Mr White switched his studies to an international development degree, and today, he’s the fundraising manager at Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. After almost eight years in the fundraising field, he’s satisfied he’s found his calling.
“The concept of being a fundraiser is something people have trouble understanding. People ask me if I get paid for it, or if I’m a volunteer,” he says.
“I dispel that myth through my results … I’ve treated it as a career and invested in things like my professional development, my certifications and my learning in the sector. I am constantly looking to improve and engage in best practice work,” White says.
Katherine Raskob, chief executive of the Fundraising Institute of Australia, says many Australians don’t understand the depth of opportunities available in fundraising careers and think only of the face-to-face fundraisers on the street.
While those working for smaller organisations might wear numerous fundraising “hats”, employees in larger charities can specialise in one area such as major gifts, bequests, fundraising events or corporate fundraising.
As part of their work, fundraisers conduct research into different sources of funding, look at data, plan campaigns and work on publicity drives with the marketing and communications team.
As donors begin to engage differently with causes, the skills of fundraisers change too.
“In the past we used direct mail, packs and pens. Increasingly younger donors are giving but doing it in different ways: through Facebook, or sponsorships between friends. A really good fundraiser understands all the basics, and keeps abreast of the ways to engage new donors in the future,” Ms Raskob says.
Given the role is so accountable, it’s fair to assume jobs in fundraising have a reasonable degree of pressure attached. Mr White agrees, but says there’s an upside to that too.
“There’s a lot of responsibility at every stage. But it’s fulfilling at the same time because you can see your results,” he says.
Mr White believes his experience in fundraising has also helped accelerate his broader professional capabilities.
“There’s a lot of autonomy that comes with that responsibility, so it helps develop you at a really young age … It has been a wonderful career for my maturity and my professionalism,” he says.
A background in marketing, communications or public relations is usually well regarded, however fundraisers can come from any academic background.
There is no university degree in fundraising in Australia, although courses in social impact do exist. The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-Profit Studies and the Fundraising Institute of Australia each offer options for short courses as well as professional development opportunities.
Whatever your qualifications, commercial acumen and the ability to build relationships with people are paramount. It also helps to be focused, driven and confident.
“You can make such a difference and see the difference you can make … This is a way of contributing to causes and social issues you care about,” says Mr White.