Late Spring. The penury of the post-Christmas period is long since past. Sunshine has given you a warm glow of confidence. You're ready to shrug off the coils of your current role and step boldly into the future. Yep, it's job hunting season - or so it seems from the number of people I know busily updating their CVs.
Last year I participated in a panel discussion about fundraising careers along with two fabulous fundraisers - Chief Executive, Ros Neely and Institute of Fundraising's Best You Can Be ambassador, sole fundraiser, Julie Christie. It was evident that both were in jobs they loved.
So how did they get there?
"I was just lucky" or "I just fell into it" are phrases often used by people in fundraising. We're evidently a modest bunch - or maybe we don't want to seem to be prioritising our personal ambitions before The Cause. What was evident from everyone in the room, was that the two things are not mutually exclusive. You can be ambitious and cause-driven. It's about wanting to have an impact on something you care about.
So what did I learn from the discussions that day?
Self awareness is important.
My fellow panellists knew what made them tick. Julie left a role because she knew she didn't want to manage people. She loves doing what she does. Ros knew the causes she wanted to devote her energy to and changed her career path to do that.
Do you know what makes you tick?
What gives you energy? What activities and behaviours energise you? Do you need to be creative? What causes do you really care about? Do you need autonomy? Do you love analysis and planning?
What exhausts you? Does supporting people make you feel wrung out? Can you not bear to on your own all day? How about forward planning - is it a painful drag or can you not be comfortable until you have a plan in place?
Some people find management stressful. Others love to be in charge. Some people love nothing better than to close the door and delve into a long application. Others go stir crazy if they don't speak to 16 people in a day. Me, I need a mix of both. There is no right or wrong but it helps to know yourself, and to know what specialisms and roles give you scope to do the things you love. One thing that was marked about my panel colleagues was that they both knew what made them tick and made their career choices accordingly.
Don't know what makes you tick? Ask the people around you when you seem at your most energetic, happy or at peace with yourself. What are you doing?
I once worked with someone who loved working with people and was absolutely tremendous at doing so, but hated having to analyse, strategise and plan ahead. Great at working with people, fantastic at talking on the hoof, hated writing reports. Didn't much like thinking about money or how to generate it. That's not to say he was bad at doing the things he didn't like (and it's important to note that anyone can get good at anything with practice and learn to enjoy them) but those activities drained him and made him miserable. Fundraising management was not for him, but working directly with people who needed support was a perfect fit.
TIP: Typologies like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator can be useful in helping you think about what fits you best. According to Civil Society, chances are you're an idealistic, caring ENFJ - but believe me, it takes all sorts to make a fundraising team.
And what about The Cause?
It's important to me to work somewhere I really care about. It was important to my fellow panellists too. Evidently, it was important to practically everyone who came to the session. Loving The Cause gives you resilience. You have more capacity to roll with the highs and lows of the fundraising world if you get joy from the impact of the work you do. I get a thrill every time I walk into the museum where I work. Before I joined the organisation, I was there every other week with my family. Being part of the team making such a wonderful place happen feels like a privilege. That counts for a lot.
Where do you find the Perfect Job?
Network, networks, networks. Obviously, jobs are advertised on sites S1 Jobs, Guardian Jobs, Goodmoves, jobs.ac.uk, Charity Jobs, Global Charity Jobs and Creative Scotland. Obviously there are e-alerts from membership organisations like CASE and the Institute of Fundraising (note, if you're in Scotland you should sign up to IoF Scotland's alerts). Obviously there are a plethora of recruitment agencies consultants working across the sector - BTA, Caithness Consulting, TPP, Execucare, Veredus, Richmond Associates, Morgan Hunt, Eden Brown, Harris Hill and Charity People.
But lives are busy and - even if you do have time to scour all the various sites and email alerts - not all jobs are advertising. Some go to headhunters and you need to find a way of letting them know that yours is the head they want to hunt.
My last two roles were sent to me by friends who saw them and thought I would be a great fit. People who knew me. People who knew what I might enjoy.
