Tips for Getting Ahead in Fundraising

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Though the public face of charity fundraising may just be sponsored events and collection baskets, there are a large number of skills and lots of knowledge needed to be successful in the fundraising field.

Charities raise funds not only from public donations but also through company donations and grants from foundations or trusts. Fundraisers typically fall into one of two categories: specialists and generalists. Those working for smaller charities that employ fewer individuals often have more general experiences and responsibilities, while those working for larger charities usually specialize in a particular fundraising technique, such as planning events, arranging direct mailings, in-person soliciting, and the more recent technique of Internet fundraising.

There are many ways of becoming a charity fundraiser. A college degree and some experience with organizing college events could land you a job as an events coordinator for a charity, or if you are currently working in the commercial sector, you may have enough appropriate experience to switch to the voluntary sector. Pick a cause you are passionate about and become a volunteer; this will give you experience and help you to understand the workings of the charity sector.

''There are opportunities at almost every level and multiple routes to getting in,'' noted Janet Cummins, chief executive of specialist recruitment company Charity and Fundraising Appointments, in an interview with Society Guardian.

Employers in the fundraising sector look for office and writing skills, along with experience in public relations, promotional work, or marketing.

According to Society Guardian, ''A fundraiser’s tasks will depend on the charity and field, but could include presenting sponsorship proposals to corporate donors, designing fundraising initiatives for schools or employee groups, liaising with regional fundraisers, and completing grant application forms.''

Take an internship in the fundraising sector while still in school, and later get an entry-level position as a development assistant. Research the particular area in which you are interested in working. You may want to take a grant-writing course or even get a degree in fundraising. Grant writers, who have excellent writing skills that concentrate on getting funds for nonprofits, are consistently in high demand.

To get ahead, you will need to have skills in persuasion and persistence. ''You get an awful lot of [nos] on the way to the [yeses]. The ability to think creatively and laterally is also important, as are good interpersonal skills. Fundraising is not just about local people running coffee mornings. You need to know about the law, managing volunteers, and working with trustees,'' Cummins said.

If you are comfortable juggling many tasks at once, select a job with a smaller charity that requires general experience. Otherwise, choose one field of fundraising and specialize in it, which will facilitate a job with a larger charity.

''Fundraising is all about friend-raising. You have to build and maintain relationships,'' Cummins said, stressing the importance of networking, discussing ideas with others, and asking for advice and help from other fundraisers.

According to the Harvard Business School website, fundraisers must use the Internet in a creative way, such as forming a large email database of contributors and holding online auctions. Internet strategies should be combined with in-person fundraising, however, so that the charity does not lose its important quality of personal interaction.

''See the Internet as a strategic marketing tool and use it as such, not just as an IT tool. Develop a systematic approach to relationships. The Internet is not just for accepting online donations. Many people want to help in other ways, too…Ask your strongest supporters to give more. Have them engaged in volunteer fundraising as well,'' the Harvard website advised.

Rather than listing a huge lump sum that your charity hopes to raise, divide the fundraising goals into smaller, more realistic objectives.

''Just putting up a website and a ‘Donate Now’ button doesn’t mean money will come flowing in,'' said Ted Hart, president and CEO of ePhilanthropy Foundation. ''There are no shortcuts to raising money online or offline. But with technology, there are more efficiencies and the opportunity to reach out to more people. And that is what should be drawing nonprofits to the use of the Internet.''
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