Stop trying to attract great applicants with boring job adverts

Published by Michelle Stein on

It always strikes me as such a paradox: Those of us working in the charity sector find our jobs inspiring, meaningful and transformative. And yet, we as a sector struggle to attract high-calibre individuals to fill fundraising roles. How can this discrepancy exist?

While there are lots of potential answers to this question, ranging from the recognition of fundraising as a viable career to more philosophical issues around what we as a society value  and define as work success, let me propose a very practical, doable solution that anyone in a position for the responsibility of hiring a fundraiser can implement today: Rewrite the job advert

I’ve recently been reading a lot of job descriptions. A lot. As a maternity cover position draws to a close, I’ve been searching for my next role. So I’m scouring the charity recruitment websites and sorting daily job opportunities emails sent by recruiters. I am looking at a range of roles and for a variety of organisations. By and large, they are all incredibly boring, uninspiring and blend into a homogenous pile of indistinguishable Word documents. They do not reflect the creativity and fun that fundraising requires and creates, the thrill of bringing on board a new donor or partnership, and of course the deeply meaningful work that fundraising facilitates. Here are three ways to overcome this:

Remove jargon

We know that compelling donor reports need to be stripped of industry jargon, and yet our job descriptions are full of them. Let’s describe our roles without solicitation cycles, pipeline management or cases for support. What at the most basic levels are we trying to achieve in fundraising roles? Connect donors to amazing opportunities with our cause? Create transformational partnerships that align our donors’ values and requirements with that of our organisation? Let’s really think about what we want the role to undertake and achieve and write it in a way that is inspiring and user-friendly. This is particularly important if we are to attract individuals who are new to the charity sector. Would they know what any of our jargon means? Would it immediately put them off applying? Write the job description for someone who knows nothing about fundraising and who you are trying to persuade to join the sector.

Celebrate your specialness

Job adverts can be so generic and bland. They don’t explain why one should join a particular organisation, and I am not talking about including items regarding pension pots and additional leave schemes. I am talking about the values your organisation stands for, the vision you have for the world, the kind of person you want to attract and be successful in the role and the working culture of the organisation. This is where you stand out from others, what differentiates you and what is really going to spark an interest in the organisation. It’s the emotional pull that will draw a candidate in. Really sell your organisation.            

Reframe the “required skillset and experience” section

It’s surprising how many roles have such a defined set of required experience or skillsets. For example, for head of major gift roles that require engagement with individuals giving six- and seven-figure sums, the majority list “experience of bringing in six- and seven-figure gifts” as a requirement, and usually it’s at the top of the list. Why would someone who is already bringing in those kinds of gifts move to an organisation to do the exact same work? Unless they desperately wanted to work for a particular organisation, in which case this would significantly narrow down the pool of potential candidates.

This flies in the face of research conducted by Daniel Pink, who in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, suggests that one of the key factors in keeping staff motivated is challenge. Pink argues that this challenge must be pitched at the right level: too difficult and an employee will give up before they even begin, too easy and they will become bored and seek another role. So a head of major gifts must have experience in bringing in donations with key supporters, otherwise the task at hand would be too challenging and they would give up. But similarly, they shouldn’t be doing something at the same level in a previous role, because it does not provide enough of a challenge and they will soon become bored.

If as a sector we all secretly know that no-one is going to have all the essential criteria listed, then why do we put up another potential hurdle for someone applying for a role, particularly if they don’t have a charity background? Let’s be honest with job descriptions. With a head of major gifts role, rather than list “experience of bringing in six- and seven-figure gifts” as a requirement, let’s tell potential employees that this role requires someone with outstanding donor relationship skills who has experience in bringing in five-figure gifts/partnerships, but the opportunities posed by the role will require one to bring in six- and seven-figure gifts. This approach expands the pool of candidates and excites the reader by presenting the positive challenges that the role will have the chance to tackle. 

Our job adverts do our sector a disservice. It might take many years before our organisations have created graduate trainee schemes or our representational bodies have infiltrated career guidance programmes at schools to really address some of the big recruitment challenges we face. But we can change our job adverts today. Will you join me in writing job adverts that reflect the dynamic, exciting and rewarding sector we work in?

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Michelle Stein

Michelle Stein is the head of the major gifts team at the British Museum, focusing on capital campaigns. She will present a workshop titled "How to get to Y.E.S." at IFC 2017 (resource-alliance.org/ifc).


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