The Challenges & Rewards of Leading a Fundraising Team

Carla Miller interviewed some of the sector’s most experienced fundraising directors for her book Leading Successful Fundraising Teams. In today’s guest blog, Carla shares their thoughts on the challenges and rewards of leading a fundraising team in the current environment…

When I started writing my book I did it with new fundraising directors in mind. I remember how my first role at that level was both exiting and terrifying. Suddenly I was responsible for the organisation’s income and all the services we provided and staff we employed depended on my team delivering against ambitious targets. It was also a real privilege to lead a talented and passionate team of fundraisers.

That was back in 2004. Today fundraising directors face unquestionably more challenges with increased regulation and challenging stories in the media about fundraising and the charity sector in general. I recently did a straw poll of fundraising directors and asked them what their greatest challenges are at the moment. Their answers included:

  • Raising the money and hitting targets (particularly for small and medium sized charities)
  • Recruiting and retaining great fundraisers
  • Getting trustees engaged with fundraising
  • Finding the time and resources to innovate
  • Tackling silos within the team
  • Increased regulation

And of course every fundraising team has its unique challenges. When I interviewed Kate Collins, Director of Fundraising & Marketing at Teenage Cancer Trust for my book in 2016 her greatest challenge at the time was around culture and growth….

“For me the key challenge right now is all about keeping our fabulous culture as we grow. Yes, you know you’ve got to make sure the money comes in at the right return. But the team is really good at that. The team doesn’t need me to worry about that. If they need me to worry, I know they will tell me to worry and when they need me to help me with that, they will pull me in to work with them. So I think the biggest challenge right now for me personally is about not losing some of the intangible cultural elements of the organisation, the ones that actually meant that when we didn’t have a complex formal strategy we were still doing a great job.”

Yes, there are challenges but being a fundraising leader is far from a thankless task. I asked Kath Abrahams of Diabetes UK about why she still loved being a fundraising director after years in similar roles…

“I am still really interested in how things work. What makes people tick. How the world works. I like learning new things. I suppose part of it’s a mind-set. I find it fun. I’d get bored if it was always the same. I always know that I am going to learn from the people around me. I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a new role and not had those moments where you go, “Oh! How interesting! I had no idea.” I don’t find it difficult to keep myself interested and engaged at all.

“I love the breadth of being a director. I love the fact that I’m in a role where I can link people up together. Linking colleagues up with our supporters and thinking outside-in rather than inside-out. I think you have to be comfortable with a certain amount of ambiguity. You have to like it, I think. If you want to live in a certain world, it might not be the role for you, particularly in the current environment.

“I often have to give people the comfort and the confidence that it will be okay. Even though I don’t know exactly how it will be okay, I do know it will be. It’s navigating people through when actually everything around you is uncertain. People look at you to be the one that is upbeat, energetic, whether that’s within the team or outside in the rest of the organisation. People want their Engagement Director to be inspired and inspiring. You need to bring that. You need to like that.”

And Jenni Anderson, now Fundraising Director at Duke of Edinburgh Awards also summed it up nicely when asked what she loves about leading a fundraising team…

“Going into work every day and working with a truly great bunch of people that care about the same things that you care about, and you know that they would be prepared to help you out if you needed it, and they know you’re prepared to help them out. When you have to spend eight to ten hours a day of your life with people that you are not married to and are not family, and you didn’t choose each other, you have to think that they care about you and you care about them.”

Whether you’re going through a challenging or a rewarding time as a director of fundraising being able to honestly share experiences and ideas with your peers can make all the difference, which is why the IFC breakfasts for fundraising directors, Top Table are such a great idea.