An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy

How best can we serve the professional development needs of senior fundraisers? Amanda Rigali asked some development specialists what training they would like to receive.

Photo of a training session

As the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy programme has worked to develop a training offer for arts fundraising professionals over the past three years, the focus on early stage careers via the fellowships has led some senior fundraisers to challenge us. What about supporting the ‘old talent’, they ask.

The fundraising environment has changed immeasurably in recent years and the complex portfolio of skills that our senior fundraisers need is not for the fainthearted. They now need to be experts in strategy, business planning, entrepreneurship and social investment, while also making sure that their core skills in major gifts and corporate philanthropy are up to date in a complex and fast-changing regulatory environment. It’s daft to think that their training and learning needs should be ignored.

If we can increase resilience and the time spent in senior roles, it can only be positive for the sector as a whole

We’ve asked a range of permanent and freelance development specialists for their wish list of training. It’s the list that CEOs and trustees really need to consider to ensure that they are supporting their senior development staff to succeed and thrive.

Don’t tell us what to do, tell us how to get the senior buy-in and resources we need to get it done

Senior staff either know the mechanics or have a team of staff to do the implementation. What they want to know is how to ‘influence up and across’ to ensure that development is given the senior leader attention and resources necessary for it to be a success.

It really can be lonely at the top in fundraising. A head or director of development may have a team of one or two or no staff at all. They are under pressure from trustees and executive teams to do every kind of fundraising (corporate, individuals, trusts and foundations), but need to make the case for adequate resources and proper long-term strategic planning rather than constant short-term firefighting.

It is not a cliché to remember that effective and sustainable fundraising is a marathon not a sprint. Senior staff want the skills and confidence to argue for their own internal case for support to give them the best chance of meeting fundraising targets.

Show us how to coach and motivate fundraising staff to get the best out of them

People working in different development specialisms can be quite distinct in terms of character and work styles. So what’s the best way to manage and motivate a team of diverse staff to meet shared organisational goals and to be generalists as well as specialists?

Senior staff are also aware that there is an increasing need for all staff to be flexible in their approach to fundraising. Gone are the days when trusts and foundations experts could spend all of their time sitting in front of a screen finessing applications.

They now need to be cultivating relationships, organising special events for trustees and grants managers, and generally working far more collaboratively with colleagues. This creates exciting opportunities for staff development, but can also be a source of tension and unease that requires sensitive management.

Let us learn from, and with, our peers

Senior staff appreciate learning from people who have not only done it, but are currently doing it, whether this is leading a capital campaign, developing new fundraising income or managing teams. Equally it’s so important to learn with peers who are facing the same challenges of implementing what they’ve learnt in their less-than-perfect organisations.

We all know that senior staff are time-poor, but everyone we spoke to would still prefer to undertake training away from their office with peers. This is partly about carving out some proper thinking time away from the office, and partly in order to meet and network with peers.

This doesn’t mean that senior staff don’t value online or distance learning opportunities, but they believe that they have more traction if everyone involved has had a chance to meet and bond through face-to-face sessions first.

A number of senior staff would welcome follow-up group sessions (Skype or conference calls) that gave participants an opportunity to discuss their progress in applying their training within their work. This could help motivate participants to actually implement actions after training, rather than just being immediately sucked back into business as usual.

As with any leadership role, not prioritising time for learning is only going to be detrimental for the future both for the individual and their organisation.

Give us the tools to use our data to make better decisions

Senior staff often have a considerable body of fundraising data themselves, or have access to marketing and ticketing data. They have sweated through the problems of systems development and implementation, established efficient processes, but now they want to take their use of data to the next level. They are just not sure what that is. Most importantly, they want the ‘So what?’ question to be answered.

It’s not enough to demonstrate whizzy data segmentation and wealth screening tools. They need to understand how to apply the results of these analyses to their donor cultivation and stewardship strategies.

At present, senior staff can feel they are offered data reports as a solution, when in fact they are just opening up more questions. And there’s then that influencing issue. Even if we know the solution can we convince other senior managers that we need to change?

Let’s measure return on investment in training through its impact on staff rather than on additional funds raised

All senior development staff want to be able to demonstrate a return on investment (RoI) for their training. The RoI can relate to financial targets through skills development, for example, improving their success with corporate sponsorship. However, staff are also keen to demonstrate RoI in relation to strengthening their own personal capacity to do their job.

Senior staff are under tremendous pressure to meet ambitious targets. They devote considerable time to supporting their own teams and ‘influencing up’ to executive teams and trustees, yet often feel that no one is really supporting them.

Whatever else it sets out to do, all training for senior staff should increase their confidence and basic ability to cope with their demanding roles. Burnout and job-hopping can be high, so if we can increase resilience and the time spent in senior roles, it can only be positive for the sector as a whole.

What else might be important as we support the development of these essential roles?

Amanda Rigali is Head of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy programme and Director of Strategic Development for Cause4.

This article is part of a series of articles on the theme Fundraising for the future, sponsored and contributed by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.

The third National Summer School for Arts Fundraising and Leadership takes place in Leeds from 17 to 22 July in partnership with the University of Leeds.

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