Chief executive, Institute of Fundraising

To be a fundraiser is an absolute privilege. An extraordinary statement about an occupation perhaps, but consider this – fundraising means connecting a worthwhile cause with someone who has some extra money and wants to help change the world with it. You may think you have a fairly good idea of what it takes to be a fundraiser. After all, fundraisers are often the "visible face" of charities, seen on the street with collecting tin or clipboard, enthusiastically calling for the public's donations.

Many of those reading this column may have been volunteer fundraisers for a charity in the past, knowing the time and dedication it takes to raise a set amount of sponsorship to take part in a race or adventure challenge for your favourite good cause.

And yes, fundraising is certainly about persuasiveness, "making the ask" and communicating positive compelling messages about the charity you represent. But is there more to the profession than that?

There are around 150,000 fundraising organisations in the UK, which are all aiming for a slice of the same pie – donations for their causes from the public. Charities' requirement for a skilled workforce comes from their very reason for existence: to respond to need and, in many cases, deliver public services.

We all know people in this country are naturally generous, and well able to recognise the good work charities do. Your task is to capture that generosity by taking a planned, strategic and professional approach, coupled with a passion for the cause.

Technique is a key element of the fundraiser's role – whether specialising in working with companies, or trusts, or organising direct marketing to individuals. Even if you choose to be a generalist fundraiser, there is the ongoing challenge of developing your skills, knowledge and experience as you progress in your career.

There will be grafting along the way – it's likely you'll work harder than contemporaries in the private sector, meeting higher income targets on much lower budgets – and you'll be paid less despite salaries in the voluntary sector being increasingly competitive. But there is also the responsibility of representing your charity's brand and reputation. You'll devising strategies and a persuasive case for support which can help drive change in an organisation – and this offers reward, often beyond measure.

Perhaps one of the most compelling benefits of being a fundraiser is being able to change the world in a very tangible way. You can fundraise for any charitable cause, from humanitarian aid to the arts, academic institutions to political parties, think tanks to religious groups. The charity world is all-encompassing.

The growing, modern profession that is fundraising does involve opportunities for progression and career development. Fundraising is a competitive field, and perhaps the most important string you'll need to your bow is the ability to demonstrate commitment to the cause and some relevant work experience. As the stories of the fundraisers within this supplement will highlight, there is no set entry route into fundraising and while many fundraisers are graduates, at least as important to employers are relevant skills and experience.

Your professional development is crucial if you are to move up the fundraising ladder. Qualifications and training both play a part – and there are some fundraising specific courses and qualifications designed both for new entrants to fundraising, and those wishing to develop their competence in fundraising management.

You may also be keen to consider the benefits of networking with other fundraisers to share experiences and solutions, and continuing to hone your personal skills. The Institute of Fundraising is a group of fundraisers sharing knowledge and speaking out with one voice about issues which affect the work that we do. Those who progress well in their careers may find themselves in time leading a department in a major charity, rising to director level and managing budgets, strategies and teams of fundraisers.

There is much that fundraising has in common with the business world – and business and voluntary sector skills are highly interchangeable. Those with business acumen, as well as commitment and creativity, perform very well in their roles, because the duties required by a fundraiser are diverse and challenging.

And so to sum up: fundraising is certainly not a career to get into purely out of a sense of goodwill to a particular charity, or as an "easy option". If you are excited by the opportunities that being a fundraiser offers, and want to match your own skills and experience to those demanded by the fundraising discipline, then you have taken your first step along the path of this marvellous career.

The Institute of Fundraising (020-7840 1000; www.institute-of-fundraising.org.uk) is the professional membership body for UK fundraising

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