Fundraising offers broad and wide-ranging career opportunities across Europe, but it can be difficult for fundraisers to move into senior level positions. Ashley Gatewood, communications and marketing manager, CFRE International explores the challenges and what can be done to turn the tide.
While fundraising is a rewarding profession, charting a rewarding fundraising career can be complex. Ambitious staff want to move up within their organisation, but many NGOs can fall short in developing the talents of the people already walking their halls.
No charity wants to be operating in the Dark Ages, disconnected from the latest fundraising methods and best practices. Yet so many do just that when they don’t invest in their staff to reach their full fundraising and leadership potential via continuing education. This makes it difficult for fundraisers to move into senior-level roles with the right body of knowledge and competencies, which are essential to thriving in more demanding positions.
Four seasoned fundraising professionals from across Europe weigh in on the situation.
“Fundraisers looking to move into senior-level positions have great opportunities today in Germany,” says Tom Neukirchen, CFRE, CEO of Fundgiver Social Marketing. “The market is expanding and there is a lack of experienced fundraisers.”
But the challenge is often that fundraisers need to create more visibility for themselves within the sector, for example as a speaker or as a volunteer contributing to the profession.
Neukirchen adds: “They need to acquire skills in leadership and fundraising management to have the self-confidence to apply for a new job, to convince the employer they are able to take on more challenging work, and to perform. Unfortunately, we don‘t have well-developed training programmes for that purpose in Germany.”
Ramses Man, CFRE, senior regional development director of Conservation International Europe, agrees: “I think it is time we realise that the things required to be a great fundraiser are often the exact opposite of the things you need to be successful at a director level. You can kind of get away with it for a while at an intermediate level, but it surely gets exposed at the development director level when you start having to operate cross-functionally, be innovative, and manage a larger team with a broader set of responsibilities. I think that the lack of investing in talent development is the result of lots of Dutch NGOs being penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
“I would urge them to start investing in their high potential fundraisers and teach them the right management skill set so that they can become the future fundraising leaders that the Dutch NGO sector needs so badly.”
The issue persists in smaller countries, too. “NGOs do not act as a key employer [in Slovenia], employing less than 1% of the Slovenian workforce. Therefore, the sector remains less attractive for trained and skilled workers,” observes Livija Rojc, CFRE, director of Agencija LARS. “Consequently, few NGOs have human resources management that would allow fundraisers to take a job and also move up the ladder to become a CEO or executive director.”
When it comes to hiring, Livija notes, “We also need to raise awareness of the areas of expertise and competencies NGOs should look for with their future employees and volunteers to be able to manage organisations efficiently, fundraising being one of those areas.”
In the UK, Phillip Rothwell, CFRE, director of development at King’s High and Warwick School, sees room for improvement with the way expectations are managed.
He says, “There are a number of attractive opportunities for fundraisers to move into senior-level positions and it may be tempting to move into one of these. The challenge for fundraisers is to filter out those organisations who only have a short-term approach to fundraising from those who are truly committed to philanthropy. The former group will lead to stress and frustration, but the latter will provide a fulfilling career path.”
Turning the tide
As more organisations see that investing in their current workforce with professional development opportunities is key to having an effective team, hopefully there will be more support to upskill existing fundraising staff.
While on the job search, fundraisers must also become more savvy in identifying which fundraising departments care about their career trajectory. Enthusiastic fundraisers never want to find themselves stuck in a quagmire of dissatisfaction due to a lack of learning opportunities at a new organisation.
Fortunately, Europe offers a bounty of fundraising training and certification pathways, including the globally-recognised Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) credential.
If time and budget can be allocated for staff participation, participating in fundraising and leadership education could be transformative for the sector. The more well-rounded and prepared fundraisers are to ascend to the top of their departments and organisations, the more capable the sector will become overall.
In turn, the stronger the European fundraising sector is, the more attractive a profession fundraising will become. People will see fundraising as a viable career with avenues for growth, including support to acquire the skill set to confidently move into senior-level positions.
Experienced staff who move into these roles will be well positioned to carry the banner for the organisations that do so much to shape our world for the better.
About Ashley Gatewood
Ashley has more than 10 years’ experience in marketing with non-profits and trade associations. She is the communications and marketing manager at CFRE International, which administers the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) credential. Since 1981, CFRE has set standards for fundraising professionals. As the only globally recognised fundraising certification, CFRE indicates professionalism, confidence, and ethics.