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A Career in Fundraising? – You’ll Need Guts!

14 March 2016 at 9:30 am
Philip Mayers
So you want to be a fundraiser? The ambitious fundraiser has a number of career options, writes Philip Mayers, human resources expert from Dakin Mayers & Associates.

Philip Mayers | 14 March 2016 at 9:30 am


A Career in Fundraising? – You’ll Need Guts!
14 March 2016 at 9:30 am

So you want to be a fundraiser? The ambitious fundraiser has a number of career options, writes Philip Mayers, human resources expert from Dakin Mayers & Associates.

A few weeks ago I listened to the words of a really catchy song first made famous by Shirley Maclaine, and more recently by Anna Kendrick: “It’s not where you start – it’s where you finish, it’s not how you go, it’s how you land.”  

All you need is the guts.

Where do our Australian fundraising professionals come from? Where do they start? Where do they finish? Very few (if any) would have left school with the aspiration to become a fundraiser.  

A lawyer, a nurse, a teacher, computer engineer perhaps?

So – why did they make that choice, and what were they doing before they made the move? In my profession as an executive search consultant actively involved in charitable fundraising, I’ve been privileged to share this transition with a wide range of people.  

Let me tell you about some of them:

  •        the wedding planner – who naturally went into events
  •        the actor – who’s now director of a hospital foundation
  •        the lawyer – who’s the foundation director of an aged care charity
  •        the travel agent – director of a health promotion organisation
  •        PR & advertising – fundraising in a large Christian organisation
  •        the psychiatrist – fundraising in a university (not PC, but is he nuts?)
  •       even an accountant (aargh!) – working with a sensory disability organisation.

Whatever the catalyst might have been, they’ve grown to love their fundraising and have become proud contributors to our community and contributors to a better world.

But let’s consider their next career step.They’ve become good fundraisers, and now they want promotion. They want to use their skills more effectively. They want to earn a better living and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The ambitious fundraiser has a number of choices – I’ll focus on just two.

  1. Become a leading subject matter specialist.
  2. Move into a management or leadership role.

Both of these are good options, and neither is superior to the other.

But do you remember the old saying: “How do you make a bad sales manager?

Take your best salesman and promote him to Sales Manager.”

The direction you choose is up to you. It’s not where you start. It’s where you finish! If you really love what you do – major gifts, wills and bequests, direct marketing don’t give away your passion simply because of a bigger title.

But if you become the manager you might have to give that all away… if your passion is about leading a team, and managing HR, then go for it. But be prepared to give up your special skill and delegate it to your staff. You don’t want to be a micro-manager, do you?

Don’t move simply because you want a bigger title.You can’t blame people who want to move for more income, but what are employers doing to recognise the financial contribution you’re making as a specialist? Your Manager earns more because of the results that you are producing so, if you’re producing those results for the manager, you need to be rewarded too. Perhaps the time has come to pay bonuses to fundraisers!

So what advice do I have for you? If you’re a subject matter specialist – and love what you do – try to join an organisation that wants to focus on your specialty! If it’s major gifts, perhaps a university, an art gallery, a major hospital, a consultancy? If it’s direct mail, one of the major international aid charities or a top mailing house.

However – if you want to be the fundraising director, you’ll need to focus on developing your strategic planning, people management and financial skills. You’ll have to say goodbye to some of the really thrilling fundraising achievements that got your adrenaline pumping, but that’s okay.  

You’ll gain your satisfaction from seeing your people scoring the goals. Like a good sports coach you’ll celebrate their successes, while your organisation benefits from a better bottom line.

To be a subject matter specialist you’ll need to focus on strengthening your fundraising skills.  

Attend lectures and conferences (even at your own expense). If you’re going to be the fundraising director then it’s your leadership ability you’ll need to focus on. It’s not just managing your own area you’ll need to contribute at management level to overall organisational strategy.  

You’ll need to brush up on financial analysis, develop strengths in HR and organisational development, and sit through many long meetings not related to fundraising, with the emphasis being on your contribution at a higher level.

Whichever you choose, if it fulfils your dream then it’s the right decision. Work hard at it and do your best. If you’d like to have a chat about it, I’d be happy to share my thoughts with you. Just feel free to contact me on

About the author: Philip Mayers (MFIA) has extensive experience in health, community services, education and fundraising. The former Chief Executive of Montefiore Homes has recruited over 700 senior executives who have led major achievements for their organisations. He has served as Deputy Chairman of Royal District Nursing Service and Chairman of Make-A-Wish Foundation of Australia.  Philip has BA and LLB degrees and is a Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute (CAHRI).

Philip Mayers  |  @ProBonoNews

Philip is a Director with Dakin Mayers with extensive knowledge of the Not for Profit sector.

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