What is it Like to Work in… Fundraising?

Published: 12 Mar 2014 By Devi Clark

What springs to mind when you think of fundraising? Grant applications? Donations? Events? Charity shops? Text messaging?  The tools are diverse.  After all, charities use every money-making method available to business, plus others that are not.

With fundraising driving what charities can do, it is no surprise that fundraising roles are amongst the most commonly advertised in the sector.

Fundraisers are motivated the difference they are making.  Howard Lake, founder of Fundraising UK, described how he felt when he first started:“I got the bug for fundraising.  It was exciting, it had direct impact and it was fun working with a team of other people, starting from scratch and making our idea work. Even when you move on from a charity, you know your impact is continuing.”

Fundraisers are often entrepreneurial.  Though challenging, especially in the current financial climate with high demand and reduced grants and donations, many fundraisers like knowing what a difference they make.

What specialist roles are there?

Though some charities incorporate fundraising into the jobs of other staff or volunteers, many small charities employ a generalist who will use a range of strategies to raise money.  In larger charities there is often an entire department with specialists in particular funding sources.

Grants: Almost all charities apply for grants from trusts, foundations or government. Employers need clear writers with attention to detail.

Trading: As well as high street shops, charities increasingly take advantage of internet retail opportunities.

Local authority contracts form the core income for many charities, especially where the contract and the charity’s aims overlap, such as in employment or healthcare.  Sometimes, charities form partnerships with one another and with private sector organisations to create a more appealing bid.

Skills in retail, customer service, partnership building, competitive tendering or operational delivery are particularly in demand.

Direct response: Generating donations from advertising on TV, radio or mail and more recently social media requires marketing, copywriting or graphic design abilities.

Events:  From expeditions to cake sales, or from presentations to potential donors to telethons, many charities seek employees with event management experience.  

Major Donors and Corporate Partnerships:  Fundraisers in these fields research wealthy individuals or corporations and cultivate relationships with them. The donors are often savvy and know what impact they want to make.

Matt Collis, Corporate Partnerships Manager at Cancer Research UK, found his corporate experience made up for having relatively little charity experience: “What Cancer Research UK wanted was someone who thought like a corporate and could sit in their shoes when working with corporations,” Matt explained.

What do all these fundraisers have in common?

No matter what medium they use, the most important skill of a fundraiser is the ability to ask for money.

“It is surprisingly hard,” Howard Lake commented. “Lots of people shy away from it, but it is the sign of a true fundraiser.  It can be taught: there are definite ways of improving your chances of getting a donation. But the bravery to stand in front of someone and asking them for money is truly valuable.”

Bravery, yes. But empathy is also key. Fundraisers have to understand what the donor wants and what will motivate them to give.

“You are representing your charity but you also have a duty to the beneficiaries and the donors,” says Howard Lake. “They are giving you money to make some kind of improvement.  So you have to balance all three of those and be honest to all of them.”

Ultimately, great fundraisers are relationship builders, creating bridges between charities and the people that support them.

Devi Clark is a third sector coach who helps career changers find meaningful ethical work. She blogs at www.mynewleaf.co.uk/ts

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