Are you drawn to working for a charity because you want to make a difference? Although there can be a lot of competition for certain roles, fundraising is critical to a charity’s ability to continue its work, so people with the right skills are in demand.
In fact, according to CharityJob, between 2019 and 2022 there was a 9% increase in the number of fundraising vacancies on its recruitment site.
This article looks at different roles in fundraising, the skills you need and how to prepare yourself for a career in this area.
Don Kennedy, who works for Dorothy House – a charity that provides care and support for people with life-limiting illnesses – gives some helpful pointers along the way.
What does charity fundraising involve?
This depends on the size and nature of the charity, as well as the area of fundraising in which you work. The main types of fundraising are outlined below, but specific roles can vary widely.
- Community/events fundraising – raising money through one-off and regular activities varying from black-tie dinners to bake sales, from fêtes to firewalks and from Zumbathons to zombie runs!
- Individual giving – encouraging people to donate (ideally on a regular basis) by using a variety of communication methods – direct mail, email, telephone, social media and face-to-face.
- Corporate fundraising – raising money from businesses, such as through sponsorship or payroll giving. Employers are able to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility by partnering with a charity.
- Major donor fundraising – nurturing relationships with those who are able and willing to donate large sums.
- Trust fundraising – applying for grants from various trusts, foundations and other organisations. People are needed to conduct research and write persuasive bids.
- Legacy fundraising – helping people who decide to leave money to the charity in their wills.
Most fundraisers have targets to meet. They may be involved in developing strategies, which can include new fundraising ideas. Raising awareness of the charity is also important – this might involve giving presentations, writing press releases and making the most of publicity opportunities. Some roles involve recruiting, training and overseeing the work of volunteer fundraisers. As with most jobs, there is a certain amount of administrative work – keeping records, controlling budgets and writing reports.
Don’s TIP: “Fundraising departments vary widely in size and specialism. In a small charity you may get involved in all aspects of fundraising, whereas in a large one you are likely to specialise in one or two areas. Make sure you research the charity before applying.”
I asked Don about his role at Dorothy House. “As Head of Fundraising Engagement, my role is concerned with the development, implementation and delivery of an engagement and income strategy that will lead to growth of our ‘individual giving’, ‘regular giving’ and ‘in-memory giving’ portfolio. I ensure that our supporter care team provides positive experiences for our current donors whilst also trying to reach new audiences through innovative forms of fundraising.”
Where could I work as a charity fundraiser?
According to the Charity Commission there are almost 170,000 charities in England and Wales alone, but many are small. Charities may, for instance, provide services, campaign or conduct research. Fundraisers are also employed by religious organisations, hospitals, educational institutions, political parties and bodies concerned with the arts.
Your work setting may be at the charity’s HQ or another office, or you may work remotely for some or all of the time. Many jobs involve travelling to meet supporters.
Would I suit a career in charity fundraising?
Charity fundraising calls for people with a wide range of skills and aptitudes. Whilst it’s important to be able to build relationships, and have empathy and understanding, you also need commercial awareness.
Along with a strong belief in your charity’s work, for the majority of charity fundraising roles you need:
- enthusiasm and persistence
- networking skills
- imagination, creativity and problem-solving skills
- excellent organisational and planning ability
- clear communication skills
- a willingness to turn your hand to a range of tasks
- the ability to influence others
- to cope with pressure and setbacks
- digital skills (find out how technological advances are having an impact through the Charity Digital website)
Other skills required depend on the role. For instance, for trust fundraising, excellent research and written communication skills are essential, and for legacy fundraising, financial and legal understanding are important.
Don’s TIP: “Fundraising is rewarding, but you need resilience as it can be physically and emotionally tough. For this reason, life will be easier if you pick a cause you really care about!”
How do I get into a career in charity fundraising?
There’s no set entry route and people come from a range of backgrounds. Relevant experience and skills can be more important than qualifications, but graduates are sought for certain jobs. Subjects like business, marketing or media are useful, and there are courses in international development or social change, which may be relevant. There are a few relevant postgraduate programmes; Bayes Business School offers part-time courses in charity marketing and fundraising, and in philanthropy, grant making and social investment.
