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How to become a charity fundraiser six top tips

Being a fundraiser is not just about collecting donations youll need to inspire passion and learn the art of asking

Author: Nicola Slawson, theguardian.com Published: 2015-10-08 14-50-00 Viewed, times: 1290
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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 youre 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 dont yet believe I can change the world, is it something that inspires me?

If you dont 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 dont know what kind of fundraiser you want to be, it might be better to start in a small charity where youll be doing a bit of everything, says Day Lafferty.

The plus is youll have to roll your sleeves up and have a bash at everything. Youll 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, youll 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, theres 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, dont 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 childrens 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 youre trying to get a paid role but things like learning how to ask are real skills.

She adds: When youre trying to start out, youll need to get over the fear of doing things like that. No matter what form of fundraising you end up doing even if youre 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 theyve won awards and I think Id love to be like that when Im 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 didnt 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. Its also great for interviews.

6. Read, watch, follow

You dont 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 Id read a blog in bed, then Id read a [fundraising] book on the commute into work. Id 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 didnt 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.

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