Ros described how she knew there was only one job she would leave her existing role for - but it was occupied by someone else. She waited, built up her experience... but she might never have known that her dream job had become available if it hadn't been for a call from someone in her network. Her dream job had gone out to head-hunters and the head-hunter hadn't known about her head. Thanks to that contact, she was able to get in touch and tell them that hers was the head he was seeking. Lo and behold, she was right!
So don't think job-hunting is a solo endeavour - it's not. Many hands make light work.
Use the power of your networks.
Being Dream Job Ready
It helps to have a dream job in the back of your mind - the job that maybe isn't for now, but you hope to be in one day. It's good to think about your life in the round. What sort of role (and organisation) fit with the life you want - or need? What's your risk tolerance? Do you yearn for travel and adventure or is it more important to have stability, security and regular hours? Once you know your final destination, you can work out what steps you need to take to move in that direction.
A few years ago I found I had hit a limited-management-experience ceiling. I managed one person and I came second in a couple of interviews because others simply managed more people. I was in a relatively strategic role with big income targets, I managed complex projects with big teams involved, but the flat structure of the [higher education] Development department meant that my direct line management was limited. Happily, I won investment to build my team and I got that management experience.
My next role gave me breadth of experience. I was no longer a Major Gifts specialist managing other Major Gifts fundraisers. I was managing a team dealing with multiple income streams. That was magnificent learning curve as, at some point, I had to deliver almost every area myself.
Without realising it I was getting myself dream job ready, gathering the management experience and breadth I needed. When the call came, I was well placed to respond. This wasn't part of a Masterplan. I didn't know precisely what my dream job would be - but I had a broad idea of where I wanted to head.
When Ros was a Director of a charity she loved, she knew the only job she would consider moving on for was the role of Chief Executive at the charity where she now work (that dream job) - a very specific opportunity. So she asked a Trustee to help her identify gaps in her skills, and experience she needed to gain, to get her ready for a Chief Executive role. Then she worked proactively to take on projects which would help her get the skills and experience she needed.
There is great advice in there.
If you have an idea what your dream job is, ask someone who hires or manages people in those roles what they look for. Ask them to give you an honest appraisal of your own experience and suitability to fill the gaps.
Julie recommends volunteering as a brilliant way to gain new skills and broaden your network. That could be by helping other charities - or even by becoming a Trustee yourself.
TIP: Getting a mentor can be a really good way of helping you to identify how you can fill those gaps.
"How do I know when I should move on?"
"How do I know when I should move on?" is a great question - how do you know? There's no right or wrong answer to this but some suggestions were...
- You've done everything you think you can with your current role
- You see an opportunity that you just can't pass up (see dream job, above)
- You are ready to have more responsibility (and can't get it within your role)
- You've made a bad decision and a job - or organisation - simply isn't for you
- Your role or organisation is changing and you don't like its direction of travel
- You get the chance to work somewhere - or for someone - you find inspirational
One thing no one said was, "You want more money." It's generally nice to earn more money, but (assuming you earn enough), motivation comes from being able to achieve, grow, and develop and do interesting work (don't believe me, ask this guy). Think hard about whether the job you're going for - or the job you're in - will give you these opportunities.
But my very favourite question of the day was this:
"What if you don't want to move on?"
This from someone who loved her job and couldn't imagine ever wanting to leave. The simple answer to that is: don't. Just enjoy loving what you do.
On these last two questions there is a serious point to be made. Everyone has peaks and troughs in their job and sometimes, sticking out a rough period is the absolutely best thing you can do. Staying can provide you with an unparalleled learning opportunity and help you grow in experience. You might think you've pushed the boundaries of your role but actual, perhaps there is an opportunity to redefine it.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that longevity in a role has an impact on fundraising success. After all, we're all about relationships. It takes time to plant and nourish those relationships internally and externally and often, the first two years in a fundraising role are the toughest because relationships are not yet well established.
And yet staff retention remains a major challenge for the fundraising sector. You might think it's hard to find your perfect job but believe me, it's just as hard for your perfect job to find you. Competition for great fundraisers is intense.
The onus is on leaders and managers to invest in staff retention and development and to give good fundraising staff the chance to grow within their organisation. That just makes good sense.
Fundraisers considering a move should also consider the fact that, sometimes, staying put offers the best development experience of all.
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