Making Transferable Skills Work for You and Those You Hire

By Phil Gérard

Appeared originally in Canadian Fundraising and Philanthropy:

The profession of fundraising is becoming better known. Professionals with transferable skills want to meet with me to ask how to transition into a career in fundraising. I also attended several career fairs with our AFP Vancouver chapter’s Youth in Philanthropy committee and the appetite of students for our profession (doing good and getting paid – what a concept!) is amazing to see.

Do I believe that hiring professionals with transferable skills works? The answer is a clear “maybe.” Business development, sales, public relations, negotiation, writing, public speaking, and communications are a few examples of skills needed in fundraising.

Candidates must be able to make the case that their skills from a non-traditional fundraising environment can compete with those of an experienced fundraiser. These relevant transferable skills and experience could have been acquired a while ago, maybe even in high school, in university or in the first job. Therefore, job seekers, even those currently in the fundraising profession, should carefully explore their backgrounds and pick out the jewels to highlight.

Once the foundation of relevant transferable skills is established, I believe that there are four key ingredients to success for people with non-traditional fundraising backgrounds.


Attitude is crucial. Certainly, the so called hard skills, such as education, and experience  are important, but the “soft” or “people” skills, such as communication, team spirit and attitude, are much more difficult to train. In fundraising we particularly want someone who is enthusiastic, a team player, resilient and eager to succeed, someone “who is hungry.” We want to screen out people who focus on the negative, on problems rather than solutions, and like to blame others for their lack of success.

Realistic expectations

The notion that someone who made six figures in their former career qualifies for a senior fundraising position just because of their previous seniority is problematic. It sets both candidate and the organization up for failure. It also affects the morale of the organization’s experienced fundraisers, who may now report to someone who has never closed a philanthropic gift.

Transitioning careers is always difficult. People looking for a career change need to expect sacrifices. We as fundraisers would be in the same position if we wanted to change careers.

I have been in major gifts fundraising for over a decade. I might decide to use this experience in the private sector, say real estate. I would need to get the training and certification, but even then, I still need to convince a client to retain me over the star realtor in town.

People with transferable skills might have a great pedigree, but without a track record in philanthropic fundraising, it is hard to make a case for hiring them over someone with a solid track record in major gifts.

Some people, particularly those from high-paced, stressful environments such as law and corporate sales, have a romantic notion of the fundraising profession. The reality, as we know, looks different. Fundraising is an incredibly rewarding career, but the road is long and bumpy. Someone without direct fundraising experience will need additional time to hit the ground running, and can feel frustrated and pressured if the big gift has not yet closed after the first year on the job.


Fundraising is a science as well as an art: knowing what to do and how to do it. A good training program will help build the basic foundation, and teach the principles of fundraising and the terminology. Larger fundraising shops may have their own training program; others may choose to send their new colleague to an AFP fundamentals course or support them in taking a fundraising certificate program.

In addition to the basic training, organizations also want to consider establishing a structured onboarding program. Onboarding describes the process of making a new employee a part of the team and ready to perform. Now, your employee is up to speed, which is a time when managers make a crucial mistake and think they are all right on their own.


When we began, how did we learn best? I learned by doing and seeing others in action. I still remember when my advancement VP took me on an out-of-town donor trip when I just started. It was not only a great confidence builder, but I learned so much just watching her in a real life donor call.

We all need mentors. Even now I have them after many years in the field. Having someone in our organization with whom we feel safe asking for advice is wonderful for any employee. If we can identify such a person in our organization and assign them to a colleague with transferable skills, we are much more likely to have a successful hire.

Hiring people with transferable skills is certainly not easy; however I refuse to buy into the notion that it is impossible. Most of us earlier-generation fundraisers were “transferables” ourselves! If we can find someone with amazing energy, enthusiasm, attitude and ambition, and if we have the ability and resources to train and mentor, we can create an incredible asset for our team in an environment where experienced fundraisers are hard to find.

A User’s Guide to Donor Recognition Levels

Siobhan Aspinall

By Siobhan Aspinall 

(This post originally appeared on Siobhan Aspinall’s blog :
F is for Fundraising.)

There are two issues at play here. First, do donors really care about our recognition names/levels/circles/clubs? Does this recognition drive loyalty and gift size? And second, what can the charity actually offer for each level so that it isn’t just a made-up name with no substance?

Luckily, I’ve got some strong opinions on this!

