Recruiting on the basis of passion for the arts doesn’t make sense in vital income-generating roles, says Michelle Wright. Sector leaders need a talented pool of fundraisers with recognised knowledge and skills.
Fundraising is experiencing a market failure in recruitment. There is high demand to find that rather elusive talent that can support the growth and sustainability of the arts and charity sector, with the essential mix of skill, knowledge and passion. But there are not enough fundraisers with relevant skills and knowledge entering the profession. Many CEOs in arts, culture and heritage are exasperated at not being able to fill key roles or see their Development Directors staying for just a short time, burnt out by the role and its demands.
Falling in by accident
But the more we talk to well-known fundraisers in the sector, the more we discover just how many fell into the career by accident. In her 2017 book The New Fundraisers: Who organises Charitable Giving in Contemporary Society, Beth Breeze said that as many as 44% of fundraisers fell in the profession by accident, with only 5% gravitating to fundraising as an intentional career choice.
I was certainly one of those who fell in. Quite early on in my career, I took what I thought was a Marketing Director role at an arts organisation, which was in fact a crisis fundraising role. With rent and bills to pay, I stuck with it, but it was a route into fundraising by accident, not design. Maybe I was lucky to find something that I loved doing but, as the arts sector looks to create and rebuild post Covid-19, it’s not going to be good enough to hope to find a fundraiser by accident.
Many sectors have well-established pathways into their profession, linked with clear support routes, formal and informal learning and accreditation. We wouldn’t, for example, find a surgeon, accountant or lawyer who said they had got into their role by accident. All those roles would require a set period of study, with key milestones for passing training and competency-based testing. Yet in careers such as fundraising, there is no such pathway and perhaps more worryingly, despite the presence of Occupational Standards such as those developed by Arts Fundraising, most organisations don’t recognise any defined criteria in either skills or knowledge that are requirements for fundraising roles – all are optional.
The art of recruitment
Because there is no established entry route into fundraising, recruiters cannot easily distinguish the essential criteria for assessing candidates. Entry requirements are therefore often expressed as the behaviours/attitudes of candidates rather than what knowledge or skills are required. We regularly see on fundraising role descriptions phrases like ‘be passionate’, ‘have good interpersonal skills’, ‘be able to take pressure’. But what do these requirements actually mean? Surely if you are wanting to be confident that a candidate can help your organisation to urgently rebuild income post-pandemic, then more evidence of genuine skill or ability is required.
When I speak to most Development Directors they zone in on experience or track record as the essential requirements for the role, rather than a more nuanced balance of competence, track record, behavioural and knowledge-based attributes. But how do we really assess whether someone’s track record in another role makes them suitable to deliver in our environment? Across our diverse sector, some fundraising roles are far easier to deliver in than others, with better cultures that offer more support, along with some lucky breaks. For example, that highly feted Head of Development that came from a competitor organisation, also had access to a wider team, supportive trustees and an unexpected seven figure legacy gift. If we rely only on track record, we need to be able to see through the smoke and mirrors.
Purists or players?
There is also a question of the attitudes towards jobs from people applying to enter fundraising. Research by the Oxford University Press identified two ideal types of entrants to managerial or professional jobs – the ‘purists’ who remain true to their own values, and the ‘players’ who play a positional game to understand how to package themselves up best to win the job.
Sometimes fundraising recruiters may be faced with a choice of purists without appropriate skills and knowledge, or players with some appropriate skills or knowledge. It is likely that many fundraising recruiters would choose the unskilled purist over the skilled player, especially in the arts when our passion for the cause seems to be a driving factor. But surely the key to finding the right entrants to fundraising roles is the skills that they have? Prioritising passion over knowledge doesn’t seem to make sense in these vital income-generating roles.
Diversity – symptoms not causes
Quite rightly, we’re seeing a lot of commentary about fundraising roles at the moment driven by the essential need to encourage applicants from diverse backgrounds into the sector. Movements include #showthesalary, aimed at ensuring charity roles drop the ‘competitive salary’ tag and state the salary scale, through to #nongraduateswelcome which encourages charities to drop degree requirements for roles. But while diversity must be central to all organisations’ thinking right now, in relation to pathways into fundraising, these issues are symptoms, not causes.
The central cause of the market failure in fundraising is due to a lack of defined pathways into it as a profession. There are some routes in, for example the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Fellowship and the new national apprenticeship framework, but the need for fundraising talent far outstrips what’s currently available. Similarly, the Institute of Fundraising has a set of accredited qualifications, but they have not been widely adopted by charities as necessary qualifications for employment.
We can quite rightly bemoan a lack of diversity in fundraising roles, but frankly nobody has a coherent route in. It’s at base level that diverse pathways need to be laid down to sustain and retain talent well into the future.
New pathways and a need for collaboration
Almost a year ago, Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy collaborated with the fundraising think tank Rogare to synthesize some of these issues and to give clear indicators of where the gaps are. The report, entitled ‘Accident Prevention’, outlines how we urgently need to understand the training pathways and support that fundraisers need to succeed, and to evidence where new partnerships, programmes and collaborations need to emerge. Ultimately fundraising needs to follow other professions in providing a route to qualification. Intentional routes can include apprenticeships, entry-level trainee schemes or internships such as the Arts Fundraising Fellowship, underpinned by a range of on-the-job learning, mentoring, professional training, CPD and accredited routes.
But we can only take action if the prevailing attitude changes. Our sector leaders should be demanding a talent pool of fundraisers that have recognised knowledge and skills. It should no longer be left to chance.
The Rogare report is an important piece of work at a time of great challenge and change. At Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy we look forward to doing our bit, urgently and quickly, to respond to some of its important provocations. Our aim is that no one in future need fall into the arts fundraising profession ‘by accident’.