Monday, 13 June 2016

Dear Fundraising Candidate... 9 Ways to Improve your Fundraising CV

Dear Fundraising Candidate,

It can be daunting applying for a job. It's hard to stand outside of yourself and understand your own experience and achievements. It's harder still to package them up in a succinct, easy to read, stand-out two pager.

Filling in an application form is even worse. All the fiddly little fields and then a great blank space where you need to sell experience to people you don't know and who don't know you. You've got a job description and a person specification. You know you can do the job. But you don't know who is going to read this thing.

What do they want you to say? Are you interpreting it correctly?

And damn it, you've only got Thursday night to do the thing and your week is insane. Argh, you're tired and Outlander is on, and you really fancy a glass of wine and an early night. How did the deadline creep up like that?

Crap, your CV is six years out of date. When did you do that management course anyway?  You wish you'd made a note of the dates. And why didn't you update your CV when got that amazing gift. How much did you raise in the summer appeal? Gah, you can't remember.

Friend, I'm here to tell you that it's hard on this side too. I'm fitting in recruitment on top of my day job. I don't have time to recruit. Nothing stops to make space for shortlisting and I'm a person down - that's why I'm recruiting.

Interviews - yikes, that's a whole day out of the office! I've fundraising proposals to write you know. Targets don't raise themselves. And quite frankly, I like Outlander too.
It took me ages to put together the person spec and get everything agreed with HR and designing the whole interview process was an epic task.

I just want to find YOU.

The perfect person for my team. The person who will love this job and be motivated. Please, please, please make it easy for me.

Here are some things you need to know:

1) I have about half an hour to spare and a lot of applications to read. It would be a kindness if you could summarise all the important stuff in the first half page. Something like:
- a couple of sentences at the top summarising your experience and then;
- five bullet points evidencing the experience you have that's relevant for this role.
Smack me between the eyes with your suitability and then give me your career history.

2) I'm a skim reader. Make this easy on the eye. Use sections and headings. Break it up. Highlight the important stuff. Don't cram in EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER DONE if it means using tiny fonts all squashed together. Formatting is your friend.

3) I want to read a story. This CV is YOUR story: the story about why you are the perfect person for this job. You're the protagonist and I'm the reader. If you're putting words down in a story they have to be purposeful - every word you put down should build the story of how you fit that person specification I laboured over. To which point...

4) I want the gun to go off.  I don't mean the mass murdering type, I mean Chekhov's gun ie:

"Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

If you want to tell me how you spent six years as igloo architect, fine. But if you're going to include it, show me how it gave you the specific skills I have told you I am seeking. If you fill your CV with experiences which are irrelevant to this job, it will hide the experiences that are.

4) I want you to SHOW me. Like I said, this is a story and good stories show don't tell. Don't tell me you're a good communicator, show me. Tell me about successful proposals, websites you've redeveloped, pitches you've won, speaker's competitions... whatever. Paint me a picture. It's not enough to say you are good at something, or describe a personality trait you think fits the bill. Anyone can say they are dynamic. Humorous. A great team worker. Every statement must be backed up by evidence. Show me the evidence!

5) I think of your Personal Statement as being a bit like a fundraising proposal. It's the same principles really - you carefully check the criteria, you answer all the questions, personalising what you say to fit the ethos and interests of the organisation. You illustrate your assertions with evidence that backs up your statements. You format it nicely - maybe use headings to make it easy to read. You check the spelling, grammar and readability. You get someone to proof read it for you. You address it to the correct person. If you do these things it gives me confidence you can write a fundraising proposal. If you don't, I start to doubt you have the skills I need. See above. I don't want you to tell me you're a good communicator. I want you to show me by writing a stellar application.

6) Gaps make me uneasy. Your story needs to make sense chronologically (starting with the thing you've done most recently first). I don't like skills based CVs for that reason - I like to understand how you've evolved, the twists and turns you've taken, the experience you've gained which has brought you to the point of applying for this specific role. You don't need to go into chapter and verse about your igloo design, but I want to know why you were doing it and how it took you in this direction. Gaps make me wonder if you're hiding something.

