How to be a successful philanthropy manager

Third Sector Promotion Cancer Research UK

Susana López, head of philanthropy at Cancer Research UK, shares tips on how to stand out as a philanthropy manager.

Susana López, head of philanthropy, Cancer Research UK

Tell me about your philanthropy team and the work you do to support the charity
The CRUK philanthropy team works with supporters able to make a gift of £10k and above to fund our lifesaving work. The team is made up of frontline fundraising specialists who work with individuals, senior volunteers, and trusts and foundations, and a skilled philanthropy services team who lead on communications, stewardship, event management, research and data management. We’re a key part of CRUK fundraising, raising £23m last year, despite the best efforts of the pandemic.

What does a philanthropy manager’s role entail?
It’s a varied role with the main purpose being to manage a portfolio of supporters, working with them to understand the impact they’re seeking to make through their philanthropy, and facilitating that. Part of this is developing interesting proposals and propositions, and an engaging stewardship offering to recognise supporters; working with senior volunteers who are able to make introductions to others who may be interested in learning more about CRUK, and bringing in senior leadership where appropriate. Managers also often have a discrete area of focus, and work with their lead or head to develop the strategy and plans around this area of work.

Apply now for a philanthropy role at Cancer Research UK

What skills, experience and behaviours does a successful philanthropy manager need?
Resilience is key – philanthropy can be a long game, and we hear “no” or “not now” many times! Finding commonalities and ways to build relationships is crucial. You need to be naturally curious about people and what makes them tick, along with a flair for writing and talking about the work in an engaging manner. These aren’t sector specific of course – we welcome those with skills built outside the voluntary sector who would like to use them at CRUK.

How can philanthropy professionals be the best they can be?
I think it’s the same as in any walk of life – we’re a team and we do nothing alone; be curious, ask questions, learn from others, ask for help and work together to build the best.

Has the role evolved in any way throughout the pandemic?
Absolutely. The most obvious is that we haven’t been able to carry out the usual engagement and cultivation activities, such as face-to-face meetings and events, in person. The flip side is that as more people started to work remotely, we’ve had more time to fit in a meeting – albeit virtual - in a way that wasn’t possible before the pandemic, and we’ve been able to attend virtual events without travel and logistics to contend with.

The role has become more about finding ways to reach out virtually. We’ve been able to hone in on the importance of engaging written and video communications, and the provision, certainly earlier in the lockdown cycle, of brain food through interesting science-focused online sessions to engage supporters and keep them updated on how CRUK is responding to the rapidly changing picture.

What roles are you recruiting for at the moment and what kind of applicants will stand out?
We’re currently recruiting for two philanthropy roles; a leadership gifts lead and a philanthropy manager role. Stand-out applicants will be able to evidence a solid track record of wide ranging relationship management, working cross-organisationally to develop income streams, either in the voluntary sector or elsewhere. You will also have excellent collaboration and negotiation skills, the intellectual curiosity to understand complex scientific areas of research, and the ability to communicate these in an engaging, donor-friendly style.

As a charity, we’re really keen on bringing in the best candidate for the role, regardless of background, so if you think you hit the criteria, but haven’t got specific philanthropy or third sector experience, don’t let that put you off applying – we would love to hear from you!

How would you describe your team’s culture?
Ambitious, high achieving, supportive, open and welcoming!

What working hours can philanthropy managers expect?
Post pandemic, CRUK has reviewed our approach to flexible working, and are seeking to be as flexible as possible. For office-based colleagues, the expectation, once we’re back in the office, is one to two days onsite per week. The 9-5 office-based role seems to be a thing of the past and I think we’ll see a hybrid working pattern, with people coming into the office for collaboration with peers, and to access specific services but beyond that they will work remotely.

We’ve seen how it’s possible to not only survive but thrive as a team during the past year, and we’re keen to keep the positives of that experience going forward.

What salaries are you offering?
The salary band for the philanthropy manager role is £35,000 - £38,000 per annum + benefits and the salary band for the leadership gifts lead is £60,000 - £65,000 per annum as a 12-month maternity cover.

What career opportunities lie ahead for philanthropy managers?
Managers have gone on to develop their careers in many directions, both within CRUK and outside it. Out of the manager cohort who started at CRUK when I did, one is an executive director of fundraising, another is a director of philanthropy, and others have moved into senior non-philanthropy fundraising careers, consultancy and the private sector.

CRUK offers great opportunities to learn about all areas of our work through secondments and shadowing, alongside an excellent learning and development offering, so the opportunities are limited only by your ambition.

I started out as a trust manager at CRUK, left after ten years to take up a senior role at a smaller organisation, and came back in 2019 to a heads role. Of my current team, around 50% have been promoted within the team at least once.

What makes Cancer Research UK a great place for philanthropy managers to develop their careers?
I think the scale of what we deliver, and what we’re planning to deliver over the coming decade, makes the philanthropy directorate the destination of choice for ambitious philanthropy professionals. It’s the place where you will have opportunities to work on transformational gifts and secure funding for inspirational scientists who are truly tackling the biggest issues facing humanity, within a system that encourages growth and development.

CRUK is a place where you can bed in and really develop your career, learning from world leading fundraising colleagues. Certainly, that’s been true of my career here. Some of the first seven and eight-figure gifts I raised were as part of the Create the Change campaign to fund the development of the Francis Crick Institute, and I learned pretty much everything I know from the people who I worked with at that time!

Do you think you’ve got what it takes to build a meaningful charity career at Cancer Research UK? Check out their latest vacancies here.

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