Op Ed Access to fundraising education is key

publication date: Nov 8, 2017
author/source: Jessica Wroblewski, CFRE & Ken Wyman CFRE

A recent Hilborn Op Ed makes the point that requiring formal fundraising education will create more barriers to entry and advancement within the profession, particularly for those who have been shut out because of socio-economic disparities, discrimination, or gender.

While this is true, there is a growing body of fundraising knowledge that exists. This knowledge has been accumulated by fundraisers who learned on the job through trial-and-error and shared their findings so that future fundraisers could learn from their successes and their failures. Being aware that this knowledge exists and, better yet, putting it to use unequivocally makes for better fundraising.

Without this knowledge, charities that hire untrained fundraisers will be less effective at raising the funds essential to fulfill their missions, as fundraising becomes increasingly difficult for most small and medium charities. To be blunt, if the fundraisers (or the doctors in Denny Young's analogy) don't know what they are doing, people will die.

Yes, many fundraisers have learned – and continue to learn – on the job. Some fundraisers are lucky to have the support of their organizations to partake in professional development while other fundraisers choose to invest their own funds. But today, there is a better way to gain fundraising knowledge. Formal education is faster and more reliable than the old method of trial-and-error.

So, while there are issues surrounding diversity and inclusion that could be exacerbated as a result of implementing a standard education requirement for fundraising, we still come down on the side of making education the rule when hiring fundraisers.

On the other hand, we also advocate for greater accessibility to that education through:

  1. Scholarships to pay for tuition, books and living expenses (thankfully this is less of an issue with the new Ontario rules that started this fall).
  2. Dropping the requirement for an undergrad degree for admission to programs. Many talented people have been turned away because of this.
  3. Encouraging comparable curriculum and evaluation standards for full-time (e.g. Humber), part-time (e.g. Ryerson), on-line (e.g. Georgian) programs, and practice-based (e.g. CFRE International) so that there is a level playing field for employers.
  4. Reaching out to communities that are under-represented in fundraising to encourage them to enroll, and remove barriers in their paths.

Now, you can make the argument that we’re biased. After all, Ken Wyman is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and the long-standing Program Coordinator of Humber College’s Fundraising Management program, while Jessica Wroblewski is a CFRE, a graduate of Ryerson University’s Fundraising Management program, and a full-time student in Carleton University’s Master of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership program.

People without formal education in fundraising may not appreciate how different this is from learning on the job combined with short conferences, webinars, and self-directed reading. This is an increasingly complex field, with a growing range of legal issues, financial management, tax policy, computer software, ethics, psychology, logistics, social media, videos and more, on top of classic skills such as event planning, grant writing, major donors visits and prospect research, planned giving, capital campaigns, letters, phone calls, ethics, and more.

Some without formal educational credentials may even be concerned that their experience might be under valued while a new generation advances past them. Their mentorship and leadership will be essential in this transition toward real professional standards. For those who share a legitimate concern that increasing the entry criteria could add barriers to much needed diversity among fundraisers, advocacy is needed to make better education available for all.

Editor's note - a recent change in how the Province of Ontario funds education means that 1/3 of students receive free tuition.

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