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How to Employ a Fundraiser for a Non-Sexy Cause

During an exit interview with our first full time fundraiser I was told that when she accepted the job just eighteen months earlier, she had no idea how difficult it would be to transfer from hospice fundraising to fundraising for a charity supporting victims of domestic abuse.

In previous roles this highly capable professional had exceeded all financial targets, she said she loved our cause and enjoyed working with the team so why had she found the transition so difficult, and what can we as charity employers learn from it?

Looking back, I learned a lot from employing our first fundraiser, so here’s my take on what you might want to consider when planning a successful fundraiser recruitment…

Be honest about where your organisation is at

If you are a small organisation or if you are recruiting your first professional fundraiser it’s unlikely you will have the same systems and structures in place as an established fundraising machine.  Be open and honest with candidates about where you are up to as an organisation and what they will be expected to put in place. 

Don’t design your interview around pure fundraising questions or their experience, consider all the areas they will need to be involved in once they start working for you. Remember even the most successful community fundraiser may not have the skills to write a fundraising strategy, recruit volunteers or apply to a trust fund, it’s up to you to be clear about what you need right from the start.

Be brave enough to seek out the entrepreneurial spirit

The level of creative thinking and initiative needed to kick start a fundraising department and lever in support for a niche cause is on a scale that can only be described as entrepreneurial.

Don’t just look for someone who can understand instructions and execute a project from start to finish, look for someone who naturally generates entrepreneurial ideas. You can do this by designing some of your questions to draw out creative problem solving. Beware asking anything where there is an obvious route to an answer.

Be prepared to consider and manage risk

If you are brave enough to hire the entrepreneur remember this type of person is usually comfortable with taking risks and initially that needs careful management.You need to find the balance between protecting your organisation, and letting them fly early on with some of their ideas without clipping their wings too much – this way you should get a much better return on investment.  Do beware though, “ideas people”are easily bored with routine so if you haven’t got the luxury of administrative support make sure they know what’s expected.

Appraise and embrace your commitment

It’s generally accepted that a good fundraiser will raise a minimum of x3 of their salary plus cover their own costs each year.  That’s a significant amount and could make a real difference to a smaller charity, so it’s understandable that we often rush to employing a fundraiser as a crisis driven solution.

It’s worth considering that for a niche charity (a cause which is considered non-sexy) or a charity which hasn’t approached professional fundraising before, it takes an average of three years before you see the figures breaking even.  Employing a fundraiser should never be a knee jerk reaction to a budget deficit, it’s a lengthy organisational investment that needs to be carefully appraised.  If you haven’t factored in the commitment needed, at best you may panic and pull the plug before there has been enough time to generate results, or at worst you may put your organisation in amore serious financial position than you were previously.

So before you go ahead make sure you do due-diligence, plan the recruitment thoroughly and put in place good management support, it will be worth it. Finding the right fundraiser can make the difference between a budget deficit and a healthy surplus.

Lisa Dickinson BIO

Lisa is the Chair of Salford Women’s Aid and the founder of MyCharityMarketplace.com. She has worked in the charity sector for over two decades and is heavily involved in community fundraising for local causes. Right now she is focussing on reducing the risk of online retail for small and medium sized charities, by hosting their online store for free on the shared marketplace platform.

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