The rise and rise of the relationship approach to fundraising is mirrored by the fall and fall of the number of people available who can do it.
The acceleration towards a ‘relationship’ approach to fundraising has led to an acute shortage of people with the combination of experience, (aptitude ?) and skills required. There are more and more specialist ‘philanthropy’ roles being established by ‘mainstream’ charities and more often than not, senior executive roles place relationship fundraising as the key requirement. Not so long ago it was digital, digital, digital!
The turbulent times for fundraising and the sector more widely, the new regulatory framework and now GDPR have combined to make ‘relationship fundraising’ the order of the day. Some would argue that it has always been the case and the sector simply became seduced by the art of the new.
Before the banking crisis the rise in salaries for fundraising roles generally was outstripping other job disciplines in the charity sector and the same is now true for ‘philanthropy’ roles in particular, whether this be for individual major donors or institutions. This shortage of experience and skills will continue for the foreseeable future that presents charities with a dilemma. Do they continue with the bidding war to attract the best talent, or are there other ways that present a longer-term solution?
The trouble with simply increasing salaries is that there is always the temptation for people to have their head turned by a ‘great new opportunity’ with a great new salary attached. One of the criticisms long levelled at the fundraising community is that people are not staying in roles long enough to be able to develop major partnerships. As we all know, it takes time to develop long-lasting relationships that lead to multiple gifts as opposed to one-off donations.
In simple answer, there are no quick fixes. Sorry.
There are, however, a few simple things a charity can do to increase the likelihood of bringing the people in with the right potential – and to keep them.
1. When identifying donors you look for affinity and propensity to give as opposed to simply potential ability to give – or at least you should. When seeking to appoint to specialist philanthropy roles, it is just as important to identify your prospects in exactly the same way and to look beyond the obvious. What in their background, their life experience and their interests could suggest an affinity with your mission? The more you achieve this alignment the more likely there will be the match for both parties and the longer you stay together.
2. In the same way that recruitment websites were the death knell for newspaper advertising, social media is fast replacing them. If you only spend a cursory amount of time on LinkedIn, it seems that every other post is for a job opportunity and I am being told on a daily basis that I will be in the top 10% of candidates if I were to apply for this job or that job. There’s just so much out there. Your approach to your prospects, as it has for your donors, has to stand out and engage on an individual and on a personal level. Just ‘bunging it out on the wire’ doesn’t do it anymore.
3. Taking people with ‘transferable’ skills is always an option, but relationship development and management in one setting doesn’t always translate well to another. Any manager considering this option would do well to focus on empathy and values during the selection process and not to rely solely on interview.
4. Transferable skills doesn’t mean that confining this to the ‘commercial’ sector. There are disciplines within fundraising that do lend themselves to relationship development on an individual basis. Again it is to do with individual preferences so seeking out the evidence of the behaviours in the selection process is what you have to do.
5. Whether you’re hiring experienced people, or people with potential, invest in development. One of the best courses around is run by Jeff Shear of Solid Management, which is a deep-dive on major donor fundraising and that has been running for many years now and backed-up with a wealth of evidence of what works.
6. Top tip - in our experience, the really great candidates we have secured over recent years are those who invest in their own professional development and this often includes having a mentor. For another job discipline entirely, we’ve been impressed by the Charity Comms mentoring scheme and the IoF Major Donor Special Interest Group offers similar support for relationship fundraisers.
7. Lastly, don’t get hung up on numbers, if you have one good prospect then see them. As we often tell clients, you only need one and sometimes the buses don’t all turn up at once. No matter how long you wait.