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Use this crisis to spur your professional development

Howard Lake | 21 June 2020 | Blogs

Fundraising, like almost all professions across the globe, is currently in crisis-management mode. Charities are rushing to respond to urgent new requests for support or simply trying to remain financially viable to deal with existing priorities.
People working in charities are desperately trying to adapt to new ways of working involving children, makeshift office furniture, and video conferencing. Who remembers that infamous BBC interview with Dr Robert Kelly in 2017 where his children burst into the room? That kind of thing is repeated every day at the moment as a rite of passage for all virtual meeting participants.
In our new, uncertain world fundraisers know that the work they do is more important than ever, and we must quickly adapt to new techniques and strategies for engaging with our supporters both in the short and long term. There are also fundraisers who are currently on furlough to help ensure their organisation’s survival and feeling frustrated that they are unable to get on with their jobs.
With the urgent, always-on focus to do our best, we often forget about ourselves. Although no one can forecast the future, every possible scenario about post Covid-19 suggests that the world will never be the same. Therefore, this is a perfect time to evaluate our own skills and invest in some much-overdue personal development. If the world is going to be in a constant state of change, we owe it to ourselves to be in a continual process of learning and improvement.
Here are a few short- and long-term ideas to make the most of developing yourself, whether you are looking to develop in your current role or pivot into a new one.

Focus on professional networking

Some of the best thought leadership on fundraising comes from fellow fundraisers posting content online on places such as LinkedIn and Twitter. This is an ideal time to widen your exposure to people working in fundraising but perhaps from slightly outside your usual circles of influence. For example, healthcare fundraisers might learn new ideas from education fundraisers, and vice versa.
Be wary of information overload from everyone posting tips on any topic. Follow interesting people on LinkedIn, build lists of fundraising thought leaders on Twitter. Curate content that will help you navigate the coming months.
In the absence of in-person conferences, take the chance to make contact with people and start conversations online. Who knows where they might lead? Connect with people, engage with posts and build informal networks of support. Since everything has moved exclusively online, it is easier than ever to reach people.
Miss those regular meetings with your peers? Consider setting up a weekly or monthly Zoom morning tea with fundraisers in your network to keep your connections strong and learn how other professionals are navigating today’s fundraising landscape.

Build your profile

Those looking to make a move in the short – or medium-term will benefit from building up a profile to let people know your skillset and differentiate yourself in the sector. This can start with a thorough appraisal of your skills and achievements. How few of us ever record our training and achievements as we go? Take some time to look back and review what you have learned over the past few years. Get your CV up to date; even if you have no intention of moving jobs it is a useful exercise to identify your strengths and areas for improvement.
Take time to ask others for input about your qualities. This could be a simple Q & A with your colleagues and friends, a 360-degree review, or a HBDI questionnaire or equivalent. Identify and (ideally) invest in a professional coach. While coaching conversations are often best in-person, much can be gained online at relatively low cost.
Leaders can build or improve upon coaching behaviours with their teams. Working from home has already necessitated a different type of communication with colleagues.
One positive aspect of uncertainty is that we are more receptive to new ideas and ways of working. Investing in your management style and trying new ideas will reap rewards further
down the line, as long as you don’t take tips from streaming old episodes of The Office.


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Learn, qualify, certify

The fundraising profession is vital to the success of so many charities in the UK and yet it is often taken for granted. Bad fundraising can impact on funds raised or, at worst, lead to
ethical or criminal repercussions. Graduates are now looking to fundraising as a career and there are a growing number of formal fundraising qualifications to support people as they
grow in the profession.
It’s worth considering putting some money aside each month to invest in your own development. Increased emphasis on reducing costs will force fundraising leaders to evaluate training budgets and redeploy funds to areas of greatest value. Annual conferences and in-person training events are not currently possible, but there is a wealth of virtual training opportunities for free, plus a growing number of paid-for resources that provide deeper levels of engagement.
This may be a good time to undertake qualifications, particularly if you are furloughed. Individuals may also consider a formal recognition of their expertise, such as becoming a
Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE). This global fundraising certification, for those with more than three years’ professional experience in the sector, demonstrates that CFREs have
participated in a deep array of fundraising education offerings, raised funds, and are continually committed to best practice and ethics.
Pursuing a qualification takes time and a financial commitment, but it represents a sound investment in your future and can make you a stand-out candidate on your next job search.
The UK is taking its first tentative steps out of lockdown and there may yet be more difficulties ahead. As fundraisers, we owe it to ourselves to build resilience, learn from one another, and prepare to face whatever challenges and opportunities may come our way.
It is also nothing less than the charities we work for deserve, as the work they do will undoubtedly be more important than ever in the coming years.
By Phillip Rothwell, CFRE