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Good fundraisers are those who want to change the world and can inspire others to feel the same. Photograph: ryasick/Getty Images/Vetta
1. Inspire passion in others
The first thing Donna Day Lafferty, course leader of the new fundraising degree at Chichester University looks for when interviewing candidates is passion. She says: “Part of the interview is to tell me something you’re passionate about and make me passionate too. I am looking for someone who has some kind of drive and energy.
“The first step if you want to become a fundraiser is to look in and ask yourself, am I someone who gets really passionate about things, do I want to change the world and even if I don’t yet believe I can change the world, is it something that inspires me?
“If you don’t have that in you then how can you inspire other people to want to change the world too?”
2. Aim to work for a small charity first
If you do have that drive, the next step is to decide what kind of fundraiser you want to be. The roles are diverse, from managing volunteer-led community projects to writing grant applications or being in charge of corporate sponsorship. If you don’t know what kind of fundraiser you want to be, it might be better to start in a small charity where you’ll be doing a bit of everything, says Day Lafferty.
“The plus is you’ll have to roll your sleeves up and have a bash at everything. You’ll be called on to do a more diverse range of fundraising activities. A lot of responsibility gets thrown on your shoulders very quickly.
“After a year or two in a small setting, you’ll have plenty of experience to talk about in interviews if you want to move to a larger organisation.”
3. Plan your own career development
Even when you get your first job in fundraising, there’s still a lot to learn if you want to progress and be promoted. Day Lafferty says: “Fundraising has changed beyond belief – direct response TV, government contracts – there are so many things that require very sophisticated skills. If you want to progress in your career and be a valuable asset to your charity, don’t leave it to other people to plan your development.”
It might seem easier said than done when you are first starting out. Day Lafferty advises new fundraisers to be proactive. She says: “Think about where you are now, where you want to be and what that means in terms of career development.”
4. Learn the art of asking
Laura Croudace, corporate fundraising officer at animal welfare charity PDSA, recommends fundraising for a charity or organisation on a volunteer basis so you can practise key fundraising skills.
Croudace, who has only worked as a fundraiser in a paid capacity for 20 months, started out by organising events for Birmingham children’s hospitals on a volunteer basis. One of the first things she had to do was call Cadbury and ask for a donation of chocolate bars. Asking for donations in a persuasive way is the most crucial aspect of fundraising but it can take practice. Croudace says: “People might question what benefit volunteering will have when you’re trying to get a paid role but things like learning how to ask are real skills.”
She adds: “When you’re trying to start out, you’ll need to get over the fear of doing things like that. No matter what form of fundraising you end up doing – even if you’re a trust fundraiser sending out letters – you need to be able to ask properly.”
Paying attention to how other charities communicate with donors can help you improve how you do it. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian
5. Become a donor
Croudace also recommends becoming a donor if you want to work for a specific charity. She donates small amounts to as many charities as she can. She says: “If there is a fundraiser who I really admire and they’ve won awards and I think I’d love to be like that when I’m a director, I start supporting their charity so I can get a feel for the types of things they send out.”
You can also learn what not to do. When Croudace started receiving “awful” communications from a charity, she realised she could learn from their mistakes. “I started putting Post-it notes on them and writing what I didn’t like about them so I could use it in my own work.
“You can learn from things that really inspire you or move you, but you can also learn from things you think are bad too. It’s also great for interviews.”
6. Read, watch, follow
You don’t have to be a top fundraiser already to be an expert. Reading (and watching) widely will help you understand the sector and pick up tips on good practice.
Croudace devoted lots of time at the start of her career to increasing her knowledge: “I called it my BB routine. In the morning I’d read a blog in bed, then I’d read a [fundraising] book on the commute into work. I’d read another blog at lunch, and continue reading the book on my way home. In bed, at night I would read another blog. I know that will sound a lot to some people but it was only an hour a day.
“I also set up a Twitter account and started following useful people. I learnt so much in a short space of time.
“There is also a fountain of knowledge on YouTube. If I didn’t read a blog at lunch, I would watch Institute of Fundraising videos.”
The videos were part of a series called the Five-Minute Fundraiser, which cover different aspects of the job in an easily digestible way, which Croudace says are “perfect” for those new to fundraising.