Talent-spotting: What do Fundraising Directors look for when promoting staff?

Two Heads of Fundraising hover in the kitchen, making the first coffee of the day. A junior Fundraiser, at the start of their career, bounces past heading for their desk.

The Head of Events nods towards them “They’re good, aren’t they?”

The Head of Individual stirs their coffee and grins “Yeah, they’ve got it. They’re going to go far. But who nicked the last biscuit?”

But what is IT? How do you define fundraising potential? What do Fundraising Directors look for when they’re promoting staff?

For me, it’s not about whether Fundraisers have worked in large or small charities or have moved over from another sector; or what income stream they work on. It’s about junior Fundraisers’ attitudes. Three things mark out Fundraisers with potential:

  • They focus on the donor – and want to put them first. Good fundraisers understand that we’re brokers between the donors and the people they want to help or cause they want to have an impact on. Fundraisers with potential want to learn about their donors: who they are, what they want, how they want to engage with our charities, how they want to understand how their money and/or time has made a difference. Promising fundraisers set aside their ego – they don’t push to attend meetings with donors when they’re not the best person to be there or push an idea for a campaign because they love it.
  • They take responsibility for their own development. The Fundraisers who go far in their career are the ones who make the effort to build their knowledge, skills and experience. This is more than attending conferences and training courses, useful though these are. It’s about volunteering to help other areas of fundraising to help build their knowledge. Helping steward a major donor cultivation event. Running a cheer point at the Marathon. Doing a street collection shift. It’s about monitoring fundraising trends and activities – mystery shopping other charities to see how they communicate with potential supporters. It’s about following the wealth of great fundraising bloggers and tweeters who share interesting content and views.
  • They’re driven. They don’t want to meet their targets – they want to smash them. They understand most charities’ need for funding is infinite. They don’t get a big win or run a really successful campaign and sit back, pleased with themselves. It’s all about the next win, the next campaign, how to push themselves and their charity to do more and more.

But why is the impression Fundraisers make on their bosses so important? Don’t they just gain skills and experience in a charity then look to progress their career elsewhere?

Climbing the career ladder by moving charity is of course perfectly valid, and at times essential to get the breadth or depth of experience needed to reach the top. But with recruitment always risky (for both sides) and costly, and given the importance of continuity in fundraising teams, most Fundraising Directors are keen to promote internally where appropriate.

This means if you show the right attributes you should have a decent chance of accelerating your career within each charity you work for. This can be great for both sides: the Fundraiser gets the opportunity to progress in a familiar and hopefully supportive environment; and the charity gets the continuity and stability which is so important for effective fundraising. Most importantly of all, the donors get a better service from a stable Fundraising team which recognizes talent and gets it into positions where it can have most impact.

I’m part of a panel that will be discussing these issues and more at the IoF Convention in July http://t.co/1fRvSPwH . Come along and fire any questions you like at us, or post or comments questions below.

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