The three flights of narrow wonky stairs that carried me to the attic of the Georgian office were claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Slightly out of breath, I was met by the familiar smiling face of the interviewer I met the previous day who directed me, by way of a point, to an empty plastic chair at the end of a row of three squeezed between two desks in the pokey Bristol office. The other two were occupied by forgotten figures of my fundraising past.
After filling-out my starter form, handing-in the passport photo for my ID badge and introducing myself to the rest of the group we got to the business of initial training.
We spoke about the donor pyramid, learned a about Health Unlimited, a charity I understood to be concerned with the access to healthcare for the indigenous populations of war-torn and politically unstable countries. I remember almost nothing from that day, except that these unfortunate people in Africa and Asia needed help, and I could give it to them.
Five o’clock ticked-around and I was sent home to practice the pitch I wrote and to meet Tom and Mo tomorrow morning in the carpark behind the office. This experience may not have been an example of best practice professionalism, but was my first experience of a new world that left me feeling excited and ready to change the world. It was a training session that did not pretend that it was anything other than the recruitment and education of a group who had been handed the keys to a better world and were hell-bent on unlocking that door.
Fast-forward fifteen years to nearly any agency initial training day* and you will see a few discrepancies. I am the first to point-out that some additions are welcome. Personal safety and PFRA and FIA behavioural guidelines have helped slow the tide of poor conduct and unethical practices, whilst improving the safety of our world-changers.
It appears that some agencies allow anyone who applies for a job through their training office doors, and as a result have lowered the standards in this primary session to the lowest-common-denominator. I have heard that the pool of potential fundraisers is now a shrinking puddle, but if this is true, we should be looking at our recruitment practices and fundraising model rather than sticking to our guns and putting more and more ill-suited candidates through an ever-diluted introduction to our industry.
The marketing agency culture appears to have swallowed the fundraising one, so many of the initial training sessions that occur in these offices consists of the following:
Stand there. Wave. Smile. Rapport-build with question. Move to this angle. Hands out of pockets. Are you still smiling? Show pitch card. Nod. Nod. Nod. Ask question that ends in a ‘yes’. Nod. Nod. Nod. Tony Robbins says you should never give up. Close, and don’t let them go until they say ‘yes’. Don’t forget to keep you attitude – Michael Jordan failed at first, but his attitude made him the best basketball player ever. Are you still smiling?
If this is the culture that you wish to breed in your organisation, your recruitment ads have been focused on sales people, and your goal is to sell charity to as many customers as you can, please continue to do so. You may notice that your staff turnover is a little high, your attrition results are under some scrutiny, and your complaints are rather high, but please continue as that is your brand and your business model and I am not here to change that.
If you wish to give your staff a bigger hook on which to hang their hat, I would suggest increasing the charity section of your training from 30-60 mins to half a day as this may be the reason that they stick around longer, have better quality pledges and fewer complaints.
Your fundraiser has intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to keep them in the role, and although perceived self-improvement and banging-a-gong is a strong one, identifying with an ideological cause and a group of like-minded, positive-change-focused brothers and sisters is almost unbreakable.
I have an obvious preference, but whatever the messaging in your recruitment ads, ensure that your training day reflects that. You are now paying to have these people sat in front of you, so make sure that you’re not wasting this money on people who will not turn up tomorrow because they have realised it’s not for them. Your trainer needs to have a clear and understood plan for the day, with regular breaks, genuine passion for your agency.
I would not let loose a trainer on a group of new-starts without sitting-in on three or four of their presentations, and I will hand-out anonymous feedback surveys after each session to ensure that they have not gone rogue on you. You can mystery shop the day by asking a friend to sit-in and give feedback – for a modest fee you can ask me to do it.