7) I 100% absolutely need to know that it's this job you want. You wouldn't send (I hope) ten charitable trusts the same standard proposal. You would tailor it. Do me the same courtesy. I'm looking for the perfect person for this job - someone who wants to work at THIS organisation, doing THIS role, in THIS team. I need to know that you want to work at THIS organisation in THIS role as part of THIS team. You have the person specification and information about the organisation. Please please use them - and don't forget to tell me why you want the job.

8) I sort of think most people like reading. It's not that I'm not interested in your hobbies. It can be really helpful to know that you're a scout leader, or a trustee for that local women's organisation. If you're a knitwear designer in your spare time it helps to show me that you're creative and motivated. If you compete in triathalons it builds a picture of someone who is determined and energetic. But things like reading? Seeing friends? Tell me nothing unique about you. Like Chekhov's gun - if it doesn't add to the story, leave it out.

9) I don't want to know what you're responsible for - I want to know what you do. Nothing makes me sigh more rapidly than the words "I was responsible for..." This isn't a job description it's a job application. Telling me what you have been responsible for tells me what you were supposed to do not what you did, or whether you were successful, or how successful you were. I don't want to know you were responsible for Direct Mail. I want to know the size and shapes of your campaigns.
What response rate did you get? Did it improve over the time you were managing Direct Mail? Did  you make things more efficient? What was your largest campaign? Your most successful one?

So in summary, Dear Candidate, if you're the perfect person for my role, I'd love you to help me to see it too - and I only have your application  to go on. So...
  • tailor your CV / application to this specific role and this specific organisation
  • provide a short summary of your skills and experience in the first half page.
  • Back it up with chronological career history, using relevant illusrations that show the size, shape and scale of your experience and help me understand how you were successful
  • Minimise or exclude irrelevant detail
  • Explain any gaps
  • Only include personal information that helps to demonstrate your suitability for the role
  • Tell me why you want the job (and make it meaningful)
  • Make it visually appealing - headings, bullets, plenty of white space (edit!)
  • Your application isn't just about listing your skills and experience - it's a showcase for them. So write well, spell check and make it coherent and well structured.
  • Never use the R word. I want to know what you did not what you were supposed to do.

Do you have a good lay out? No? Try using these sections:
i) Name/Contact details: thankfully static, one little thing you don't have to personalise
ii) Personal profile: 2-3 punchy lines summarising you, your experience and why you want this job. THIS you tailor e.g. "Energetic community fundraiser with seven years experience creating successful income-generating events and products and managing networks of up to 90 fundraising groups. Keen to move into... "
iii) Key skills and experience: Bullet points matched to the person specification so I can see at a glance that you're the right candidate for the role. It helps to give some idea of length/breadth/depth of experience e.g. 10 years Major Gifts experience working 6, 7 and 7 figure donors.
TIP: <Sections 2 and 3 can be rapidly updated and personalised to fit a specific job without making massive changes to the rest of your CV>
iv) Employment history: Your chronological career history. Start with your most recent role and work back. Make sure you're covering the points mentioned above e.g. tangible achievements or facts that give me a sense of breadth, scale and success. Make sure it's clear what YOUR role is - I want to know what YOU achieved so avoid "we did..."
v) Other experience (could also be Voluntary work): do you speak, blog, train, participate in special interest groups, volunteer, have a governance role, organise events in your spare time, coach or mentor - anything else that might be relevant to this job/painting a picture of your commitment to your profession.
vi) Qualifications: you don't need to list every subject and qualification in detail - a summary will do.

OPTIONAL: vii) Interests: See point 8 above.
OPTIONAL viii) References: In an application you need these. In a space tight CV it's fine to write "References available on request" - or just to mention the names of your referees.

Dear Candidate, I hope you enjoy writing your CV - it should be an empowering experience, reminding you of what you're good at and all the things you have achieved to date. It should make you feel proud and excited about what is coming next.

Your. Dream. Job.

Only the interview to get through now...

Yours Faithfully,

Your Recruiter

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