People talk about the first step on your career ladder being the most important one. Bruce Tait - Joint Chief Executive of BTA - has been advising people how to become fundraisers for 25 years. Here are his top five tips on not only how to get on the first rung - but how to pick the best ladder in the first place!
Work for an organisation that believes in fundraising - that way you can avoid a “false start” to your fundraising career.
If you are interested in a role, the first thing you’ll see is an advertisement, a job site posting or a social media message. This will tell you that the job is fabulous, exciting, rewarding etc.
When you get the information pack or the job description and person specification for the role, the language is really different. It’s a bit more about what you need to offer them, what the role requires of you.
It might include phrases like “you must have a minimum of five years corporate fundraising experience” or “you must have a proven track record in community engagement”. This is where you start to really understand the job and the organisation, so that you can choose to align yourself with it.
The key thing to consider is: How much do they believe in fundraising? Because your first job has to be one that does.
In my experience, about a third of the time fundraising is something that the hiring organisation isn’t properly invested in. Yes they want the funds but they don’t necessarily want the fundraiser. For various reasons, we are a necessary evil. Those reasons include:
- They may think that fundraising is a volunteer job that shouldn’t be paid for.
- Many organisations have been hurt by a bad fundraiser.
- They may want a guarantee of success or offer a short-term position.
Many organisations have unreasonable expectations of the amounts that fundraising can deliver or the time in which it will take to raise a particular amount. They will want you to sign up to this.
My point is that it’s hard to tell sometimes.
So be careful. Look for phrases that suggest that this job is a “poisoned chalice”. Like how they describe the “reporting and monitoring” element of the role – if it seems to stringent it may be they want you to spend more time justifying the income flow than making it happen. Or be wary about who the fundraiser reports to – if it’s finance there could be a problem.
You must think through what all of that means to you. An experienced fundraiser can work with organisations like this. They can turn around their thinking and help set reasonable expectations and targets.
But my advice is that it’s not an approach you could take in your first job - and it’s not what you would want on your CV if it goes wrong. Look elsewhere.
Create the application the employer is looking for
When you find the job that you want to go for, align your application with the Job Description and Person Specification.
You’ll usually be asked to produce two documents in response – the Covering Letter and your CV. It is your job to “align” these documents with the Job Description and Person Specification. This means making sure that you reference everything the employer asks for.
Here are some tips:
- Don’t just make it a functional Covering Letter – use this document to sell yourself.
- Remember that your CV is your past – it’s where you say what you have done. The Covering Letter is your future – it is where you project yourself into the role by saying why you want the job and what you can offer.
- Pick out each of the essential requirements of the role and address each one. Describe your skills in relation to each requirement – even using the same words that they use to describe them.
- If you can’t quite tick every box in terms of direct experience, you may still be able to align a skillset. Think about all of your your transferable skills and try to find an experience that is closely aligned with what they are looking for.
- Make sure that you show evidence of your core skills (such as resilience, flexibility, project management and risk-taking).
Be one of them at the interview
Organisational fit is a key criteria that you will have to meet. But how do you do this when they haven’t described it? The best approach is to “blend”. Here’s how:
- At the interview, be the person that they are looking for – don’t project yourself backwards into a previous role. They need to see you working for them.
- Dress like they do. Sit like they sit. Use the same language as them
- Do everything at 80%. Don’t let nerves drive you to speak to fast or repetitively. Keep calm and pace yourself.
- Have great questions for them.
- Never mention the terms and conditions of employment at interview!
Learn about the charity that you are applying to work for - but research more deeply than that. Here’s how:
- Understand the big picture about the sector - its core messages and statistics, its language and values. Learn the language, the jargon, the big issues, the themes, the trends. That way, you’ll be speaking their language. You can find this out by reading the sectorial press, looking at charity websites and those of the organisations that represent the sector
- Be honest about what you can achieve in terms of fundraising. Before you sit down with them, find out how much they raise, how much their competitors raise, whether their income is growing or declining etc. This is so that when they ask you a question about how much you might be able to raise for them, you can use real figures to manage their income expectations.
Get involved in the fundraising community and the broader non-profit one
Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer – this is vital. It shows you’re an engaged member of society committed to a cause. It allows hiring managers to get a better idea of what interests you and it even allows you the chance to see what working for a charity will really be like.