Do donors care about the recognition level we assign them?

Yup! Although I’d say the vast majority of donors have no idea they have been grouped together in a specific way. Some organizations have even taken to using a single list, without sorting donors by giving level. This is meant to illustrate that every gift is of equal value, which of course isn’t true and I’ll bet your donors know it.

Personally, I am part of the crowd that’s proud to see how my gifts compare to others. This is basic human nature and can inspire increased giving among a community of peers. This works very well with major gifts and the corporate world in particular. At United Way for example, companies would sometimes base their gift level on where the competition appeared in the donor list.

But that’s the corporate scene. Individuals are a bit different. I believe they still like the recognition, but are trained by polite society to insist that they don’t. One exception I have seen are the six-figure philanthropists: there are some people in this group who are more likely to link giving to recognition. I think this has to do with the legacy-sized gifts they are giving. If you made a six-figure gift, you’d probably expect your name on a building, not a pen with the charity’s logo.

Unfortunately, there’s no-one doing good research on this, because you’d have to test organizations with a control group of donors who get no recognition while their peers end up with their names in lights. Not cool. Otherwise, you’re just asking people to report what they’d prefer, and then you get the notorious conflict between what people say they’ll do and what they actually respond to.

What can/should the charity offer?

I had a great conversation about this over beer with a colleague recently. Her problem is common: she’s at a small charity with no naming opportunities, and one of her more generous donors is asking about recognition. Ack!

At this point, you could spend a year perfecting catchy names for your great giving level chart. (We will name them after candy! Precious metals! Famous philosophers!) Personally, I find this to be a giant time-waster if there is no concrete recognition tied to the levels in the first place. Start with what you have to offer, and play around with your charts and categories later!

Back to my colleague. Like most of us, she does not have a lot to work with. She’s got a small online community, a basic website with modest traffic, and a project-based program inappropriate for naming. What she does have is a spiffy event. So the question is: Can you recognize a donor in a way that has no link to where his funding went? For example, recognizing a project donor at an event he didn’t sponsor? And what if there are already event sponsors needing recognition space at the event? The short answer: Go for it!

Use whatever opportunities you have, whenever you have them, to recognize your highest donors. Don’t feel that the recognition perks need to match up with the gift designation. Recognition is not stewardship – it does not have to be linked to outcomes. Rather, it’s a public celebration of the donor’s generosity and a challenge to his peers and the community at large to step up.

Want to know more about what really drives our decisions? Check out this mind-blowing video, the Science of Persuasion.

P.S. A big shout-out to Helen for working through this topic with me!

Siobhan Aspinall, CFRE has been fundraising for over 15 years for non-profit organizations including the Canadian Cancer Society, the David Suzuki Foundation and United Way. She teaches two fundraising courses at BCIT, consults, and is an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She holds a BA in languages from UBC and an Associate Certificate in Fundraising Management from BCIT. She obtained her Certified Fundraising Executive designation in 2013. In her spare time, she writes for her fundraising blog and surfs in Tofino.

Siobhan Aspinall
Sand Dollar Consulting

Today’s Career Opportunities

Director of Operations, Canucks Autism Network
Manager of Philanthropy, United Way of the Lower Mainland
Stewardship Officer, St. Thomas More Collegiate

Director, Alumni Relations, Simon Fraser University
Philanthropy Associate, Ecojustice
Advancement Officer, Kwantlen University

Advisor, Leadership Annual Giving, The University of Calgary

Manager, Strategy and Stewardship, Art Gallery of Ontario
Coordinator, Major Gifts, Heart and Stroke Foundation
Senior Development Officer, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University
Director of Development, The Salvation Army
Revenue Development Manager, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation



Director of Operations, Canucks Autism Network


Please download the full position prospectus here:
Director of Operations, Canucks Autism Network

The Organization

The Canucks Autism Network provides year-round, innovative, high quality sports, recreational, social and employment related programs for individuals and families living with autism, while building awareness and capacity through community networks across British Columbia.

The Canucks Autism Network team consists of a diverse group of trained staff, support workers and dedicated volunteers who administer programs for families and individuals living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in our province.

The Role

Reporting to the CEO, the Director of Operations is responsible for ensuring the Canucks Autism Network (Canucks Autism Network) operates smoothly and effectively by supporting the CEO, Canucks Autism Network staff, Board of Directors, Committees, and Society Members at large. This position oversees finances, human resources, registration, volunteer management, operations and facility management. Ensuring best practices and cost effective methods are followed, promote Canucks Autism Network’s values, demonstrate quality, and in compliance with all relevant regulations and standards.

