Cancer Research UK: Why we should focus on development programmes

Third Sector Promotion Cancer Research UK

Chris Gethin, director of philanthropy and campaign at Cancer Research UK (CRUK), explains why the high value fundraising sector is booming and why a strong learning culture is integral to success.

Chris Gethin, director of philanthropy and campaign at Cancer Research UK
Chris Gethin, director of philanthropy and campaign at Cancer Research UK

What challenges are high value fundraising teams facing?

The sector is booming – from cultural organisations to hospitals, private schools and higher education, many charities are instigating high value fundraising or significantly growing their ambitions.

This is particularly true in the principal gifts space. But with up to nine vacancies per candidate across the major gifts sector, we clearly don’t have the workforce to keep up. This means that charities like CRUK have to work extremely hard to build our employer brand proposition, attract talent, retain our staff, offer excellent learning and development and career opportunities, as well as flexibility and work life balance. Phew! The scale of the task is huge and we need to listen hard to what our staff want and respond well.

What skills are in particularly high demand and low supply in the fundraising sector?

Principal gift fundraising is the new kid on the block; experience of soliciting donations above £1m in the UK and overseas is desirable but increasingly we look for rising stars who have the right balance of strategic and lateral thinking and first class interpersonal skills to move into this area.

Experienced principal gifts staff are thin on the ground in the UK but many senior fundraising professionals have the potential to really excel with the right coaching and support.

Why is it important for charities like yours to have robust development programmes in place?

We have high expectations of our team and it’s crucial that we support them to really thrive. None of us are too experienced to learn. I’m currently studying for a masters in philanthropy at the University of Kent! The fundraising landscape is changing too - we’re increasingly involving family offices, multigenerational supporters and working with agents and wealth advisors. We’re seeing a rise in planned giving and new philanthropy like impact investments.

At CRUK we need to support our people to understand the sometimes complex science behind philanthropy and articulate that clearly. As we turn our attention overseas we need to understand cultural differences and at the highest giving levels we need superb negotiation skills.

How is CRUK embracing learning and development?

I’m absolutely thrilled that we have just launched our first formal programme – LEAP – for leaders in philanthropy. Whether staff join us as an officer new to fundraising, or a head with 30 years experience, we have something for everyone.

From deep-dive training days, for example on networking training, through to an exhaustive online library of resources (such as TED Talks, blogs, podcasts and process guides) to coaching and mentoring, I believe we have a sector-leading approach in place now.

Top tips on how to create a learning culture in a fundraising team

You have to start by deeply understanding the profession. We spent a huge amount of time developing the learning curriculum for our people, establishing what skills, knowledge and experiences make a great fundraiser at officer, manager and senior manager levels.

From there, we worked with our L&D partners to create learning interventions that are varied and high quality, time efficient and memorable. This year we took a small delegation of fundraisers to the US East Coast to visit some of the best fundraising offices in the world – our commitment to a learning culture means we will innovate in these ways, with an eye on cost of course.

I believe we’re really doing something special at CRUK.

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