Back to basics: Recruiting fundraisers - How to attract the best staff

In a competitive market, finding and keeping fundraisers can be difficult. Liza Ramrayka has some useful advice.

Fundraising is the lifeblood of most charities, but for many of them recruiting and retaining good fundraisers is a perennial problem.

Increased competition for funds within the sector, combined with pressures to diversify income streams, means that organisations want their fundraisers to demonstrate proven skills and a strong track record. But if you're a small charity, have a low profile or can't afford much by way of salary, it can be difficult to attract the right candidates. And the recent surge in fundraising activity by universities, hospitals and schools has made the race for both funds and experienced fundraisers even more competitive.

And it doesn't stop there. Compared with marketing, fundraising is a small enough sector for a talented fundraiser to get noticed quickly.

So if you want to hang on to them, it's important to think about your fundraiser's professional development, be it formal training or less formal opportunities such as mentoring.

Whether you decide to use a specialist recruitment agency or manage the search and selection process yourself, there are several things you can do to ensure you attract the best candidates on the market. This guide shows you what to do.

1. Sell your organisation

Recruitment agencies agree that charities should approach their search for good fundraisers in the same way they set out to attract donors. From the job advertisement to application materials, you need to explain why your cause is worth working for, especially if you're a small charity or one with a low profile. More than a third of Institute of Fundraising members surveyed in 2004 said affinity with their organisation's work was the main motivation for choosing their current job, and one in 12 said their employer's reputation had attracted them to the post.

Think about what will motivate a fundraiser to work for your organisation.

Is there an exciting opportunity to provide a new and unique service, or expand existing ones? Has your charity won recognition within or outside the sector for its work, or awards for its services?

If the salary on offer is limited or not as competitive as that offered by similar charities, think about the wider remuneration package. Does your charity offer an occupational pension scheme or a health plan? Or can you offer the opportunity for flexible working, such as flexitime, home working or job sharing? One recruitment consultant says organisations that can offer these perks are better placed to attract experienced fundraisers returning from a career break or from caring for children.

2. Decide which skills are essential and which are desirable

Your ideal fundraiser is probably somebody with a great track record, bags of enthusiasm for the cause and a list as long as your arm of relevant qualifications.

In reality, you might have to rethink what you're after so that the fundraising post doesn't sit vacant for three months because it is impossible to fill.

Julian Smith, senior account executive at Charity People, says that although the HR department will have responsibility for the recruitment process, it may not be as aware as the present incumbent or their line manager of which skills and attributes are absolutely necessary. "What a good agency can do is talk to the fundraiser's manager to find out what is essential and what is desirable," she says. "Then you may need to work out which 50-60 per cent is really essential."

With this in mind, think about the wording of job descriptions and person specifications so that you don't put off or rule out a potentially excellent candidate. Do you really need to say 'five years' experience of fundraising needed'? Or would 'five years' experience in a target-driven or performance-related environment' make the job more accessible to suitable applicants?

3. Cast a wide net

Advertising your fundraising vacancy in the voluntary sector press or the relevant specialist sections of national newspapers is an excellent way of reaching the fundraising community. But don't forget the minority press (for example, the Commission for Racial Equality maintains a contacts list at, or the local and regional press.

And publicise vacancies through your own networks of community fundraisers and volunteers.

More and more websites are appearing that allow organisations to post vacancies (some for a fee) and enable fundraisers to search a jobs database and sign up for email alerts. These include and

The Guardian's Jobmatch service allows employers to have their vacancies matched to candidates with relevant skills who have registered their profiles on the site.

4. Consider career switchers

The trend for people working in the private or public sectors wishing to switch to careers in the not-for-profit sector can help to address the shortage of experienced fundraisers in the sector.

High-flying career switchers from areas such as marketing or sales often bring with them a range of transferable skills such as presentation and report writing experience, as well as strong commercial skills - essential for charities, given the increasingly competitive marketplace. A background in telesales will be useful for donor recruitment; experience of research will aid trust fundraising. Smith at Charity People adds: "People with account management skills are often good for corporate or major donor fundraising. And some charities feel that if they're getting someone from the City, they can bring good contacts."

There are a number of introductory courses on working in the voluntary sector that may be willing to tell participants about any fundraiser vacancies you have. Charities can also target career switchers at jobs events such as Forum3 (forum3., the annual recruitment and volunteering fair for the not-for-profit sector.

Finally, don't assume that switchers will be put off by lower salaries or fewer perks than they are accustomed to. The Institute of Fundraising's 2004 membership survey found that just as many people took a pay cut on entering fundraising as increased their salary.

5. Nurture talent

Many companies use graduate recruitment schemes to attract enthusiastic people who are willing to take a fairly basic salary in return for excellent training and career development prospects. Although such schemes are less common in the voluntary sector, some charities, such as Cancer Research UK (see box), have recognised that it is worth investing at this level.

