Do Graduates Make Better Fundraisers?

What would you do if you found that four words on your job description were putting off talented people from applying while also contributing to the sector’s equality, diversity and inclusion challenges?

We believe that one seemingly innocuous requirement is doing more harm than good.

“Degree-level qualification required”.

Do graduates make better fundraisers?

A recent review of over 350 fundraising job descriptions in the UK found that more than 1 in 3 mention having a degree in the person specification. In nearly a quarter of jobs it was listed as an essential requirement.

But why is a degree qualification so desirable when it comes to recruiting fundraisers? What is it that my music degree gives me that nobody else could possibly offer?

In the 12 years I’ve been fundraising I have never been asked by a donor to carry out a Schenkerian Analysis, give a recital or harmonise a tune in the style of Bach. Yet, for one in four employers the bit of paper that says I can do these things is seen as being an essential requirement. In fact, for many it is so seen to be so important that it is the first item on the person specification.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a music degree. Most job descriptions simply ask for “degree-level”, suggesting that recruiting organisations don’t mind what subject the degree was in.  My brother’s Hospitality Management degree or my sister’s Early Childhood Studies degree would also be sufficient to satisfy this requirement.

This suggests that what organisations are really interested in is the transferable skills one might acquire while studying for a degree. And this is where this requirement gets really problematic.

Don’t get me wrong, fundraising is a skilled job. The fundraising profession needs critical thinkers and creative problem solvers. Enquiring minds and empathic hearts. Strategists and story-tellers. Our fundraisers need to be listeners and communicators. Leaders and team players. Resilient yet flexible.

Did my music degree help me to develop these skills? Absolutely!

Is studying for a degree the only way I could have developed these skills? Absolutely not!

Why does this matter?

Making a degree-level qualification an essential requirement ignores the fact that there are many other ways an applicant could gain these skills.

It also ignores the fact that there are many reasons why people don’t go to university. For some it is a choice. For others, going to university was never an option.

By prioritising university as the only route into the fundraising profession we are creating an unnecessary barrier that stops potentially talented people from the sector.

And this barrier impacts some more than others.

A 2018 report by the UK Government found that “Students from disadvantaged backgrounds, low income households, care-leavers, mature students, disabled students and students from some ethnic minority groups have a much lower participation in higher education than students from other groups”.

It is no coincidence that the same groups currently under-represented in the fundraising profession are the groups least likely to go to university. By prioritising graduates over everyone else we are inheriting these inclusion and diversity challenges from the higher education sector.

Opening the door

Since May 2019 the #NongraduatesWelcome campaign has been calling on charities to open the door to the profession to every talented fundraiser, regardless of their educational history. Specifically, we are challenging organisations to completely remove the request for unspecified degree qualifications from their job descriptions.

In its place, we are calling on organisations to be clearer about the specific skills, knowledge and experience they require – both for the role and their team.

We believe this is in the interests of both the recruiting charity and potential applicants because:

  • Being more open and transparent about what people are being judged on will empower applicants to decide how best to demonstrate that they are the right person for the job.
  • Opening up the door to a larger pool of potentially incredible fundraisers will counter the serious talent crisis the sector faces.
  • Diversifying our teams will lead to diversity of thought, strengthening our teams.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Review all of your job descriptions that mention having a degree qualification in the person specification. Is a degree really necessary? Or is there another way people could have developed the skills, knowledge and experience you are looking for. If it’s not necessary, delete it. (Don’t just move it to “desirable”. Don’t try and get round it by adding the equally common yet meaningless “or equivalent experience”. Remove it completely!)
  • Challenge colleagues, clients and peers at other organisations to do the same. Often, this requirement is only there through inertia – “it’s there because it’s always been there”. Bringing it to the attention of others and asking them to reflect on whether it is truly needed might feel a bit uncomfortable but it is a hugely effective way of getting organisations to reconsider this outdated and unnecessary requirement.
  • Use the #NongraduatesWelcome hashtag to promote the fact that the job is open to people who – for whatever reason – didn’t go to university.

At a time when great fundraisers are needed more than everwe should be encouraging everybody with the necessary skills to join the fundraising profession and help us to make the world a better place. We shouldn’t be turning them away simply because – whether through choice or through circumstance – they don’t have a degree.

Join the #NongraduatesWelcome campaign today and open the door to the fundraising profession for more talented people – whatever their educational background!

David Burgess – Director, Apollo Fundraising and #NonGraduatesWelcome volunteer