Stephen Pidgeon: Good fundraisers need training to be good managers

It's madness that people are promoted from within or brought in from outside without being given the right guidance about how to make the transition, writes our columnist

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

For the past three years I've been teaching the Institute of Fundraising's diploma course, designed for fundraisers who manage staff or volunteer colleagues. It's a great delight – without exception, these are thoughtful and experienced fundraisers who, in many cases, have paid personally to attend the course.

One of the teaching units I contribute to covers management issues. We're not teaching them good management – the time allotted doesn't allow for it – but I look at some of the academic views on managing colleagues and an assignment invites them to reflect on their own management style in the light of these opinions. Some of the results from the latter have been exceptional. My first job, a hundred years ago, was teaching people to be managers – extraordinary, really, given that I had never previously managed anyone myself.

But is it any less extraordinary that our sector readily promotes fundraisers to positions in which they manage other fundraisers or volunteers, without ever thinking that they ought to attend management training? Let me tell you, my brief canter through some of the theories of leadership and motivation on the diploma course is very often the only management training that most of the senior fundraisers on these courses have ever received.

At a sector gathering recently, my view that we were under-investing in training our middle-level staff was howled down with cries of "there are lots of courses available" or "you can't learn management in a classroom". I felt as if I was back in the early 1970s. Routinely, fundraisers are promoted from within the department (good plan) but take on a supervisory role, literally the next week, with no help to make that transition. Or a good fundraiser moves to another charity to gain promotion and walks into a new job, again with no help to consider the differences between doing the job and managing it.

The result is what we have now: a shortage of good middle-level managers. Those we do have work every hour there is because they don't know how to delegate work to their staff. They interfere and get in the way of individual achievement. Yet when I ask my diploma students to describe the times they have felt super-motivated, there are only two answers – when they achieve something themselves and when that achievement is recognised by management. Sadly, both are rare because of untrained middle and senior management.

Lynda Thomas, the seriously successful head of fundraising at Macmillan Cancer Support, described good leaders as those who "inspire and empower me to get on with my job, while not cutting so much slack that you end up doing things wrong". The balance is fine between that and over-management. It's time the sector understood that bringing in managers without fundraising experience is fraught with problems; but, at the same time, promoting fundraisers without clear management training and mentoring is equally difficult.

Where are the charity HR departments when either of these decisions are made? All big charities have them, yet their influence seems to be limited to the basic processes of employment. I'm currently watching a talented young fundraiser who was alerted to the exciting world of fundraising job opportunities by an imminent threat of redundancy. His bosses in this major charity are making minor tweaks to structure and no doubt have their eye on a new job for him. But in the supposed interest of fairness, the processes are both protracted and uncertain, so naturally he is looking around. Likely as not, they will lose him and will wring their hands in disappointment. This is madness, and it's entirely their fault, because dithering achieves nothing.

Stephen Pidgeon is a consultant and teacher

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