How to Start a Career In Fundraising: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated 15 August 2023

Fundraising is one of the most important jobs in non-profit organisations. Often referred to as development in non-profit, fundraising requires you to have several skills and previous experience. With increased knowledge of what the industry entails, and by volunteering and networking with professionals, you can increase your chances of getting a job in fundraising. In this article, we examine who a fundraiser is, careers in fundraising and how to get into this career within the charity sector.

How to get into fundraising

If you're wondering how to get into fundraising, consider taking the following steps:

1. Learn about the industry and get a degree

Before venturing into fundraising, do research on what is necessary for you to know. Consider earning a degree in a field that can translate into the fundraising field like finance, business administration, accounting, non-profit management or public health administration. Typically, managers and executives have graduate degrees to supplement their knowledge.

2. Get a certificate

To get started as an entry-level fundraiser, you don't require a specific degree. However, to progress to higher-level positions like a manager, director or executive, getting a bachelor's degree in a relevant course and passing the Certified Fundraising Executives (CFRE) exams is essential. The CFRE exam tests candidates on their ability to secure donations, conduct donor research, volunteer, lead a team/teams, manage others and act professionally.

2. Volunteer

As an entry-level position, this is one of the easiest ways to get into a fundraising career. Volunteer to work at non-profit events and with organisations. Even if you have no previous experience working at an event, there's always something to do, like helping with the registration desk, setting up booths and signs, or replenishing food and drinks. After a few volunteering opportunities, you can ask to be a part of the planning process, where you get to learn more about fundraising.

If you express your interest in fundraising, development managers may let you partake in fundraising meetings and activities. By volunteering, you can learn more about planning, budgeting, permits, sponsorships, insurance, marketing campaigns and media outreach. You can also start small by applying for face to face street-level fundraising positions as they require little to no experience. A good performance here can allow you to move into other areas of the organisation, such as a management position.

Related: How To Find Volunteer Work

3. Develop Transferable Skills

Many jobs can help you develop skills that are useful in a career in fundraising. Work on developing skills like communication, public speaking, database management and budgeting. Marketing skills are also incredibly valuable. Fundraising is similar to marketing and sales, so individuals interested in a career in charity fundraising benefit from showcasing these skills. A lot of the skills you develop through work and education are transferable to professional environments. To show your abilities as a fundraiser, sell yourself on all the points mentioned in the job description, exhibiting your understanding of this role and enthusiasm for it.

4. Attend training courses and workshops

Check with your local library or university for any public training on development and fundraising. Attending these courses or workshops can help you supplement your training and prior knowledge. They can also keep you up to date with the latest happenings and innovations in the industry. They're also great places to make connections with others pursuing a role in this field.

Related: How to become a fundraising manager in 9 steps (with tips)

5. Attend networking events

Whether it's a physical or online conference, make it your job to attend as many events as possible. Meet and network with fundraising professionals to expand your contact list and impress people all the while. Join a community of fundraising professionals as they provide training opportunities, networking opportunities and job availability. You can join the Chartered Institute of Fundraising or the Association of Fundraising Consultants if you're not sure where to start.

Related: Networking Tips For Job Seekers

6. Get experience by working as an intern or apprentice

Contact organisations in your local area and apply as an intern in the fundraising and development unit. Here, you can gain hands-on experience, and learn specific job skills and make professional connections. Securing a role as an intern or apprentice can be a pivotal moment for any young professional with high ambitions. Take this opportunity to learn everything you can and secure your future.

7. Update your CV

Have a tailored CV and cover letter for your fundraising career. Include your educational background, training, relevant experience in data entry and management, customer relations, marketing skills and leadership experience. To really impress with your applications, tailor your CV to the specific job description and write a personalised cover letter. Recruiters can tell when they're reviewing a tailored application and are more likely to be impressed by people who took the time to submit them.

What do fundraisers do?

Fundraisers typically help organisations meet their long-term and short-term financial goals by sourcing individuals, foundations or businesses in their communities. These individuals and companies may give to support a specific cause or community updates. Fundraisers have several tasks they perform when working for non-profit organisations like charities, religious organisations, tertiary institutions, research organisations and civic groups. These tasks may involve:

  • managing and planning fundraising events and campaigns

  • sourcing for donations from diverse individuals and businesses

  • writing proposals and sending them to potential sponsors

  • developing marketing and promotional materials

  • organising fundraising events

  • maintaining relationships with donors

Types of donations

As a fundraiser, it's necessary to know different aspects about the types of donations as securing them is a major part of your job. The different donation types are:

  • Major gifts: These are the largest donations an organisation receives from a single source in one year. An organisation may determine this by looking at the number of donations they receive in a fiscal year.

  • Charitable gift annuities: This involves the transfer of cash or property to an organisation. In return, the organisation pays lump sums to the donor throughout their lifetime.

  • Corporate giving: These are donations from large corporations, which may be a one-off or continuous payment.

  • Annual campaigns: These are yearly campaigns held by an organisation as a hallmark of their fundraising efforts.

  • End of life gifts: These are donations given at the request of a late person.

Annual salary

A fundraiser's average annual salary is £23,275. This depends on the organisation, training, education, location and the industry. Understanding what each role entails can also help you decide if this is the right fit for you.

Careers in fundraising

If you want to get into fundraising, there are a variety of career paths you can pursue:

1. Director of development

National average salary: £73,216 per year

Primary duties: A director of development sets financial goals, identifies grant opportunities, manages and expands their donor database, directs staff, coordinates all events and offers donor options to maximise their tax benefits. They also manage all development team members and team goals. The director of development also communicates with the board of directors on matters relating to the financial goals of the organisation.

2. Grant writer

National average salary: £33,049 per year

Primary duties: Grant writers typically conduct research and apply for grants. Typically, this includes writing, editing or proofreading grant proposals for non-profits. Besides drafting proposals and communicating with stakeholders and donors, they may do research on out-of-network foundations, corporations and agencies that may align with their cause and contact them for donations.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Writing Skills Are Essential For Every Job

3. Donor relations manager

National average salary: £28,837 per year

Primary duties: Donor relations managers or philanthropy managers typically maintain relationships with the current donors of an organisation. A donor relation manager also sources potential donors and increases the donations to an organisation. Their other job responsibilities may include creating acts of recognition or gifts for donors, managing donor databases and giving community presentations.

4. Event planner

National average salary: £24,293 per year

Primary duties: An event planner manages the events for an organisation. This ranges from lunches to roundtable events to gala dinners. Event planners typically report to the development director. Their duties may include drafting the guest list, sending invites and tracking responses, managing the budget scheduling events and researching food vendors, entertainment and local rentals.

5. Direct mail manager

National average salary: £34,355 per year

Primary duties: The direct mail manager or response manager oversees all direct mail marketing efforts of the organisation to current and prospective donors. They are detail-oriented and particular about improving processes and getting returns. A direct mail manager is usually a direct mail response copywriter who can be creative and perform data analysis.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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