The talent desert – where are all the good fundraisers hiding?

Are you finding that good fundraisers are becoming as elusive as six figure gifts? As managers in the voluntary sector, we know that our teams are our most important asset. Without the right calibre of people it is virtually impossible to deliver on organisational strategies and priorities. Nowhere is this more true than in fundraising teams – a good fundraiser is worth two or three times their weight in gold, while a poor performing one not only damages levels of fundraising income but can also demoralise those working around them.

So why is finding, recruiting and retaining fundraisers with good track records of delivery, who are hungry for the challenges of managerial roles proving to be so problematic? The problem is rooted in our education system which does not yet identify fundraising as a career option. So there is no formal qualification route into fundraising – no GCSE, Higher or A level option – and in fact no formal qualifications at all until you reach post 18 education. Even then the majority offered are at postgraduate level. There is an absolute failure to create a talent pool for not-for-profit organisations to fish for fundraisers in.


The result? Many people drift into a career in fundraising which inevitably leads to an extremely mixed calibre of individuals. In the absence of basic standards of specialist abilities or competences, fundraising managers are forced to make decisions on recruiting entry level fundraisers based on their own assessment of a candidate’s aptitude and personality. Using some form of test as part of the selection process alongside interviewing is a way of addressing this and well worth the time investment.

Dealing with poor performers once recruited is not only time consuming, but something which the not- for-profit sector is not expert or adept at, so maximising the chances of avoiding this should be a priority. Challenges continue both for aspiring fundraisers and recruiting managers at more senior level posts. Most fundraisers start out as specialists in one area of fundraising and even if they have had significant success there, have to find a way of becoming generalists if they are to succeed in senior posts. Once a fundraiser has even a modicum of experience in one area of fundraising they tend to become siloed in this specialism. This means that a senior fundraiser taking on their first director role will frequently finds themselves responsible for several areas of fundraising in which they have little or no expertise.

The fundraiser and the organisation both take a risk with this appointment. Where are the senior manager development programmes within NGOs that encourage fundraisers to become more rounded before they get to director level?

Anyone who has tried to recruit a senior fundraiser with strong experience of all aspects of income generation will know how few candidates have been given the structured career development opportunities to achieve this all-round experience before being thrown in the deep end.

External candidates who can ‘blag’ the best will often succeed over solid internal candidates who cannot embroider their skills and experience so easily! Senior leaders in fundraising directorates should commit to defining the general skill sets required by fundraisers to move up the ranks and then put in place training and ‘on the job’ activities which will enable individuals to develop and evidence them. Home growing talent is a means to ensuring a better supply of competent fundraisers and also really knowing what you are getting!

Allowing internal candidates to ‘act up’ for a period of time is another good way of testing out their ability to deliver.  Of course both of these routes will require managers to be honest and frank with individuals if they fail to make the grade. And blagging external candidates can often be exposed by talking both formally and informally to contacts who may have experience of working with them.

Fundraising jargon

At the most senior levels of recruitment to fundraising positions, organisations often come unstuck because the recruiting team is baffled by the alien nature of fundraising specific jargon. This makes it impossible for them to test the ‘nuts and bolts’ fundraising thinking of candidates. This can be addressed by including a fundraising expert on the recruitment panel – a consultant, a senior fundraiser from another organisation, the departing postholder – to specifically test and assess their vision for your organisation’s fundraising and how they intend to deliver it.

The best fundraisers have a wide variety of job opportunities open to them. The organisations who go to the marketplace with sharp, appealing recruitment campaigns and are consistent in their treatment of candidates throughout the process are more likely to secure the best appointments than organisations who allow the exercise to become dehumanised, protracted and a hostage to procedures.

But what about the elements of recruitment and retention which are largely outside of your control in the current economic climate such as pay freezes and recruitment moratoriums? Creative thinking can often find a way through these. Consider whether there is a development opportunity for someone to ‘act up’ into a position that has become vacant. Or perhaps fill a short term gap with the use of an interim manager who can deliver on a specific set of tasks or a project without increasing head count.

So maybe rather than hiding, many good fundraisers are waiting to be discovered – change your attitude to the hunt and you may be amazed with what you uncover!

THINK can help you attract, keep, manage, train and inspire teams and individuals at every level, within the UK and internationally. Find out more about the services we offer here.

Categories: General Fundraising, Recruitment, Strategy, Top Tips

Resource Type: Blog

Posted by Beccy Murrell

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