Fundraising is already a sector in which there are significant skills shortages. All of us who are involved in fundraiser recruitment, at all levels, can point to many areas where there simply aren't enough suitably skilled and experienced people to meet the demand.
A lot of skills are in short supply. We need lots of people who can work flexibly, in integrated ways, who are able to handle and interpret complex data, are digital natives, who will be brave. People who can develop and nurture relationships with supporters and who are mission-driven.
The fundraising workforce has lots of talented and passionate people, but we don’t have enough of them and they don’t all have the right skills. We have lots of project managers; we don’t have too many entrepreneurs. In a world where data is king, we have too few people who have really strong analytical skills. Too few fundraisers are skilled enough in the arts of face-to-face relationship-building.
These problems aren't unique to our sector, but we do have some specific barriers. No one looking at a collection of fundraisers in the UK can fail to be struck by the lack of diversity. Not every fundraiser is a white, middle-class, humanities graduate from south-east England*, it often feels that way. There’s surely no intention to recruit our staff from a narrow slice of the UK population, but we do seem to fail to bring in people from different backgrounds. This is an equalities issue, but it is also an effectiveness issue: widening the recruitment base would also help address the specific skill shortages in the sector.
We need to find ways to attract people from different backgrounds and experiences. There aren’t enough people coming into fundraising from the commercial world, particularly in mid-career. I continually meet exceptional people currently working in the private sector who would love to work in charities. Apart from the salary differences, these people often find it very difficult to get into third sector organisations because of unimaginative recruitment processes.
Above all, we need as a sector to think much more strategically about our people. There is massive turnover in this sector and huge sums are spent on staff recruitment, with fundraisers changing jobs every 18 months. In a relationship business, this is madness.
Too many charities fail to properly invest in their staff, have no real retention strategies, do not consider succession approaches and adopt a commodity approach when they purchase recruitment and search services. Charities might state publicly that staff are their biggest resource, but they completely fail to make this commitment a reality.
If there is one thing that will make or break the new approach to fundraising, it will be our ability as a sector to develop and nurture the talent that will deliver it. As with everything else, it always comes down to people.
* This includes the author, naturally.
Tobin Aldrich is a fundraising consultant and chief executive of the direct giving charity the Misfit Foundation