Fundraisers Are As Scarce As Hen’s Teeth

fundraising ngos Financial sustainability financial management
Wednesday, 21 July, 2010 - 09:59

The increasing shortage of competent fundraisers in South Africa leaves many non-profit organisations struggling to sustain themselves. To address this problem there is a need for South African Qualification Authority accredited training programmes aimed at capacitating fundraisers to compete in the world of fundraising. The local non-profit sector might be under threat from overseas talent scouts looking for the best expertise in the business

Recruiting the right person for a top post as a fundraising manager or development director is challenging. Only a handful of fundraisers with the right level of abilities and experience to raise multiple millions exist in South Africa. There’s a perception that this is a local problem but in fact it is a global crisis!

The fundraising profession has a high turnover (around 30 percent per year) often linked to burnout and lack of job satisfaction. This is also exacerbated by ‘poaching’ from other non-profits. In addition, South Africa might be under threat from overseas talent scouts looking for the best in the business.

“The world is suffering from a scarcity of good fundraisers and international non-government organisations are flooding into South Africa on recruitment drives”, says Jenni McLeod, of Downes Murray International (DMI), a leading fundraising consultancy. McLeod further states, “Our clients often struggle to find competent people, many applicants will respond to an advertisement or are recommended by placement agencies, but few are able to really walk the talk.”

A well-known and respected children’s organisation advertised for a Fund Development Manager, received 52 applicants, compiled a shortlist of five good candidates, but not one person met their expectations. They tried head-hunting but without success. In desperation, a person with a marketing background was appointed, believing that transferable skills should work. Wrong, after eight months he resigned. Finally, they placed a competent and capable person ending a tortuous two year search.

Industry experts believe that some of the reasons for this shortage are:

  • There has been an explosion in the number of new non-profits and they all need fundraisers, so the demand out-numbers the supply.
  • This demand is also driven by an increased need for more Rands to cover higher costs of doing the work and a need to raise the quality of service.
  • Leadership, board members and management, should be focusing on professional development of all staff but even more so when it comes to individuals charged with securing sufficient income to sustain the organisation.
  • There is no serious interest in formal training for development officers/directors although SAQA qualifications and unit standards exist and are transferable international best practice, yet few practitioners attempt to gain this advantage.
  • Few fundraisers have worked with a broad-spectrum of fundraising methods and even less have the know-how for adaptation of digital tools and new technology.
  • NPO leaders won’t make the effort to understand fundraising and what it really entails with regards to resources and investment in setting up a fundraising team.
  • Low salaries are offered to competent people and professionals are asked to work on a commission-basis, which is universally frowned upon as unethical and historically a model for failure.
  • Lack of planning, budgets, strategies and systems are to blame – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

The President of the Southern Africa Institute of Fundraising, Zai Miller, says “Many Board members expect their fundraisers to bring in substantial amounts but don’t realise that you have to spend money to make money, fundraisers should be supported, developed and nurtured – not bullied and burdened with unrealistic targets. This is why we are losing people with potential; this is part of the problem.”

This is a complex set of issues that requires the NPO sector to make efforts by increasing the talent pool and strengthening individual career-paths through professional development.

  • Encourage individuals to improve their qualifications and knowledge by attending accredited or endorsed training courses.
  • Keep up to date and attend informal workshops, seminars and conferences.
  • Network with peers in small groups or via Internet social networking.
  • Read books and search the Internet for fundraising ideas and insights.
  • Build support systems and seek out experienced people to be a coach or a mentor.
  • Make space for paid interns or learnerships to gain experience and skills.
  • Encourage staff to become members of a professional association such as the Southern Africa Institute of Fundraising (SAIF).
  • Change the mindset of top leaders to learn about fundraising and create a culture that it’s everyone’s job to get involved.

Fundraisers should also improve their skills and enhance their knowledge through attending:

If we are faced with a brain-drain of excellent fundraisers then we need to face-up to the reasons why so many new entrants drop-out, become disillusioned or drift from the profession. Few stay for more than five years whilst it can take at least ten years to be recognised as a veteran. It’s not a job for sissies and demands strength of character so we have to enrich the gene pool of this noble profession to avert the demise of hundreds of good causes.

- Ann Bown works for Charisma Communications. Bown is a fundraising and brandraising consultant to non-profit organisations. She is former president of the Southern Africa Institute of Fundraising.


Remember to register for the 2010 SANGONeT Conference which will focus on "Fundraising in the Digital World". The conference will be held in three parts - the main event will be held from 1-2 September 2010 in Johannesburg, followed by one-day seminars in Durban on 3 September 2010 and Cape Town on 6 September 2010.

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