Having carried out new research into the career pathways for fundraising, report author and founder of fundraising think tank Rogare, Ian MacQuillin argues that that there should be more formal career pathways into the profession.
If you are reading this, you’re almost certainly a fundraiser. And if you are a fundraiser, you probably never set out to become one. You probably – say it with me – ‘fell into fundraising by accident’.
If you didn’t find your way into fundraising though luck and happenstance, there’s a good chance you transferred from another sector, perhaps because selling widgets and commanding tanks lost some of its meaning.
But what you probably didn’t do is decide while you were at school that you wanted to become a fundraiser, and then study for the relevant qualifications to get you into the profession, or follow some other recognised entry pathway designed to equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to become competent in the role.
That’s because such pathways don’t exist. The reason so many fundraisers join the profession by ‘accident’ is because it is so hard to make a deliberate decision to do so.
There are diversity issues in not having a level playing field for entry to the fundraising profession. But that’s not the only problem.
Professor and fundraising researcher Beth Breeze reckons that only five per cent of the UK’s fundraising workforce choose fundraising as a first choice career. But that’s just the ones who made it. We have no idea how many other people choose fundraising, but can’t find a way in because their paths are always blocked by people transferring from other sectors and falling in accidentally, both of whom can bring skills and experiences that the first choice careerist probably doesn’t yet have.
Many people have said there is a skills shortage in fundraising. It’s been reported in the UK by NCVO and throughout Europe in EFA reports. But what we can’t be sure about is the nature of this skills shortage. It could be one of two possibilities.
It could be that there are enough people with the right skills, but they are not being matched to the right roles where their skills are most needed. This is known as a systems failure.
But it could be that people with the right skills are not entering the jobs marketing in the first place. A market failure.
The research that would show which of these two is the case in fundraising hasn’t yet been done. But you can work out from first principles that it’s very likely to be a market failure, simply because most fundraisers enter the profession without the skills and knowledge they need to hit the ground running, because there aren’t established pathways to equip them with these skills.
But not only that, once you have fallen into fundraising, there is no requirement that you take any course, training, qualification or CPD designed to provide you with those skills. Many of the fundraisers interviewed by Beth Breeze for her 2017 book The New Fundraisers told her they’d never once even read a book about fundraising – and it comes across that they’re quite proud of this fact.
Entry into fundraising is haphazard and random, while formal knowledge acquisition is equally haphazard, as well as being optional. This optional nature of knowledge acquisition sets fundraising apart from just about every other profession – such as law, accountancy and surveying – which require entrants to qualify as a practitioner.
Qualifying is not the same things as studying for a qualification, such as the certificates offered by EFA’s member bodies.
Qualification in a profession means the candidate professional is passed as fit to practice – usually by the professional institute – as a competent professional having gone through a formal process to assess their competence.
Competence, according to standard definitions, is the “ability to perform tasks and roles to the expected standard”, or a “proven ability to use knowledge, skills and personal, social and/or methodological abilities in work or study situations and in professional and personal development”.
In the absence of any such mandatory qualifying process, how do we know when new entrants to fundraising have become sufficiently competent? Come to that, how do we know the people already practising as fundraisers are competent?
I’ve said to anyone who will listen (and to plenty who won’t) that fundraising needs to professionalise. Part of this professionalisation process is putting in place a qualifying pathway that shows anyone who want to become a fundraiser what they need to do in order to first get into fundraising, and then become competent at it. And that is generally more than just doing a course with an exam at the end.
Without such a pathway, fundraising will always struggle to attract the right people with the right skills, and runs a massive risk of turning away – or not even seeing – perfectly capable and suitable people. We are failing those people if the best option we can give them of entering the profession is accident, chance or happenstance.
About Ian MacQuillin