Not many people grow up wanting to become a fundraiser for universities – a profession traditionally associated with cold calling and high staff turnover. It has had little prestige. But as public sources of funding dry up, university fundraising offices are being taken much more seriously, opening up respected, high-powered and competitive careers.
Take the new graduate training scheme offered by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (Case), a global body that helps educational institutions enhance their fundraising and communications. The aim of its one-year programme is to identify and train the future leaders of university fundraising offices by offering them extended placements in some of the most successful offices in the country. Those on the training scheme get a paid position of approximately £18,000. Throughout the year, they will be asked to engage in all aspects of the office's work, including alumni communications, events management and market research.
"I've done everything from managing a fundraising dinner at the House of Lords to working in the call centre," says Kerry McCollum, 24, who is coming to the end of her placement at Loughborough University. Like most of the graduates on the scheme, she entered after her first degree and did her placement where she originally studied. McCollum had experienced fundraising in Africa and for the charity Greenpeace in the past, and says she is equally proud of the work she does here.
"It's a challenge, because many people haven't heard of university fundraising," she says. "You have to push to get the message across that we are raising money for incredibly important things like scholarships for poorer students and grants for important medical research."
Alongside the extended placement, trainees are also given access to a number of Case's training programmes, which include a crash course in fundraising jargon. Graduates also receive a one-month placement in a less well established fundraising office to gain experience. But they'll be there to work as well as train, as Precious Chatterje-Taylor, 24, another graduate, explains.
"I feel like a fully fledged member of staff, and I love the hands-on experience," she says. "I'm managing a global questionnaire that goes out to 200,000 alumni. That has involved costing it up, assessing the tender and making recommendations to the director."
Although the scheme does not guarantee a job, the chances of success are high. University fundraising offices are expanding massively, with annual donations rising 28 per cent to £682m in 2007-2008. And even if university offices are full, there are plenty of non-academic institutions looking for qualified fundraisers.
"By the end of the training, I'm sure they could walk into a job at a university fundraising office," says the executive director of Case Europe, Kate Hunter. "There are jobs available for frontline fundraisers, but also in back-office events, online communication, alumni relations – there's a whole gambit of jobs open to our trainees, and the skills are transferable."
The Government is keen to encourage a culture of giving in universities similar to that in the United States, where donations far outstrip those in the UK. Although the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) ends its financial support for the scheme in 2011, Case hopes it will find other partners. Meanwhile, other universities are expanding in-house training. According to the Ross-Case survey, there were 549 full-time equivalent staff working in UK universities with fundraising programmes in 2005/06; there were 851 in 2007/08.
The scheme remains highly popular. Case received 650 applications for the nine places starting this August. Hunter says applicants for next year should start checking the website in early 2011, and get some work experience.
"[Fundraisers] have to be good communicators – they have to be able to express the institution's mission, where it's going and what it's doing. But they also have to be good listeners and respond to the donor. They have to be flexible, because they'll be dealing with officials and people with incredible wealth as well as the staff doing the direct mail. They also have to be good managers and have an attention to detail."