A few large charities – such as Cancer Research UK – run structured training programmes. These are sometimes aimed at graduates.
Charityworks offers a one-year leadership scheme centred around a paid placement in a partner charity; you don’t need to be a graduate, but you must demonstrate your commitment to social change through relevant experience. Charityworks also offers a work experience programme called Fast Track, which is aimed at black, Asian and minority ethnic applicants.
Don’s TIP: “Charities often offer internships and work experience placements. These give you the chance to try out different roles so that you can be sure which type of fundraising would suit you.”
Experience in areas such as sales, marketing, events and public relations – whether in the voluntary sector or not – will also give you transferable skills.
Don’s TIP: “Most charities need volunteers. This is a great way to get to know a charity, explore different roles, network with potential employers and, of course, help them do some amazing things!”
You can search for volunteer roles directly through charities (see Charity Choice) or via organisations such as Vinspired (for young people), Do IT, Volunteering Wales, Volunteer Scotland or Volunteer Now. Alternatively, contact your nearest volunteer centre and they’ll match you with a suitable opportunity.
It may be possible to train in fundraising through an apprenticeship. In England, for example, there is a level 3 apprenticeship for fundraisers and the degree apprenticeship for chartered managers is suitable for training in the sector. Apprenticeships in careers such as sales and marketing can also provide a useful background.
Courses in fundraising
Once in employment, you may have the chance to go on short courses, such as those offered through the Chartered Institute of Fundraising (CIOF), Directory of Social Change, The National Council for Voluntary Organisations, WCVA or The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.
Don’s TIP: “Attending training courses and conferences will give you a chance to network, which is a must in this sector.”
Fundraising vacancies can be found in newspapers, such as The Guardian, on the websites of individual charities, via the CIOF jobs board and through specialist recruitment sites/agencies, e.g. CharityJob, Prospectus, Charity People, Third Sector Jobs, Execucare and Harris Hill. You could also try making a speculative application to any charity of interest.
We asked Don about his own journey into fundraising. “After graduating I had a career in music promotion for a number of years before working in a key client sales role with Mars Wrigley. At this point I decided I wanted to move away from the corporate world into a more impactful career. I had always been passionate about social change and justice, and I fulfilled my dream when I found work at Dorothy House initially as Head of Community, Corporate and Events and now in my current role.”
What opportunities are there to develop your career in charity fundraising?
Fundraising can provide plenty of scope for career progression and specialism, although if you work for a small charity, opportunities may be limited so you may need to change employer.
Promotion can be to a supervisory or management position where you may be in charge of a particular area of fundraising or a whole department. Further progression can be to general management or even director level.
Some experienced fundraisers work as self-employed consultants, offering advice and support to a number of charities.
Gaining professional qualifications can help if you are looking to progress. The CIOF offers the Certificate in Fundraising for front-line fundraisers, the Diploma in Fundraising for those who want to enhance their skills and the International Advanced Diploma for senior staff.
How can I find out more about careers in charity fundraising?
You can find profiles on careers in fundraising on all the major career sites including Prospects, the National Careers Service, Careers Wales and My World of Work. The CIOF website has lots of useful information and there’s also careers advice on certain specialist recruitment sites, such as CharityJob. In addition, if you take the Morrisby Profile assessments you will be able to see how closely matched your skills, interests and personality are to the career of a charity fundraiser.
Let’s round off with some words from Don. “Fundraising is an amazing industry. On a daily basis you get to work with like-minded colleagues and passionate people as well as helping to bring about social change. Not only is fundraising a critical role within a charity, it is incredibly rewarding and varied. If you decide it’s the right career for you, I wish you the best of luck!”
Debbie Steel, September 2023
With a background working with apprentices and teaching in further education, Debbie was employed as an in-house careers author before establishing herself as a freelancer. As well as co-authoring numerous careers books, Debbie has produced resources and web content for a range of high-profile clients. She is an enthusiastic proponent of impartial and reliable careers information.