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What it’s like to have a career in fundraising


By Sumeet Sandhu, General Manager, Resource Generation – South, CRY

What do you want to become when you grow up? Doctor? Engineer? Entrepreneur? 

Well, ‘Fundraiser’ doesn’t even feature in the list.

However, when exploring an alternative career is becoming a more mainstream conversation, the option of ‘fundraising’ certainly pops out.

For many fundraisers in the industry currently, a fundraising career came as “second innings”, something we happened to fall into. But is it worth chasing as a career option?

What is fundraising?

The process of collecting money as donations, for a charitable cause from individuals, companies and businesses is called ‘Fund-Raising’. This is one of the main tools of functioning for non-profit organizations.

The growth of the development sector has seen lot of NGOs come alive in the last decade. Though the concept of fundraising is widely accepted in the western world, it still doesn’t enjoy the confidence of the Indian career-seekers.

With technology, there is a drift in the mindset heralding a positive change. While still first thoughts of fundraising generate thoughts of people in the street vying for attention with folders and flyers, or strangers knocking on doors, there is much more to it than what meets the eye.

Fundraising for a noble cause, executed with honesty, has garnered mass appeal. The erstwhile US President Barack Obama chose this route, and organized a successful fundraising campaign raising $778,642,962 USD, before he got elected in 2008.

Fundraising in India

It might be surprising but the fact remains that the Indian Non-profit sector is the largest in the world. The largest pie being held by religious NGOs, followed by community/ social services and than by education.

Activities Percentage of NGOs
Religious 26.5%
Community/Social Service 21.3%
Education 20.4%
Sports/Culture 17.9%
Health 6.6%
Others 7.5%

Recent legal changes (mandatory corporate social responsibility in India being introduced in the Companies Act in 2013), more wealth being generated within the country resulting in more funds available for non-profits and high attrition rate in corporate sector resulting in large influx of talent into non-profit sector, are the probable causes contributing to the rapid growth of the development sector in the last decade.

The fundraising industry in India is divided into mainly 3 sectors: Individual giving (individuals donating in their personal capacity), Corporates or the Corporate Social Responsibility sector, Institutional grants (large social sector institutions coming forward to support social causes).

Many tools like Online crowd-funding, Fundraising events, Cause related marketing campaigns or partnerships have recently gained traction to drive high growth in the industry. While the new tactics are spreading its roots, the traditional ways of meeting people face to face or door to door is still quite prevalent.

The western world continues to lead in Innovation by coming out with marquee appeal campaigns like Ice-bucket challenge, Red Nose Tuesday etc.

The Human Connection

The evolution of fundraising has been based on the foundation of “the human connection”, to reach out to the goodness of each person and administer inspiring ways to motivate them to donate.

Most believe, for obvious reasons, fundraising means “raising money” or “asking people for money”, but the fundamental aspect of fundraising is about human relationships. The fulcrum of fundraising lies in its cause. Honesty is the secret of a good fundraising campaign no matter what the platform or channel used while the need of human-connect remains paramount.

Who makes the cut?

The most important requirement in a fundraiser boils down to “being comfortable asking for money”.

The good news is there are no professional qualifications/ certifications you need, to be a fund-raiser, but yes qualifications and relevant experience does help. Basic skill sets of good communication, inter-personal and organizational skills, go a long way in crafting out a career in the field. A sales and marketing background, or an orientation for the same, aligns with the demands of work.

While there is no specific genre of education required, ability to think-on-your-feet, to articulate the cause effectively, build-a-connect with the potential donor, being able to respond to donor queries satisfactorily, are some of the must-haves. It helps to remember that an act of charity is a manifestation of kindness which needs to be handled with gratitude and grace.

A college graduate from a communication or management background or anyone who has a specific experience in the development sector will find it easier, having said that the core of pre-requisites remains an undying passion and an unfaltering belief towards the cause.

There are examples of fundraisers climbing up the ladder and taking senior roles in reputed organizations. CRY is one such repository of examples. The wisdom of sensitivity and the importance of diplomacy within the cusp of strategy also equip a person to take up hardcore corporate roles in the domains of marketing and strategy.

Preparing for fundraising

Though professional education in the development sector is still at a nascent stage, this sector is seeing some excitement too. TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) continues to be the oldest and most respected institution, new institutes like ISDM (Indian School of Development Management) are making a mark.

Is it for me?

If you happen to be someone, who is not able to see something that isn’t right, or just walk past it (poverty, injustice, abuse, hunger) and has a strong urge to do something about it, to change it, make a difference; then “Fundraising might be the career path you have been looking for”.

And yes, the well-known “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” theory applies to a choice of career too; you do want a sense of purpose along with financial security, which fundraising offers.

The salaries in the sector might not be comparable to the corporate world, but it does get you by if your financials needs are not top-of-line, and the satisfaction of doing something meaningful, compensates for it by offering some purpose in a  world that is rather transactional.

Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.

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The CSR Journal Team