The race to qualify for fundraising

There's plenty of training around for budding fundraisers, but is the quality consistent? Sophie Hudson talks to industry insiders

Race to qualify
Race to qualify

Fundraisers and anyone thinking about becoming a fundraiser certainly have no shortage of options when it comes to training.

From the Institute of Fundraising's new learning academy, to practical training offered by the likes of the Directory of Social Change, to more specialist courses run by private companies such as Action Planning, there is plenty of choice.

But although the quantity of training is impressive, there are some doubts about the quality of what's on offer.

Giles Pegram, former director of fundraising at the NSPCC, says some kind of quality control is needed to separate the wheat from the chaff. "Consistency of quality is missing," he says. "There's some very, very good training going on, but there's some awful training going on as well."

Pegram says that, when he ran a fundraising team, his staff would say that only about half the sessions they attended at the IoF's national convention, one of the fundraising community's biggest annual events, provided high value. Skills - Third Sector, which aims to address skills gaps in charities, is considering launching an online quality rating system to help people decide which training is worth their time and money.

This would enable people who attend courses or conferences to provide star ratings and add comments in a similar way to the holiday website TripAdvisor.

Lack of flexibility

Julie Wilkes, chief executive of Skills - Third Sector, does not criticise the existing training options for fundraisers, but she does have concerns about the flexibility of what's on offer. "Access and accessibility is the biggest issue," she says. "It's at the wrong time or too long, or people have to sit through other learning to get to the bits they want. We need much more flexible provision."

Cath Lee, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, says that some training providers, such as the IoF and the DSC, have made efforts to change their pricing structures, but cost remains a major issue for small charities.

"It's not only about finding money for the fee, but there are also hidden costs with training, such as travel and time out the office," she says.

Chrissie Wright, director of training services at the DSC, says it is aware of the importance of making training as accessible as possible, but the uptake of its regional training is often low.

Online learning

Interest in e-learning is also disappointing, says Wright, despite the perception that it has become more popular over the past 10 years because of the rapid growth of the internet. "People like to learn face-to-face and they don't feel they get as much value online," she says.

The DSC has started to develop workshop days, when people can choose which workshops to attend from a choice of about 30. So far, one workshop day has been held in London and another is planned for Manchester. "People can book as many sessions as they want in one day," says Wright. "Budgets are very stretched and time is at a premium at the moment."

Wright says training is helping to professionalise fundraising as a whole. "I think there's quite a high turnover of fundraising staff," she says. "But that's beginning to change because training and qualifications give it a professional status, which helps people take it more seriously."

It is always difficult for charities to measure the value of investing in training. Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the food poverty charity FareShare and former chief executive of the IoF, says it is a mistake to focus too narrowly on the impact of training on immediate fundraising returns. "It's about investing in those staff you value and keeping them in the organisation for longer," he says. "Losing staff is the biggest threat for a fundraising department, not failing to hit its budget. And investing in training is one of the best ways to keep staff."

Abundance of training

The current financial climate could be contributing to the abundance of fundraising training. It is more important than ever to retain fundraisers and ensure they are raising money as efficiently as possible.

David Senior, director of development at Action Planning, says attendance at its courses has doubled over the past three years. "A lot of charities that allowed voluntary fundraising to lapse because of statutory funding are now coming back to it and need some help," he says.

Other trends are influencing the growth of fundraising training, such as the rising popularity of more informal, collaborative training organised through social networks such as Twitter.

One such collaborative, free-to-attend learning event is called NFPtweetup, which is organised quarterly by Rachel Beer, the founding partner of Beautiful World, an agency that specialises in fundraising, marketing and communications for charities.

NFPtweetup began in 2008 and so far has held 10 events, attended by 600 people in total. Billed as "part learning, part sharing, part social", these informal, knowledge-sharing sessions discuss the potential of digital media. While they are taking place, people update a continuous Twitter stream about what is being said.

"I've seen more and more events like this being organised over the past couple of years," says Beer. "Social media such as Twitter allows people to come together to share their knowledge. It's already starting to have an impact on more traditional seminars."

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