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Fund-raisers do more than ask for donations

Charities want professionals to deal with their donors. By Meg Carter
Raising funds for a good cause is becoming an appealing career option for a growing number of people eager to "put something back" into society.

But to be a successful fund-raiser takes more than good intentions. As competition in the voluntary sector grows, it's not just traditional charities that need fund-raisers. A growing number of arts institutions, community organisations, political parties, hospitals and schools now have charitable wings employing specialists to raise money on their behalf.

Meanwhile, the ways in which charitable organisations encourage donors to part with their money are becoming more sophisticated. That is why an activity barely recognised as a "proper job" just 20 years ago is fast becoming acknowledged as a profession in its own right.

"Fund-raising is a means to an end," says Louise Engelman, director of training at the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers, which introduced Britain's first charity fund- raising qualification last year. "A fund-raiser brings together a donor and a recipient. He or she is a facilitator, and the best fund-raisers bring together these two parties in the most effective - and profitable - way."

The ICFM, whose 2,500 members span big-name charities such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, community organisations, independent schools and hospital trusts, is also developing best practice within the sector through awards that will be presented during its annual conference.

Most fund-raisers move into the voluntary sector from commercial business. But a growing number are now joining the voluntary sector straight from university, Ms Engelman says. "If people are moving into fund-raising from other disciplines, such as marketing or IT, they will certainly need to understand the nature of fund-raising and the role it has to play." This is because there is no straight comparison between fund-raising and, say, marketing or sales, which is where the ICFM's qualification comes in.

To succeed in fund-raising you must have a number of core skills irrespective of whether it's your first or second career. These include good communications skills, persuasiveness, strategic thinking, self-motivation, organisational ability - both in managing tasks and co-ordinating an often unpaid volunteer workforce. IT knowledge is also an advantage as data analysis plays a growing role in fund-raising.

"More specific qualifications depend on the area of fund-raising you go into and whether you become a fund-raiser or a fund-raising manager," says Sue Douthwaite, director of fund-raising appointments at recruitment specialist CA Appointments.

Join a larger organisation and you are more likely to specialise; fund- raisers in smaller organisations are likely to take on greater responsibility sooner and be expected to be multi-skilled. Good corporate fund-raisers tend to have direct experience of working in the private sector - a commercial background provides a greater awareness of the appropriate language to use when dealing with corporate donors and an understanding of hierarchies is essential to target and reach the right decision- maker within an organisation.

"Corporate fund-raising is about more than asking companies for a donation," Douthwaite adds. "Increasingly, charities are working in partnership with commercial organisations to raise money in a variety of ways. This means tapping into more than just a company's philanthropic budget: charities are benefiting from their donors' sales, marketing and even staff training budgets."

Career fund-raiser and consultant Valerie Morton - who became a fund- raiser on completing an economics degree from Durham University 21 years ago - believes one of the single most important qualities for successful fund-raising is creativity. "It's a competitive marketplace, but not in the sense that we are all fighting each other for a slice of a static cake," she explains.

Each year, a small number of graduates are taken on to training schemes run by the largest charities. The majority of fund-raisers, however, get a foot in the door by being able to demonstrate clearly how they can contribute. "Be clear about exactly what you can offer and focus on your practical skills - not just a desire to `do good'," Douthwaite advises. "Demonstrate a commitment to the sector by already being involved in voluntary work. Consider a course. Read up on the sector and understand what makes it work. And tailor your CV: accentuate your achievements and what you have delivered to previous employers."

No-one becomes a fund-raiser for personal financial gain - starting salaries are, on average, around pounds 14,000, although this figure can rise to around pounds 22,000 if team management is involved. But fund-raisers must be financially astute, commercially aware and pragmatic. "You have a target one year and, if you meet it, everyone will pat you on the back, say thank you and then double it: that's just they way it goes," Engelman says. "It's tough," she adds, "but that's the way it is."

For more information contact the ICFM (tel: 0171-627 3436).