Tobin Aldrich: Where are all the good people?

Charities need to take responsibility for the shortage of fundraising talent for hire, writes our columnist

Ask any head of fundraising what their biggest challenges are and it's a pretty good bet that first or second on their list will be the ability to recruit or retain the right people.

Good fundraisers are at an absolute premium and a huge number of non-profits are failing to deliver their missions as effectively as they could because they can't get the right fundraising staff.

Even if you can find someone with the right combination of skills, experience and enthusiasm, keeping them in an environment where everyone else is desperately recruiting too is very difficult.

So we have many cases of fundraising strategies not being delivered because the staff aren't in place.

There are too many non-profits where the fundraisers lack the expertise to be successful. We have junior and mid-level fundraisers changing jobs every 18 months on average which, if you think that it probably takes a minimum of six months for someone to become really effective in their role, makes no sense. It's even worse for roles which are relationship based.

How can you have a viable major gifts programme if your development staff change every year and a half?

But then we have unlimited numbers of bright and capable young people coming out of our universities who want nothing more than to work for non-profits. And there are very many people mid career in other sectors whose dream it is to work for charities.

But it is quite exceptionally difficult for any of them to find openings in our sector. I see fundraising job after job demanding two years or more experience in that particular sub-discipline of our profession. I see very few job openings that actually let you acquire that skill in the first place.

Every charity seems to be leaving the essential task of training future fundraisers to everyone else. 

This is one of the reasons why our sector lacks diversity. Too frequently the people who manage to make it into fundraising do so because of connections with people already in the industry that allow them to find the few starting opportunities there are.

It does seem that the solution to our staffing crisis lies in our hands. We shouldn’t sit back and wait for someone else to solve it, whether that’s the Institute of Fundraising, big charities, the government or anyone else. It’s our problem and we need to fix it.

Here are a few practical steps we all can take to significantly improve the quality and quantity of fundraisers:

Create more entry level fundraising roles. Big charities should be encouraged (shamed?) to create proper graduate schemes. But many medium and smaller charities can also, with a bit of imagination, create one or more roles suitable for people with no previous fundraising experience. 

I can guarantee that if these are properly advertised, the quality of applicant would be extremely high.

Take training and development seriously. It is madness that charities are paying 20 per cent or even more of a post’s salary to recruit replacement staff but aren't willing to spend a tenth of that on developing their staff so they don't leave in the first place. We need more development generally and, in particular, practical courses for people moving into the sector for the first time.

Link up with universities. Specific fundraising courses and degrees are being introduced, for example at Chichester University. We can give talks to students to spread the word about fundraising. As a sector we should link up much better with university careers services to spread the word about entry level opportunities and fundraising as a profession.

Promote fundraising as a career. Something our IoF, other sector bodies and major fundraising charities can do much more of is to spread the word about fundraising as a career. Particularly using digital and social media which is where young people are. There's starting to be more of this happening but there is still much more to do.

So, overall there's lots we can do to really improve the staffing situation that we all complain of. But the key is that we all do it. This isn't someone else's responsibility. It's ours.

Tobin Aldrich is a fundraising consultant and chief executive of the direct giving charity the Misfit Foundation


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