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March 29, 2017

Your first Director of Fundraising job

Some guidance on taking on that first role as a fundraising director.

Your first Director of Fundraising job

Carla Miller

Being a Director of Fundraising is, in my humble opinion, one of the best jobs in the world. It can also be, in my experience, a hard and stressful job at times. You have the opportunity to create change and make an impact on a scale you won't have experienced before. With that comes responsibility to deliver, to inspire and motivate a team even if the charity is going through difficult times and a need to be able to influence at the highest levels. For some people it is where they feel truly at home, for others it is a step away from the fundraising specialism that they love and includes a level of reporting that can seem onerous. 

I always encourage people to think carefully about why they want to be a Director. What do you think it will bring you? Is it influence, status, an opportunity to learn or a chance to lead? What could be the possible downsides and how will you plan for them? When you understand why you want to do this you will be able to pick the Director roles that suit you.

Deciding which job to apply for

When you are applying and interviewing for a Director role, be choosy about which roles you go for. Things to consider include:

. What is their financial situation? Do they struggle to raise funds or to curb their spending? Have they been reliant on one funder or living off a large legacy for a long time? How do the Trustees approach risk and investment in fundraising?

. What turnover has there been in this role? When you've seen 3 or 4 Directors in as many years there's probably an issue there and it's good to find out what that is.

. What's the culture like? What reputation does the organisation and the CEO have within the sector and with former employees?

. Are the income aspirations for the role realistic? If they're looking to double income in a short period of time what are they putting in place to achieve that? Is there an amazing new service or campaign they want to launch and is there a budget for investment in fundraising?

. What is the organisation's appetite for change and does it match yours? If they want a change in income are they also open to making the required organisational changes? Are they looking for someone who will be a change-maker or someone to steadily deliver over a long time period? I have seen mismatches in expectations around change cause huge problems and it should always be part of the interview process.

Remember that at this level it is very much a two-way process. You're going to have to deliver at a high level in this role so you want to be sure that it is right for you. Ask lots of questions, meet the team and understand as much as possible about what you are committing yourself to.But what's different about your first Director level role?

Take an organisational perspective

Until now you've thought like a fundraiser, because that was your job. But at Director level you now have to represent fundraising but think about issues and opportunities from a whole organisation perspective. That has a steep learning curve because you need to learn enough about all areas of the charity's work in order to be able to add value and you need to do it quickly. So you'll want to get up to speed on how finances are run by making sure you understand the accounts and are looking at expenditure and cash flow as well as income lines. Governance should also be top of mind because you'll be working more closely with Trustees and will be asked to bring a fundraising perspective to broader conversations. In your induction meetings with fellow Directors try and understand the challenges they face and how your team can work effectively with them - it will make future negotiations much easier if you truly understand where they are coming from.

Being part of a Directorate

Effective Directorates (also called Executive Teams or Senior Management Teams) stand together. There will be times when you discuss issues at Directors meetings and, despite putting forward your strongest arguments, the collective decision is not the outcome that you wanted. It is really important that you get behind that decision, particularly when communicating to your team and explain to them why the decision was made. If you don't, then you undermine the Directorate as a whole. You need to act like a team and support each other.

Embrace ultimate responsibility for income and your team

As Director of Fundraising, the buck for hitting income targets stops with you. So make sure you've really interrogated the figures you're putting forward and can answer detailed questions on them. Make sure you've allowed some leeway for the unexpected. Many Fundraising Directors have conversations with their Finance Director and CEO about the amount of stretch in fundraising figures and have a more conservative budget that they share with Trustees and then a more ambitious target they are aiming to reach. It is always better to exceed your income target than to miss it and no-one will thank you for promising the world and then failing to deliver. As a new Director you don't know enough about the track record of the various income streams, the team etc to be overly optimistic and it takes time to create change.

If your team underperforms or someone makes a mistake, ultimately that is also your responsibility. You can't blame it on an individual or poor line management further down the line because the culture, management style and performance of your team all fall under your remit. Instead, make sure that you're actively leading on culture, developing great managers and leaders and encouraging people to take accountability by leading by example.

Be a change-maker

Equally if the other Directors of the Trustees are being unhelpful when it comes to fundraising, it is your job to influence, educate and work with them to create change. At this level you have to be a change-maker and embrace that challenge rather than sit back and say "We can't because.". Your internal influencing skills will be crucial to your success.

Here is some advice from Alan Gosschalk, Director of Director of Fundraising and Communications at the British Asian Trust for anyone who is heading up an income stream and is looking to become a Fundraising Director.

There are several elements to the job obviously. There is line management and fundraising capability to start with. Gravitas and credibility are important, but another key element is that as a Director, you've got to be valuable to the organisation beyond having your fundraising hat on. I think it's about getting involved in other areas where you can, and improving your strategic importance and your understanding of the rest of the organisation, because it should be a given that you're a good fundraiser if you're a Head of department. Leading a 'directorate' is a bit different. You need to step out of being knee deep in the fundraising detail. Obviously, you've probably got a specialism in a Fundraising area and potentially a tendency to get most involved in that area, and that may not be the best thing for the organisation.

Being a Director is a lot more about managing upwards and sideways than managing downwards because you can control your area, but then you're the person responsible for listening to and influencing the other areas so that Fundraising can prosper. You're under pressure probably to increase your targets each year. The Chief Executive may or may not understand fundraising well, and then you've got a Board to work with and things will come in from left field at times, so I think you've got to be quite flexible and aware.

I spend quite a lot of time trying to sort things out that are issues for my Heads with other parts of the organisation, and trying to establish clarity around what is and isn't agreed, what can we fundraise for, when should I be getting involved and when not. I think I've got on well with the CEOs that I've reported to and they've been very supportive of fundraising so that does make life easier.

I think also that the Director's got a big role to play to role model the culture and behaviours that you want. You hear quite often of a change in leadership and someone being very different, and that having a massive effect on people and turnover. Good fundraisers are in short supply and they can move on very easily. I think you need to work hard at keeping people and generally I don't think all charities are great at that.

About the author

Carla Miller is a coach, consultant and facilitator, who works with charities and companies to create growth and develop happy, high-performing teams.


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