You Have

  • Strong background in accounting, budgeting and financial reporting
  • At least 5 years of previous progressive administrative experience in a non-profit organization
  • Previous experience with board governance and senior volunteer management
  • Previous human resources experience combined with managing an office
  • Experience developing and overseeing policy, procedure and financial controls
  • Familiar and comfortable with a variety of technologies
  • Strong computer skills including MS Office
  • Experience with Simply Accounting an asset
  • Excellent organizational, time management and planning skills
  • Ability to prioritize and complete multiple tasks on time and at a high quality
  • Goal oriented with a focus on detail and systems
  • Strong judgment and problem-solving ability
  • Identify process improvement and challenge the status quo appropriately
  • Articulate, confident and friendly
  • Have a can do attitude and a great sense of humour and diplomacy
  • Must work well in a team environment, yet be able to work independently
  • Good problem solving skills
  • Passionate about the values of Canucks Autism Network

For more information, to receive the full position prospectus,
or to apply (by October 10, 2014) please contact:

Gerard Consulting Logo Web

Gérard Consulting – Fundraising Talent Management
Phil Gérard, President

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. We thank all applicants for their interest, however, only those who have been shortlisted for an interview will be contacted.

Annual Giving Manager, Wilderness Committee


Annual Giving Manager (Based in Vancouver)

Please download the full position prospectus here: 
Wilderness Committee, Annual Giving Manager

The Wilderness Committee is seeking an Annual Giving Manager to develop and implement our Annual Giving Program, based on our three year strategic fundraising plan. This is a full-time position based on 37.5 hours/week.

The Wilderness Committee is a grassroots, membership-based organization that has a history of more than 30 years on the front line of environmental battles in BC. We have helped win protection for millions of hectares of wilderness in areas such as Clayoquot Sound, Carmanah Valley, and the Lower Walbran Valley. We are a leading organization defending wild rivers from private power projects and have successfully helped to protect rivers in the Upper Pitt watershed, Bute Inlet, and the Kootenays. We have worked tirelessly over the last few years to fight tar sands exports and the corresponding tanker traffic off the Pacific coast, as well as new pipeline projects.

The Annual Giving Manager will set the annual budget, timelines, targets and objectives for the program areas of direct response, including monthly giving, online giving and tele-fundraising, door-to-door canvass, and other forms of solicitation within the Annual Giving portfolio. The Annual Giving Manager is responsible for coordinating and implementing all activities in the program, effectively stewarding donors, monitoring and evaluating their success and reporting to the management. The Annual Giving Manager is also responsible for overseeing the use of the new CiviCRM database and supporting its future development based on best practices.

The Annual Giving Manager must be committed to our mission and values, have a strong fundraising and communications background, be a demonstrated team player, and thrive in a fast-paced office with a demonstrated ability to multitask and work to deadlines.

As the successful candidate, you will have:

  • At least 3 years of experience in fundraising in the non-profit sector
  • A post-secondary degree in a related discipline such as communications, fundraising, marketing or business administration, and/or a combination of equivalent education and experience
  • Proven direct response program experience including developing a full strategy and operational plan
  • Proven experience in direct mail coordination including copywriting, designing, production and troubleshooting
  • Demonstrated success in building a donor base, curbing attrition and increasing donor engagement and renewal rates
  • Thorough knowledge of online giving strategies for engagement, including language and layout for websites, emails and social media
  • Experience using a fundraising database or customer relationship management software (CiviCRM an asset), including knowledge on analysing data, improving system management and creating reports preferred
  • Understanding of door-to-door canvassing as a strategy, direct experience preferred

Closing Date: Monday, October 6th, 2014 at 5pm PST

Qualified internal applicants shall be given first consideration in filling this position. The

Wilderness Committee adheres to the principles of Employment Equity. We thank all candidates for their interest and regret that only those candidates who are short-listed for interviews will be contacted. NO PHONE CALLS OR DROP-INS PLEASE.

Please send a cover letter and a resume in a SINGLE PDF with Annual Giving Manager in the subject line to

Please mention that you saw this career opportunity on
Phil’s Careers Blog.

A blog about fundraising careers and fundraising issues. By Gérard Consulting – Fundraising Talent Management


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