Ideally, a training scheme should offer a structured programme of work experience backed up by related training and colleague mentoring. You might want to give your trainee experience outside the fundraising team department - for example, in communications or research - to give them a deeper understanding of the organisation.

Graduate support organisations such as Getalife ( and Graduate Prospects ( will promote trainee schemes on their websites, as will the Ethical Careers Service (

You can target graduates for entry-level jobs through university careers services or presence at milk round events. Alternatively, try careers fairs or information events such as the University of Manchester's Kaleidoscope (www.graduatecareersonline. com/fairs/kaleidoscope), where Barnardo's and the Manchester Museum exhibited this year.

Several charities, including Age Concern and Scope, have recruited fundraisers through a programme run by Fundraising Training (frtr. for recent graduates and those with related work experience, such as marketing or sales. Participant charities pay the trainee's salary during a six-month work and training programme.

Volunteer fundraisers may also be potential candidates for permanent fundraising posts. In their favour, they offer commitment to your cause and an understanding of your organisation's work. Again, a 'trainee' style programme may be appropriate, with job experience backing up formal training.

6. Keep them happy

Given the growing demands placed upon them, charity fundraisers now expect the sort of training and personal development opportunities offered in other sectors.

David Parker, head of professional development at the Institute of Fundraising, says: "It's not so long ago that stating you were a fundraiser was met with disapproval and the parental response of 'when are you going to get a proper job?' However, fundraising has become increasingly professional and there are real career opportunities to be had in the UK."

With this in mind, it's important that your potential and existing fundraisers can see opportunities for career development, backed up by an appraisal scheme or regular feedback sessions. Training - from one-off courses to professional accreditation - can help to keep fundraisers motivated while broadening their skills.

"Training for fundraisers is not only an investment that should more than pay for itself in donation returns, but is a matter of ensuring best practice," says Parker. "Charities have a responsibility to ensure that all fundraisers improve their professional knowledge and skills so that their performance is highly competent."

The Fundraising Programme, a joint initiative between the Institute of Fundraising and the Directory of Social Change, offers a range of courses designed to suit the needs of fundraisers at all levels of their career.

The DSC-organised Charityfair and the institute's annual convention also offer seminars and workshops.

Parker says fundraisers' professional development needs can also be met through volunteering, mentoring and networking. The institute's forthcoming online professional development centre will make both its Careerbank personal development record and fundraising career pathway available to all fundraisers (not just members) for the first time.

Encouraging fundraisers to develop their skills may take some lateral thinking. Judi Stewart, now chief executive of Action Planning, spent six months on secondment from her job as director of fundraising at RNID to head the community affairs team - an experience she values as "a great opportunity to learn".

One senior fundraiser in a medium-sized charity says employers should do more to facilitate these opportunities: "It's important to get an understanding of the other side of the equation, of what it's like to be the grant-maker or CSR practitioner as well as the applicant. I think secondments and shadowing are invaluable for fundraisers, and employers could support this by allowing them the time for such activities."


Cancer Research UK decided several years ago that a fast-track programme to train graduates, such as Nicola Pope (pictured), as fundraisers would make good business sense. The charity's fundraising and marketing graduate training scheme has received 900 applications for the 2005 intake of between six and eight graduates. It offers trainees four six-month placements plus training over two years, leading to a permanent position, subject to availability. Graduates with at least a 2:1 honours degree (or equivalent) in any subject are eligible to apply. Starting salary is £20,000.

CRUK says the programme offers trainees the skills to become serious fundraising professionals while helping the charity to meet its income targets. Gill Gracie, head of personal development at Cancer Research UK, says: "Amongst the aims of the scheme is to attract fresh talent and give them a real breadth of perspective. Usually, we retain our graduates well beyond the two-year training period, and we are confident that they provide us with an excellent return on our initial investment."


- Recognise potential: taking a chance on a business-savvy career 'switcher' or passionate volunteer can pay dividends

- Get real: which skills or attributes does your fundraiser really need now and which can you do without or develop later?

- Be creative: could the role be a job share or be done partially from home? Organisations that can offer these perks can attract experienced fundraisers returning from a career break or from caring for children

- Don't be afraid to headhunt: if you admire a particular fundraiser and their track record, find out whether they would be interested in working with you

- Sell, sell, sell: your organisation, the job, the perks and the prospects

- Keep the fire alive: once you've netted your ideal fundraiser, do all you can to keep them. Think about his or her professional development, be it formal training or less formal opportunities such as mentoring.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in
RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners

Third Sector Logo

Get our bulletins. Read more articles. Join a growing community of Third Sector professionals

Register now