1) What does the #NonGraduatesWelcome campaign want to achieve?

We want every charity to remove the requirement for an unspecified degree-level qualification from fundraising job descriptions. In its place, we want charities to be clearer with applicants about the skills, knowledge and experience they will be judged on, empowering applicants to decide how best to demonstrate their suitability for the role.

This campaign primarily focuses on the requirement for an unspecified degree-level qualification (i.e. where the job description does not specify what subject the degree should be in). However, whenever charities ask for a degree qualification as part of a job description we want them to consider whether a degree is the only way the skills, knowledge and experience they require could have been acquired.

2) Why are you campaigning for this change?

Fundraising faces two key challenges when it comes to recruitment. The first is that the fundraising profession does not reflect UK society or the wider charity sector, with BAME people, disabled people and those from low-income households all under-represented. The Institute of Fundraising’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy sets out both the business case and the moral case for having a more diverse workforce, while its Who Isn’t In the Room? report shone a light on the size of the challenge that our profession faces.

At the same time, charities across the sector have reported that they are struggling to fill fundraising roles with high-calibre candidates.

We believe that the requirement for a degree-level qualification is contributing to both of these challenges.

Focusing on a degree-level qualification also perpetuates the under-representation of groups traditionally less likely to go to university. For example, a 2018 report by the UK Government into inclusion in higher education 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.” By prioritising graduates over other entry routes the fundraising profession is inheriting these inclusion and diversity challenges from the higher education sector.

This campaign alone won’t completely fix these two problems. But it will be a step in the right direction for our sector.

3) Why do charities include the requirement for unspecified degree-level qualifications in their fundraising job descriptions?

From our conversations with organisations who include this requirement in their job descriptions there are two common reasons why it is used: inertia and where it is being used as a proxy for a number of other soft skills.

Inertia is often driven by organisations using previous job descriptions as a template when it comes to recruiting for new roles. It is kept because “it has always been there”. The fact this requirement was deemed necessary the last time the organisation recruited means that those writing the person specifications don’t necessarily consider what value it is adding, or the negative consequences of continuing to include this requirement. That is why it is important to challenge organisations who continue to use this requirement. We have found that when organisations are encouraged to review this they quickly see the benefits of removing the requirement both for them and for applicants.

Rather than using a degree as a proxy for other skills, we want organisations to think more carefully about the actual skills, knowledge and experience they need and how best to check for them during the recruitment process. As part of this, we are calling on organisations to be more open and transparent with applicants about the knowledge, skills and experience they are being judged on.

4) What do you want organisations to do instead?

Rather than put the focus on whether or not applicants have a degree, we are calling on organisations to think clearly about the skills, abilities, knowledge and experience they are looking for – both for the role and for their team.

As well as opening the profession to anyone with the required skills, we believe that being more transparent about the skills and experience needed to be successful in the role will empower applicants to decide how best to demonstrate that they are the right person for the job, leading to better quality applications.

5) Are you saying that organisations should stop recruiting graduates?

Certainly not! The purpose of this campaign is not to diminish graduates. Our aim is to open the door to more people, not lock people out.

There are many soft skills that could be developed and demonstrated through completing a degree-level qualification. This could include communication skills, critical thinking, problem solving, self-management, the ability to work under one’s own initiative and the ability to follow instructions.

However, every degree course is different and every student’s experience of life at university is different. While some graduates will refine all of the skills listed above there is no guarantee that this will be true for everyone.

These skills are also not exclusive to graduates – completing a degree course is just one way to develop or demonstrate these skills. Making a degree-level qualification an essential requirement ignores the fact that there are many other ways an applicant could gain these skills.

We want organisations to be clear and open about the skills and qualities they require for the role and for their team. This will give potential applicants the chance to decide how best to demonstrate they meet the criteria. Rather than undervaluing degrees we want to make it one of a number of acceptable ways someone could demonstrate their suitability for a role.

6) Are you against the requirement for a degree-level qualification for all charity jobs?

No. Many jobs require employees to have standardised, specialist knowledge, which can only be gained through formal training, such as a specific degree courses. For example, a charity might require someone to hold a degree in accountancy to carry out some finance roles. In this case a degree would be the only way for someone to gain the knowledge they need for the role. For the sake of clarity, we are not against job descriptions asking for a specific degree in these cases.

However, we do not believe this is the case for fundraising as it possible to gain the required skills, knowledge and experience outside of a degree course. For example, this could include through training courses such as those offered by the Institute of Fundraising.

7) You have mentioned “unspecified” degrees. What about job descriptions that ask for a “relevant degree qualification”?

There are some degree courses which provide graduates with skills that could be applied in a fundraising role. However, different courses will provide different knowledge. Therefore, it is hard to justify this as an essential requirement if the recruiting organisation can be this flexible in the knowledge the successful applicant will bring.

