Charities should work harder to retain fundraising staff, says Alan Gosschalk

The former fundraising director of Scope tells a panel session that fundraising staff move jobs too often

Alan Gosschalk
Alan Gosschalk

Fundraising professionals are moving jobs too often and it is up to charities to professionalise further in order to retain talented staff, according to Alan Gosschalk, former fundraising director of the disability charity Scope.

Gosschalk was part of a panel session on leading successful fundraising teams, organised by the recruitment consultancy Charity People in London yesterday. He was responding to an audience question on whether there was a problem attracting new people to the sector.

The former acting chair of the Institute of Fundraising said the more important issue was persuading people to stay with the same organisations for longer and whether there were options to fill positions by promoting internally.

"I think people move jobs much too often," he said. "If you look at the statistics for fundraisers in London, I think on average they’re moving every two years.

"So I’m keen as a fundraising director to keep people longer. If you think about it, the first three to six months are probably likely to be less productive, and ditto the last three to six months, so you could be in a position where you’re getting one year’s worth of top value."

In his experience, he said, people tended to move on for two main reasons: to seek promotion, which could include a pay rise, and to move away from bad managers.

"I think there’s a massive onus on the voluntary sector to be a bit harder on managers and make sure they’re decent and properly trained in managing," he said.

"I think we’ve come quite a long way as a sector and we’re certainly very different to when I started 25 years ago, but there’s a long way to go in being as professional as we can be and ensuring that people want to stay and move to other parts of the organisation."

Fellow panel member Catherine Miles, director of fundraising at Breast Cancer Now, agreed the issue was more about development and retention than recruitment.

"I think there’s a real issue about fundraising teams having enough time, mental energy, budget and organisational backing to put the development programmes in place for people," she said, "so that you are developing their skills and getting the best out of them in a fundraising setting but also giving them the best possible experience."

Alice Collins, director of fundraising at the childhood illness charity Make-A-Wish, who was also on the panel, said there was a temptation to think of new people as better than existing staff members, particularly in small charities that were looking to grow, and small charities could learn from the willingness of larger organisations to give existing staff a shot at transferring their skills and heading teams.

Panellist Kath Abrahams, director of engagement and fundraising at Diabetes UK, said she thought people were also likely to leave organisations that had difficult cultures, and charities with high turnovers needed to consider what they could change about the way they operated.

She said charities should consider development right from the recruitment process. "I would always recruit for the right person with the right attitude, rather than having the right skills and experiences in the bag," Abrahams said.

"It’s not about setting your sights lower; it’s about saying ‘I’m willing to take a bit of a punt’ and combining that with a really good training process to make sure I skill that person up."

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