Careers: The bright young things

There's a new type of fundraiser on the scene, writes Richard Mann, former head of fundraising at the RNLI, and charities must respond to a different style.

About 65 per cent of the delegates at this year's Institute of Fundraising convention are likely to be under 35. The retired military man, a feature of the 1980s scene, has given way to a new breed: personable, energetic and often with first-class marketing, PR and event skills.

Most will be influenced by a desire to make a difference and to do some good in the world. Perhaps they also like the friendliness of the charity sector, and its more gentle and co-operative culture.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that they are prompted solely by altruism. Fundraising is now a career, and careers require mobility. These new fundraisers know they cannot allow the grass to grow under their feet. Once those gaps in the CV are filled, it will be time to look up and move on. If they don't, others will.

We know that giving - at least the most valuable kind - is about long-term commitment: the regular subscriber, the dedicated volunteer, the long-haul corporate partner. As author and fundraising guru Ken Burnett has demonstrated, relationships built over time reap rewards. And yet in the past 15 years or so, professional fundraising has become increasingly populated by 'short-termers', driven as much by career aspirations as by their charity's cause.

This may not be an entirely bad thing - a degree of staff turnover can bring much-needed vitality and fresh ideas. Today's higher-educated workforce expects to be mobile and the notion of one employer for life no longer exists. Charities have had to bite the bullet and accept this, along with the rocketing recruitment costs that go with it.

Large companies, on the other hand, take a more robust approach. When they recruit graduates they expect to invest heavily. They know they will lose some early, but they want those who last for the duration. Their training and induction programmes are set up with the intention of providing not just an understanding of operation and practice, but also exposure to the company's ethos. Shared values bind people together, creating a powerful internal loyalty. These are not things learned from a staff handbook - they have to be experienced at first hand.

Of course, most charities aren't in the same league as such large organisations. They have more in common with small companies, but even these can create their own ethos. Over time, a sense of identity and belonging is absorbed. And when times are hard and a company looks to its people to go the extra mile, this approach pays off.

Charities need to be able to do this, too. Those who have volunteered for a charity understand what this means. They develop a passion and become advocates for the cause, and bring levels of commitment and loyalty that are not for sale. In a crisis, this is a powerful resource on which to draw.

When we speak to a solicitor we expect him to be qualified and professionally competent - we are not really interested in how he feels about the law. But when donors speak to their special charity, their expectations go a lot further. Professional competence is valued, of course, but they also expect to hear an echo of the conviction that they feel.

The strides made in fundraising practice in recent years have been remarkable. The Certificate in Fundraising Management now sets a benchmark for competence and allows fundraisers to recognise expertise in one another. We can be proud of what has been achieved. But we are also in danger of being seduced by the belief that the professional marketing of our cause will be enough; that we won't need our people to feel it in their veins; and that it is all right for fundraisers to skip from one charity to another brandishing their professional portfolios as they go.

It is passion and conviction that set us apart, giving us our unique and privileged position. Nobody wants to return to the days of the retired military man topping up his pension by 'helping out a charity', but do we really want a world where fundraising is just another career path, full of clever people who know how to market a 'product'?

We must not forget that our profession lives in the heart first, the head second.

TACKLING TURNOVER

Despite worries about holding on to the new breed of bright young things, welcome signs of increased confidence were recorded in the 16th Annual Voluntary Sector Salary Survey 2004, published by Remuneration Economics in association with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Of the 186 participating organisations, 40.1 per cent predicted a rise in full-time staff over the coming year, compared with 24.8 per cent for the previous year. Only 6.4 per cent predicted that full-time staff numbers would have to fall, compared with 17.6 per cent a year earlier.

The rate of staff turnover for organisations reporting problems with staff retention fell from an estimated 13.3 per cent in 2003 to 10.5 per cent in 2004. In 2003, 54.7 per cent of participating organisations reported problems with retaining staff, compared with 46.6 per cent the following year. Smaller charities have higher resignation rates - about 10 per cent compared with a general 7.3 per cent.

The sector employs about 569,000 paid staff, roughly one in 50 of the working population. The survey covered all responsibility levels, from chief executive to administrative assistant, and spanned 40 different job functions across organisations of all sizes, from large international charities to small local community groups.

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