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Taking the fundraising path to transfer sectors


Emma Hudson

Time and again I have noticed the same key questions from people desperately trying to find work in the charity and non-profit sectors – and common ones include; “why is the charity sector so hard to infiltrate from the outside?” and “I do a lot of voluntary work for charities, so why can I not get a job?”. However, my all-time favourite is “I made it to interview but they took someone with a charity background. I have so many transferable skills from my corporate background and have so much to offer – what am I doing wrong?”

It may be simpler than that. They may have not been right for the organisation or the role, or perhaps they didn’t use the right language in their cover letter or CV. They might have needed to work on honing their interview technique for the charity sector (especially if they have come from a very corporate background where the tone can be very different).

Ironically, however, there has never a better time for charities to open their doors to welcome candidates from the private and corporate sectors – and fundraising seems to be an obvious channel. Firstly, because this is such an essential part of the charity sector, secondly, there is a skills shortage of excellent fundraisers, and thirdly, income generation or business development is understood by ‘outsiders’, even if the approach might be different.


Strike whilst the iron is hot

The Evening Standard reports that Government funding to UK charities has fallen by £1.3 billion since 2010-11. This is a staggering drop of almost nine percent according to The National Council for Voluntary Organisations: how else are charities going to defend themselves against these cuts and bridge the financial gaps that these cuts cause, unless they plough more resources into fundraising?

There used to be a general view that candidates moving from the corporate to the charity sector would be a bit too brash perhaps or just “wouldn’t get the sector” but as Paul Marvell, Director of Professional Development at the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) says, “The skills used in fundraising are very close to those used in a sales role”. So candidates with this background should certainly think about striking whilst the iron is hot.


Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?

According to Marvell there has always been a “clear career ladder” so in the traditional sense fundraisers start as assistants and then move to executive/officer positions before rising to management. However, this is unlikely to apply to someone who has reached a more senior position in another sector but does not have a track record directly in fundraising.

You will almost certainly need to demonstrate your sincerity to the sector, and this could be either as a voluntary fundraiser or as a trustee. The I Am Group recently ran a trustee networking event (as part of Small Charities Week) matching small organisations involved in projects across the globe with potential trustees – and even as a trustee (perhaps especially as a trustee) you will be able to practise your income-generating skills.

It seems obvious but candidates wishing to move to charity from the corporate field should expect a drop in income in most cases. Having said that, salaries within the fundraising sector have increased since last year in most positions. For example, an assistant/co-ordinator’s annual income has increased by 4% whilst that of a director has risen up by 3% (based on average salaries).

Ultimately though – anyone that decides the time is right to make the move to charity after a long track record in a corporate capacity should feel that they want to be part of something which makes a difference – so research, research, research until you find the perfect cause.


Tips for hiring candidates…

For HR professionals and hiring managers, taking on a wild-card candidate, i.e. one who doesn’t have the desired background or experience, can be fraught with danger, but the IoF offers many fundraising courses to help candidates on their career path, so when reviewing CVs it is worth checking to see if a candidate has undertaken training in this area. This demonstrates commitment and willingness to learn in their spare time.

Try to mitigate the risks as far as possible, by understanding what skills those transferring bring with them. For example, candidates with experience of working in private wealth and family offices will have exemplary skills in research, communications and managing high net-worth individuals – a perfect skill set for corporate or major donor fundraisers. Sales people often make good community fundraisers, and athletes are often passionate about special events. One of the most successful legacy fundraisers we’ve ever met started her career as a nurse.

As a recruiter, these are the 5 things I would ask myself when considering a corporate candidate

  1. What is their track record in business development, client relationships and income generation (figures and over what period of time)?
  2. Are they showing commitment to their new career, by studying any courses relating to the charity sector – and what qualification does this lead to?
  3. Have they volunteered over a long period of time or taken up a recent position such as a trustee or voluntary fundraiser?
  4. Could they bring strong connections (worth money?) from the private or corporate world with them?
  5. What advantages could they bring to the wider team, in terms of a different way of working or thinking?

If you are a looking for your next step, why not join us at our monthly networking evenings or start by sending me a copy of your CV, to emma@iamenterprises.co.uk



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This blog is brought to you by the I Am Group.  We work with charities to provide networking and learning events and help charities and not-for-profit organisations recruit the best staff.  You can find out more about us at www.iamenterprises.co.uk.

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