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AP partnership with Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy

As we recover from Covid and navigate the cost-of-living crisis, fundraisers are ever more important. Yet we continue to undervalue the job, says Michelle Wright.

Multicoloured graphic of raised hands

Serhil Brovko

It is well evidenced that many fundraisers fall into the role by accident. We commissioned research from DHA Communications that finds fundraisers have precarious and uneven career pathways with poor terms and conditions and few chances to develop their leadership capacity.

Of course, we may recognise these problems across other disciplines but one area where fundraisers often feel under particular pressure is that, despite having responsibility for ever higher fundraising targets, they have very limited opportunities to influence strategically. High expectations without agency doesn’t make sense.

Before Covid, US research showed the average tenure of a fundraiser was 16 months, with the key reasons for not staying long being not seeing eye to eye with the CEO, burnout and better paid opportunities around every corner. Since Covid, we are seeing this already entrenched problem compounded by the so-named great resignation, meaning more and more organisations are facing a recruitment crisis in fundraising.

As we celebrate 10 years of the Arts Fundraising Fellowship, we talked to our new cohort of Senior Fellows to get their views on what could make a difference to retaining fundraisers and supporting better working conditions.

Investing in training is a ‘must have’

If we take just one area of a fundraisers’ development, that of training, we know such opportunities can help fundraisers develop their practice and the purpose of what they do. The latter being fundamental to resilience and whether they might be inclined to stick out a job.

Well-structured training helps build networks, develop peer groups, find mentors and contribute to a wider community. This in turn, helps build individual confidence in how fundraising intersects with organisational purpose and strategy delivery. 

Yet often the attitude among leaders is: “I managed without training, so what’s the point in training my team?” As the entrepreneur Jack Welch said: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” As such, training investment should be fundamental.

Invest whatever you can 

Lindsey Alvis, Executive Director & Joint CEO of Middle Child Theatre outlines, often, that investment in a bank of days of training reaps the best rewards – such as intensive opportunities like the one year Clore Fellowship and Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Senior Fellowship. These longer courses give the opportunity for investment and time in hard skills (finance & fundraising) and soft skills (confidence & negotiation) and learning across different forms (seminars, interactive workshops & key speakers). 

These courses also give some autonomy to participants to track their own path by providing an additional training budget tailored to their needs. Middle Child replicates this by providing an annual budget for team members to use as they wish including research visits and opportunities to pool resources for shared learning. The company also provides a Go-To-See Fund so that everyone in the team can see work. 

New problems require new solutions

As we face a brand-new set of economic difficulties, training needs to respond accordingly. Jo Warmington, Head of Development at Reform Radio, says fundraising practices must now support change driven by communities, as well as supporting leaders to navigate wide-ranging, urgent challenges from the environment to safeguarding.

Staff also need the time to focus on training. As Katherine Harding, Director of Development and Communications at Cardboard Citizens says, “It’s not just financial support but having the time to manage training alongside the pressures of the day job”.  In an ideal world, 80% of a fundraisers’ time would focus on the job in hand, while 20% would be dedicated towards learning and/or cross organisational work, modelled on systems in some larger businesses or the civil service. 

This approach replicates ideas such as the four day working week, which is being piloted by charities such as Waterwise, and has been adopted by the likes of Middle Child. Employees receive 100% of their pay for 80% of their usual hours but commit to delivering 100% of their normal productivity. With a key aim being to minimise burnout and to support good mental health.

Don't forget the freelancers and volunteers

While recognising arts organisations are under significant time pressure with limited resources, we can still build a culture where personal development is part of the norm. 

Given the sector’s reliance on exceptional freelancers and the impact that Covid has had on the precariousness of such roles, Lindsey outlines that one way to value freelance support is to ensure they can access training alongside core staff, and invest in other volunteers such as trustees. It needs to be a whole organisation response to keeping skills fresh. 

Lindsey also emphasises how important it is that long-term training opportunities are available for those that might not have the confidence to self-select, that don’t see themselves as leaders, where access and emotional support might be needed to get through the door.

Difficult times need new relationships

We can be very insular in the arts and culture sector, looking to each other for support and direction, but it’s likely many of the ways forward will come from outside of the arts sector, with the models we currently contend with being replaced by new ones. As Jo says, “There is huge potential in social business and in the entrepreneurial ways arts organisations can not only generate income but enable communities and businesses to buy services and products that have social impact.”

Investment in our fundraisers will see investment in our communities. As Katherine states, “It’s a given that funder relationships are more important than ever in a competitive climate, but we’ll also need to work on building trust and navigating power structures in the organisations we work for and with. There will be difficult messages to deliver during this period about what we can and can’t do.”

Significant changes in organisational culture can take a long time to achieve, but we can accomplish so much in supporting our fundraisers to bring their expertise to bear on strategy, to equip them with the time to focus on personal development and to look outwards to build new relationships that will support our organisations to flourish.

Michelle Wright is CEO of Cause4 and Programme Director of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme. 
@artsfundraising | @MWCause4

This article is part of a series on the theme Fundraising for the Future, contributed by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.

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Headshot of Michelle Wright