1 January, 1970

CIVIL SOCIETY | How to encourage diversity in fundraising through recruitment

Encouraging inclusion, removing barriers to entry and leadership commitment are key, says Cordelia Osewa-Ediae.

Diversity has become an increasingly popular topic and while this trend is welcome, I feel the need to define the term. To be clear, when we refer to workforce diversity, we should be talking about a workforce that reflects the communities the organisation serves, its beneficiaries or customer base.

In 2014, the Institute of Fundraising (IoF)/Barrow Cadbury Trust’s Diversity in the Fundraising Profession report found that the overall sector workforce had fewer fundraisers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds but more women than men. However, the women were generally concentrated in junior roles.

This situation is a reflection of the wider charity sector. As Green Park’s 2018 Third Sector Leadership report showed, while 41 per cent of the senior positions in the largest 100 UK charities were held by women (far higher than in the FTSE 100 with 24.3 per cent, only 8.1 per cent were held by ethnic minority leaders.

The case for diversity and inclusion

While several studies by organisations such as McKinsey and the Centre for Talent Innovation have highlighted the benefits diversity brings to organisations, the case for diversity and inclusion (D&I) in charities goes beyond financial metrics.

The 2011 census found that 87 per cent of people in the UK are white, while 13 per cent belong to a minority ethnic group. As most charities are likely to serve people from minority or low income backgrounds, it is reasonable to expect that charities and fundraisers should reflect their beneficiaries.

However, Sarah Namusobya, fundraising manager at Feed the Minds, notes: “I don’t think the sector is diverse in terms of its representation. In international development organisations, most trustees or members of the senior management team do not represent the countries in which they work. We need to lead by example and have visible diversity so that we can attract a wide range of people.”

As every fundraiser from an ethnic group in the Diversity in the Fundraising Profession survey also reported that their teams were less diverse than the workforce of their whole organisation, it is apparent that Namusobya’s observation is accurate. 

Improving diversity

Organisations that profess a commitment to D&I without having diverse decision-makers, leaders or trustees are usually met with scepticism and distrust by the people they seek to attract or convince about their diversity credentials.

As the sector seeks to become more diverse, there is a need to avoid focusing on single issues or attempting to find the “magic pill” that will deliver the D&I miracle. It is important to recognise that diversity is only one piece of the puzzle – inclusion should be the goal, with workplaces that have visible diversity and where everyone feels welcome, valued and equitably rewarded.

Organisations that focus on one aspect of diversity, for example gender, without removing the barriers that hamper efforts to attract and retain other diverse talent, adopt a blinkered approach. This is often the case in relation to people from low-income backgrounds, minority ethnic groups and any other forms of diversity represented by their beneficiaries but underrepresented among their workforce.

Achieving D&I is not a simple task as there are always multiple interconnected issues that continuously sabotage best laid plans. However, for brevity purposes, two issues that could derail the fundraising sector’s aspiration to attract and retain diverse talent are addressed below. 


In my previous role at a youth charity, I supported hundreds of diverse undergraduates by overseeing employability initiatives that involved corporate volunteers from various sectors. I never met an undergraduate that was aspiring to be a fundraiser and there was a general ignorance about career opportunities in the fundraising sector.

While a handful of graduates eventually found their way into fundraising roles, their journey into these roles was often accidental, either after they volunteered, finished another role or were prompted by friends or family members.

Many individuals might be unaware of the sector’s career opportunities. However, some might also struggle to see fundraising as a profession because they perceive fundraising as an activity that is conducted occasionally, such as through online fundraising platforms or represented by face-to-face fundraisers.

The other factor is public trust. A 2016 Populus report for the Charity Commission found that public trust and confidence in charities had fallen to the lowest recorded level since monitoring began in 2005. Reasons included critical media stories about charities, pressurising techniques used in fundraising, and the perception that too much money is spent on advertising or wages.

To address these issues, in February 2018, the Institute of Fundraising appointed an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Panel and in November published a Manifesto for Change that sets out plans to make fundraising a “more equal, diverse and inclusive profession”.

A member of the panel and director at Voice4Change England, Kunle Olulode, notes that while there is still a lot of work to be done, there is a genuine desire to professionalise fundraising so it attracts diverse talent.

Professional status

The IoF recently resumed its journey to chartered body status and it is hoped that this move will attract a more diverse workforce. It is highly likely that the students I supported in the past would have been more attracted to fundraising if the opportunity to achieve chartered status – similar to their marketing or accounting peers – had existed then.

However, the Diversity in the Fundraising Profession report also found that 40 per cent of white respondents volunteered or worked in an unpaid fundraising role early in their careers. Some 47 per cent with mixed ethnicity, 48 per cent of black respondents, and 53 per cent of Asian respondents did the same.

Entry into fundraising careers through unpaid roles highlights another challenge the sector faces as it attempts to attract diverse talent. Support should be provided for talented individuals that might be facing financial or personal challenges. Other entry options including paid internships, apprenticeships and secondments should also be available.

Furthermore, fundraising leaders must recognise that inclusive workplaces are needed to achieve retention so the sector must address the barriers that hinder inclusion.

Fostering inclusion

The sector may not have a challenge when it comes to attracting diverse talent to frontline, administrative roles, junior roles or supporting diverse communities, but progressing diverse talent into leadership positions is a different matter.

There is also a tendency to develop “ostrich strategies and policies” that ignore the fact that certain groups, especially the disabled, ethnic minorities and those from low-income backgrounds, are disadvantaged by hiring and performance management processes.

To combat this here three steps that fundraising leaders can take.

Firstly, fundraising leaders must act as visible, credible and authentic role models that consistently demonstrate a commitment to D&I and give it as much attention as they give financial planning or risk management.

Secondly, to ensure that all diversity aspirations are realistic and achievable, they must collate and analyse diversity data to identify any trends or disproportionality that need to be addressed.

And thirdly, they must develop and implement inclusive strategies and policies that do not present barriers to certain groups. Implementation must also include the establishment of transparent accountability and ownership frameworks.

Attempts to diversify the sector require commitment. Fundraising leaders must remain steadfast or the mission to attract diverse talent will become just a tick-box exercise.

Cordelia Osewa-Ediae is a senior consultant within the Diversity, Inclusion, Culture & Ethics Practice at Green Park @Cordelia_OEdiae


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