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November 23, 2016

The Perfect Storm: Fundraising Recruitment

Nick Billingham, Associate Director
It's always been challenging recruiting for fundraising roles in a "candidate short" market, but it feels like it's tougher than ever...

I have been recruiting fundraisers for around 7 years and over that time have recruited to a variety of fundraising positions for a mixture of organisations. From very large charities, to very small non-profits, across a range of different causes.

It's always been challenging recruiting for fundraising roles. As demand increases, job seeking fundraisers can seemingly afford to be more and more selective about what they will and won't go forward for. Larger organisations are responding by upping the salary and increasing the working flexibility on offer - indeed these two things will often be the first thing I will suggest to clients who are struggling to recruit. In turn this is leading to a steady increase in average salaries across the market - as the numerous salary surveys out there will confirm.

The high demand for candidates has meant that unless charities have a highly desirable and renowned brand - they will often struggle to solicit a high volume of applications. Organisations who typically rely on application forms have reported to me that there have been numerous occasions where they have had zero relevant applications for different fundraising posts in the last few months. It feels as though any small barrier to applying can be enough to put people off.  Application form - not a chance! References up front - no thank you! More agile organisations are responding by accepting just CV's and ditching the application form. Again this is often one of my suggestions to anyone struggling to recruit a fundraising role: simplify the process. Yes - if people really want to work for you they will find the time to complete the form. Perhaps, but perhaps not.


But why have we got to this point? Why are salaries increasing while very few people apply for roles? Why can it often be so hard to encourage actively seeking fundraisers to apply for roles which on paper should fit their criteria? For me this all stems back to what we as a sector (and by sector I mean the fundraising world specifically) do to attract new talent. Fundraisers are no doubt ambivalent to people like me contacting them about potential opportunities. And until we lower the demand this will undoubtedly continue to be the case. Additionally we will no doubt continue to see more recruitment agencies entering the sector hoping to become the next specialist fundraising recruitment consultancy.

But really, we don't need more recruitment agencies, what we need is dramatically more people coming into the fundraising world. We need that to be a mix of graduates and career changers. The charity sector needs to promote fundraising as a career to a wider audience, and once we are in contact with them we should focus on competency based interviews and not knowledge. If someone has the right core skillset, surely they can learn the nuances of the charity world.

There has been talk in the sector for years that we will see more mergers and acquisitions in efforts to streamline - in turn, presuming the economies of scale, this should reduce the level of demand to fill roles. Whilst there are some high profile examples this doesn't necessarily seem forthcoming. So what else could be done? Do we need to start to offer even higher basic salaries with commission, bonuses and the potential to work a 1 or 2 day week?

Understandably there is a reticence to do this so I am trying to think of what the potential alternatives are.  Is the future of fundraising shared resource? Could organisations working on the same cause share a centralised fundraising team? A group of fundraising experts working on one cause who have a range of different cases for support to match to different donors? Admittedly this sounds far fetched but without an influx of new talent I am wondering what happens next.

This piece is not a rant, it's a plea. I love recruiting to this sector but I don't love telling hiring managers I don't have any candidates for them. It's a plea for all organisations to be more open to hiring and training new talent. A plea for there to be more paid graduate schemes. And a plea for someone to tell me that a shared fundraising resource is a crazy idea and I should stop thinking about how it could work.

In the meantime I urge you to consider that commercial candidate looking for their first fundraising role and ensure when you meet them your interviews aren't biased to candidates bringing sector knowledge. Do more to encourage your charity to promote itself as a great employer and one which operates within a sector that provides great careers.


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