Op Ed: Why a standard education requirement for fundraising is problematic

publication date: Sep 27, 2017
author/source: Vanessa Chase Lockshin

There has been lots of talk in the fundraising industry about diversity and inclusion and ways that we can champion this. Creating barriers to entering or advancing within the profession based on education is counter-productive to achieving a more diverse and inclusive profession.

In Denny Young’s recent OpEd he wrote, “I wasn’t comfortable putting my health in the hands of someone who didn’t have proper training. Aren’t donors entitled to the same consideration?” This is the crux of his argument for standard fundraising education. Yet, donors are already entitled to considerations though they may not have to be training specific. AFP’s Code of Ethics is one of the ways donors are given peace of mind.

Given that we already have standards for donor care in place in our industry, here are two additional reasons why Young’s argument for a standard education requirement for fundraising is problematic.

#1 It discounts other valuable experience and education a qualified candidate may have

Asking employers to value higher education credentials over other experience or training creates a situation where some of the best candidates may be overlooked. It also sends the messages that the thing that matters the most is education. But in fundraising, there’s only so much you can learn in a classroom. In the trenches experience will often teach you more about best practices and real-life practices. Fundraisers with years of highly qualified experience and a proven track record shouldn’t be discounted for a job just because they don’t have an official certificate.

Additionally, Young’s argument assumes that higher education institutions are in the best position to educate fundraisers. But are they? Is fundraising curriculum standardized across institutions (like medicine or law)? What about mentorship programs (like the ones that many AFP chapters offer), on the job training or conferences?

Ultimately, asking for a standard education credential may create a similar problem that the industry has with CFRE credentials. That is, not all the best fundraisers are CFREs and not all CFREs are the best fundraisers.

#2 Requiring education creates more barriers to entry and advancement within the profession

Developing formalized education requirements for fundraising creates socio-economic barriers to entry and advancement, which will only continue to exclude people from historically marginalized communities.

Fundraisers are predominantly women. According to AFP’s latest Compensation and Benefits Study, women in fundraising in Canada are making on average $14,000 less than men in the profession. Many non-profits are not in the position to give staff generous professional development budgets. Given these factors, is it fair to ask women to take on the burden of paying for education?

Furthermore, if a woman has children, she is more likely to be a caretaker and shoulder much of the parenting responsibilities. If she chooses to pursue education, her family may incur steep child care costs only increasing the financial burden.

Potential lack of time and financial resources to pursue could put women at a further disadvantage within fundraising.

Without some clear solutions to address these two problematic issues with a standard education requirement for fundraising, our sector will only continue to perpetuate the socio-economic disparity and discrimination that so many organizations are trying to solve.

Vanessa Chase Lockshin is a fundraising and communications consultant, international trainer and speaker, and the author of The Storytelling Non-Profit: A practical guide to telling stories that raise money and awareness. Vanessa also served on the board of WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre since 2011.

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