Fundraisers work with sensitive issues in fast-moving environments with limited resources and very high expectations. Taking time out to think about who we are and the work we want to do is an important part of developing resilience.
Fundraisers can choose to leave their organisation due to lack of career advancement opportunities. Fundraisers are often not a part of the leadership team and, as a result, career development is stifled and their capacity to build appropriate connection with organisational leadership – particularly board members – is reduced.
Nevertheless, a career as a fundraiser can be exciting – even thrilling – as we help others by raising funds to solve problems that require extraordinary thinking and commitment to results.
So, if you are thinking about what’s next with your fundraising career, don’t approach it like Alice in Wonderland when she meets the Cheshire Cat (a tricky fellow) at a fork in the road:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Well, here’s a question for you: Do you know where you want to go? Do you want to lead a fundraising department in a small charity? Or focus on a specific stream of fundraising in a larger department? Or work for a large university? Or run the whole organisation? What’s your vision for your career?
There are many reasons why we believe we are not in – or able to get – the job we want. Some of these include: “I don’t have the right experience’’ or “I don’t have the training or qualifications”. Some just believe: “I’m not sure what I want!” It can come down to a lack of clarity about direction and low confidence about one’s ability to get what one wants. Here are some things to try to get you ready to take charge of your career.
Firstly, you need to focus on your career to date and ask questions. What do you enjoy about what you do now? What would you like to do differently? How did you get into this job in the first place? This will give you a line in the sand. Where are you now and what might you want in the future? Things change and you don’t have to make a lifetime commitment right now. You are just starting to map out where you may want to be in 3 or 5 – or even 10 – years’ time.
What does your resume look like? Does it reflect more about what you’ve done or what you’d like to do? Resumes need to be accurate, but they should show that you are ready for what comes next. Resumes are meant to help you find the job you want – not just reflect what you were. Be future focused with your resume.
TRY THIS EXERCISE: Find a job vacancy that looks like what you want, but for which you feel under-qualified. See if you can write your resume in a way that shows how qualified you are. You may never submit it, but it will help you to start thinking about what you are highlighting or hiding from your career. Learn how to shine a light on your skills, strengths, and abilities.
If you think you might like to switch industries or sectors, it can help to reach out to others in the chosen sector and ask them what it’s like. You can ask about opportunities, challenges and pay rates – whatever will be useful to you.
TRY THIS EXERCISE: Connect with a new person on LinkedIn and ask them if you can have a coffee and a chat. Better yet – remember that person who you believe is a great fundraiser, manager, or leader? Reach out and connect with them. Many happy endings have begun with this type of interaction (and the bravery it requires!).
If you believe that you would benefit from more training or better qualifications, consider tertiary education and tailored one-to-one fundraising coaching. If you are a more experienced fundraiser, consider taking the CFRE (Certified Fundraising Executive) exam. These actions will improve your knowledge – they will also improve your confidence in yourself.
TRY THIS EXERCISE: Review the top job vacancies you are interested in and look at the position descriptions/job requirements – what qualifications are they asking for?
AskRIGHT Director, Daniel McDiarmid, advises that it helps to experience a wide range of fundraising activities and channels early in your career, as it is often challenging to go back and experience the parts you missed once you have become more senior.
ASK YOURSELF: How broad is my experience? Are there any opportunities in my current organisation to grow and learn? What is missing? Have I had exposure to capital fundraising, managing a fundraising team, or running events?
MAKE A PLAN
Once you have done some research, write a plan. Any good fundraiser will tell you that you always need a written plan, so write one for your career. What are your goals? How will you know when you’ve succeeded? Where would you like to be in a few years’ time?
TRY THIS EXERCISE: Do a mind map of your career – where does it take you? You may be surprised.
A career as a fundraiser is often tough. We work with sensitive issues in fast-moving environments with limited resources and very high expectations. Therefore, taking some time out to think about who we are and the work we want to do is an important part of developing resilience.
Finding the workplace that you believe will give you the effective support and growth opportunities is very important. Career planning is not just about finding the right job – it’s about finding the right environment that will support you as a person and help you use your talents for the organisation and your own benefit.
Taking control of your career is not a selfish exercise – it’s about self-care, and a happy employee is going to be more effective at their work.
Ultimately, it is up to you where you work – whether you find yourself in a role that expands your horizons and supports your goals or in a role that makes you feel stifled and under-valued. Change comes from insight, so take some time to consider what you want from your fundraising career and go out and get it.
Pamela is a CFRE and a recognised strategic business leader having delivered revenue and growth in dynamic and changing environments within the not for profit sector for almost 20 years.
 Roe R., Dalton P. (2019) Six Fundraisers’ Dilemmas, Giving Hope: The Journey of the For-Purpose Organisation and Its Quest for Success. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore