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21 Oct 16

The Corporate Partnerships Skills Gap

Posted by Pedro Tsiamas

The charity sector is notoriously hard to break into unless you already have extensive experience in a not for profit organisation. Even people who have worked in Corporate Social Responsibility, Account Management or Business Development will find it difficult to go up against less experienced applicants who have previous charity experience.

At Flow Caritas, it’s our job to keep an eye out for trends in the charity job market, and the team has noticed that lately there has been an influx of corporate partnerships roles available, yet there is a lack of qualified candidates to fill them. Despite this growing skills gap, the majority of UK charities are resistant to widening their search to look for candidates outside of the charity sector.

We’re curious as to the root cause of this insular culture within corporate partnerships fundraising. Why don’t charities consider more people from commercial backgrounds, even when they can demonstrate their experience in building profitable corporate relationships?

In order to get some answers, we ran a short survey to provide some insight into this corporate partnerships skills gap. The feedback that was received was very valuable to the way we approach recruitment for corporate partnerships fundraisers. It will influence the advice we provide not only to the private sector candidates who approach us looking for help with their careers, but also to charities who might be struggling to fill corporate partnerships roles without knowing why.

When asked “what stops charities from hiring corporate partnerships candidates with private sector experience?” 59% of respondents said that they don’t understand the culture of the charity sector, 8% said their salary expectations were too high, while 33% said that they would welcome candidates from the commercial sector.

When asked “if you were to consider a private sector candidate, what are the transferable skills that you believe would be most valuable to your charity?” 84% of respondents were split between two answers. 42% said that account management was the most valuable, while another 42% said that it was pitching and presenting. The remaining 16% of respondents were divided as well, with 8% saying that prospect research was the most valuable and 8% voting for business product sales.

We also asked for details of personal experiences in recruiting (or not being allowed to recruit) candidates with private sector experience for corporate partnerships roles. Here is a selection of the most insightful answers, edited for grammar and clarity.

“Some candidates from the private sector just aren’t able to demonstrate their transferable experience. The charity sector likes a certain type of CV and supporting statement, and not all private sector candidates are aware of this or approach it in the same way. Also, a private sector candidate should assume the recruiting manager knows nothing about their industry, and go out of their way to explain their background and roles with as much detail as possible on new business, account management and income figures clearly and in context. Personally I am open to private sector candidates, but our job descriptions probably aren’t as accessible for commercial candidates as they could be.”

“I once hired someone from a sales role and they had a real passion for our cause but they struggled to adapt to the culture. They approached everything in a competitive and gung-ho way that irritates colleagues and meats they couldn’t build relationships internally. They were also very sales driven and obsessed entirely with their personal target, and struggled to see the bigger picture and feed into long term goals and strategy. I am now wary of hiring from outside the sector and do tend to stick with the more obviously ‘safe’ choice of candidate.”

“Speaking as a relatively recent entrant to the charity sector after 25 years commercial experience; it took me a year to secure a role, even though I was prepared to take a significant reduction in terms and indeed did so to make the change. Hiring managers seem to think that business development within the charity sector is different from the private sector, when it’s really not. The sector needs to wake up and look outside to find motivated, tenacious and talented individuals who will work hard and enjoy lower cash rewards in return for reduced stress and better work/life balance.”

“Commercial applicants often have too low expectations of the professionalism expected – they think they can come in at a senior level with no experience. They also struggle to understand how to ‘sell’ a cause to supporters if they’re more used to selling a product or service.”

“Being from a commercial background myself, I am constantly shocked at the arrogance of the career fundraisers who don’t believe candidates from the corporate sector “understand charitable giving”. Some nuances aside fundraising is simply sales – only we are selling our charity, our cause and our impact on the world. But still sales.”

“It takes too long to train private sector people in how charity partnerships work and for them to understand the donor landscape. Also, a lack of knowledge of the sector s mean that ideas for account management and business development is often pedestrian and has been done before. It’s such a steep learning curve, and new business for charities is completely different than sales.”

“We have private sector team members, and I have seen a bias towards hiring private sector candidates rather than against. My experience has been these individuals bring a great deal of value, and they don’t take that much longer to get up to speed on a new role, as there are significant differences in fundraising roles even within the sector. They just need to be able to demonstrate an understanding of how charity corporate partnerships work and an ability to adapt their approach to be less commercial when needed is crucial.”

“I’ve worked in the voluntary sector for almost 20 years and every time I offered a job to someone who was moving out of private sector, the candidate changed their mind at the last minute and decided that the loss of income was too much.”

“In a recent recruitment round, both of the final candidates had experience in charity and CSR. One had worked on both CSR teams and charity corporate teams and the other had recently switched from private sector to charity and aged 50. Both had so much to offer the sector. The great thing about getting someone in who has CSR experience is their astounding number of contacts. The candidate who had only 18 months experience in the charity sector understood business so well that I would have felt confident of him knowing how to make a corporate pitch that hit on all the right criteria. I definitely think we should be recruiting from the private sector, but we should also be giving our own corporate fundraisers more training opportunities.”

Recruiting for corporate partnerships fundraisers appears to be an incredibly divisive issue. Now we’ve seen both sides of the coin, where do we go from here? What do you think? You can let us know by commenting on our LinkedIn discussion.