Instead, we encourage organisations to carefully consider what knowledge they are looking for, and whether a degree qualification is the only way to have gained this knowledge.

If they still feel there is a clear reason why a degree-level qualification is required we urge organisations to be clearer about the subjects they consider to be “relevant”.

8) Is it ok to ask for a degree if we make it clear we will also accept “equivalent experience”?

Some of the organisations we have spoken to have justified the inclusion of requiring a degree-level qualification because they also add “or equivalent” or “equivalent experience”.

However, we believe there are a number of problems with this approach:

The first is that “equivalent” is not defined, which means it comes down to each person’s interpretation. This is unlikely to be consistent between the organisation and the applicant (and even between different members of the recruitment panel).

One example is where this requirement comes under the heading Knowledge, Education and/or Qualifications. In this case, the applicant could reasonably interpret “equivalent” as only meaning other high-level formal qualifications. The applicant’s definition in this case is likely to be much narrower than the organisation intended.

This also poses a challenge where the requirement for a degree is being used as a proxy for the soft-skills the organisation believes graduates will have developed while studying (see above). However, if the applicant does not know what they are really being judged on, they are not in a position to decide what evidence best demonstrates an equivalent level of skill.

A final challenge with this approach is it puts the burden of interpretation on the applicant. However, if someone has not completed a degree they are not in a position to judge what the equivalent looks like in work experience.

Rather than using “or equivalent” to get around this, we want to encourage organisations to be much clearer about the skills, experiences and knowledge they actually require.

9) Are you saying that fundraising isn’t a skill, or that fundraisers shouldn’t have training?

Far from it! Fundraising is a highly skilled profession and, regardless of whether someone enters the profession with a degree, we are strongly in favour of fundraisers continuing to develop their skills throughout their career.

Successful fundraisers need exceptional communication skills, the ability to think both critically and creatively, the ability to empathise with a wide variety of people, as well as the ability to work both as part of a team and independently. While studying for a degree can help people to develop these skills, the #NonGraduatesWelcome campaign aims to get organisations to recognise that this is just one way of acquiring and demonstrating these skills.

10) How does this fit with the Institute of Fundraising’s plans for fundraising to become a Chartered Profession?

We support the Institute of Fundraising’s ambition to become a Chartered Institute and believe this is a positive step for the profession. We hope this will raise awareness of fundraising as a viable career option for people from a diverse range of communities and backgrounds, while giving fundraisers the professional recognition they deserve.

The journey to becoming a Chartered Institute gives the sector the chance to reflect on the skills and competencies needed to become a successful fundraiser, and the knowledge they will need to acquire at different stages of their career. We believe the work being done on this by IoF will help organisations move away from unhelpful requirements (such as the unnecessary need for degree-level qualifications) and support them to be more transparent about the skills needed for the role.

We welcome any attempts to improve professional standards of those within the fundraising sector – including through the provision of ongoing training and formal fundraising-specific qualifications. In developing plans for becoming a Chartered Institute we think it is important for the IoF to consider how any associated training and qualifications will be made accessible to all.

While there will be advantages to being a Chartered Member, the IoF have also confirmed that membership won’t be a requirement for working in ths profession. This means that people will have the opportunity to pursue qualifications while they are employed. We believe this is fundamentally different to the requirement for a non-subject-specific degree, which blocks people from entering the profession before they have had a chance to start their career.

We have begun discussions with the IoF about how our work fits with its ambitions and how best we can support its efforts following the publication of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy in July 2019. We look forward to working with them further to improve Equality, Diversity and Inclusion across the fundraising sector.

11) Why are you only focusing on fundraising?

We are aware that this problem is not unique to fundraising. While some jobs within the charity sector do require specific knowledge that can only be gained through a degree course, it is not true for every job. Sadly, the unnecessary requirement for degree-level education can be found in job descriptions across the sector

We have chosen to focus on fundraising as a starting point. We hope that getting organisations to review this for fundraising roles will lead to them also reviewing job descriptions across all departments, and removing the requirement for an unspecified degree where there can be no objective justification for its inclusion.

12) How can I get involved?

You can support the #NonGraduatesWelcome campaign by:

  1. Reviewing your own organisation’s job descriptions and committing to removing this requirement in future.
  2. Speaking to peers and colleagues (especially those advertising roles that require degree-level qualifications) to call on them to review their job descriptions, helping them to make their fundraising teams more diverse and inclusive.
  3. Include the #NonGraduatesWelcome hashtag when advertising your roles

If you have any questions about #NonGraduatesWelcome, or if you would like to discuss how else you can get involved, please contact us:

By email: Campaign@NonGraduatesWelcome.co.uk

On Twitter: @NonGradsWelcome