want to hire senior fundraisers, but there is a shortage of experience. It’s not possible to just wait for the current cohort to build up experience, or expect junior fundraisers to learn new skills in a vacuum, so we have to invest in building the new generation of fundraisers up. This should include:

  • external training or coaching
  • funding professional memberships and conference places
  • and allocating an internal mentor.

It’s also a great incentive to stay longer if your workplace prioritises your development and is dedicated to your progress.

Young fundraisers - quotation by Emily Collins Ellis

Don’t underestimate the value of your junior team

Years of experience are in high demand, and the number of zeros on the end of someone’s most recently secured gift is often their passport to seniority. Those metrics are important recruitment considerations, but for many types of fundraising, if you are struggling to find senior talent, you can efficiently divide and conquer diversified targets with a junior team when they are supported and managed correctly.

Building capacity and skills internally in this way can also lead to longer-term loyalty, and helps the sector as a whole build a pipeline of experienced fundraisers.

Don’t let senior leadership ignore fundraising

Our team have written before about the importance of trustees engaging with fundraising, but senior leaders in the sector sometimes neglect fundraising too. Major gifts fundraising is often disregarded if there isn’t an experienced fundraiser in post, but 75% of the donor relationship building process can (and sometimes, should) be conducted by a CEO or Head of Programmes anyway.

Senior staff don’t have to be making ‘the ask’ or planning the cultivation, but don’t let a shortage of major gifts fundraisers stop you from progressing relationships for your organisation. Always ring-fence senior time to dedicate to fundraising, even without a skills gap to fill.

Create long-term vision, celebrate short-term wins

One of the most frustrating things about fundraising is the fact that it’s never done. You always need more money, and it can often take a long time to see a pay-off from your efforts.

This clashes with the ideal archetype of a great fundraiser and is one of the reasons turnover is so high. Fundraisers move to new organisations to take on (and be celebrated for meeting) new challenges.

Therefore, a fantastic retention tool is to include your fundraisers in setting a long-term vision and give them ownership over bringing it to reality, while also building short-term goals and recognition into these larger work plans. This does not
mean setting short-term financial targets, or incentivising rushed donor cultivation – it should focus more on relationship-based targets and professional development.

Encourage more face time with donors

Data shows that professional fundraisers overwhelmingly prefer the donor-facing elements of their role. Of course, the research and administrative elements of fundraising are as essential to success as relationship building, but these tasks typically fall to more junior fundraisers, whilst strategic thinking and relationships are managed by the more experienced ones.

Face time with donors is an essential part of developing fundraising talent, so I urge fundraising teams to send a junior team member to every donor meeting (and actually let them speak), while including them in planning at every stage. Alongside this comes a responsibility for all team members, even the senior ones, to muck-in on the less glamorous tasks.

Cross-pollinate between silos

Fundraising is one of the most frustratingly siloed professions in the sector. Right from the start of your career you’re faced with roles that demand you specialise between giving types, giving levels, programme types, and donor audiences – and most fundraisers aren’t included in strategic conversations that allow them to understand the bigger context of the silo they’re assigned to.

Working across different audiences and approaches allows for more learning, inspiration, innovation, and motivation for all fundraisers (even the most senior ones).

So I urge clients to include fundraisers from all specialties and levels in as many of these conversations as possible, and encourage shadowing and secondments between teams. Not only will it benefit them – but you never know where important conversations will lead with more brains in the room.

Paul Nott adds: “Junior fundraisers often leave jobs they love because they feel it’s the only way to broaden their experience. If you engage with them about their long-term career goals and actively build this variety into their role by spending time in other departments, they’ll stay and you’ll break down silos at the same time. Everybody wins.”

Fundraising will always play a vital role in our sector. We have no shortage of people who are interested and eager to fundraise, but we need to ensure we keep the profession accessible to newcomers, affordable for small organisations, and sustainable for the long-term.

I was once a junior fundraiser who was given the chance to excel – but the next generation of superstars is out there now, stuck without mentorship, doing admin, bouncing from role to role looking for the chance to grow. Let’s all make sure we’re growing our own fundraisers, inspiring them, nurturing them, and ultimately empowering our sector to grow, too.

Emily Collins-Ellis works at I.G. Advisors – a London-based, social impact strategy and management consultancy specialising in philanthropy, corporate impact and fundraising advice.

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