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From the Outside In. The Search for a professional Fundraiser

by | 22 Oct 2020

Harnessing the philanthropic support of a school’s community and alumni is increasingly becoming a key factor in driving its future impact and in inflence.

In this article, fundraising recruitment specialists Sonja Dunphy and Chua Beng Hwee highlight the importance of a strong development team and share insider knowledge on how to find the very best global talent to lead, or join, your team.

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It is as a result of the generosity of others that many of the world’s leading international schools exist.

And, as society adjusts to a new normal as a result of COVID-19 the role of philanthropy and the fundraiser has never been more important. Just like the organisations for which they serve, the profession as a whole has had to rethink the way it does business. Finding the right people to lead or join your development team, who have the skills to help secure funding for your school in a challenging environment, has never been more important.

What Fundraisers ‘Look’ Like And Do:
The fundraising profession encompasses many facets from alumni relations through to major gifts, with bequests, capital campaigns and prospect research in between. Whilst there are different skill sets required for each of these specialty areas, there are a number of key traits that are the hallmark of the best fundraisers. The top 5 are:

  • Pro-activity (Initiative/self-starter)
  • Good judgement/intuition
  • Commitment to, and knowledge of, an institution
  • Knowledge of one’s constituency
  • Integrity

Interestingly, fundraising expertise ranks last on the list of Top 10 Competencies for Successful Fundraisers. (Source: Ivy-MIT-Stanford Model 1986 study)

How To Attract Top Talent:
Fundraising is increasingly becoming a global profession. Experienced practitioners are sought-after the world over for their superior skills, innovative thinking, and extensive networks and connections to engage people who have the capacity and motivation to give.

To ensure your organisation is attractive to these top flight and emerging fundraisers it is important to get clear on your culture and values. As a leader you must be able to articulate your school’s DNA and demonstrate what sets it apart in order to attract the best.

What Fundraisers Look For:
Remuneration and benefits play a big part in enticing the right candidates. However, fundraisers are equally likely to be drawn to the opportunity and the cause rather than just the paycheque. Experience has shown us that the following four categories are key factors in attracting and retaining talented fundraisers.

  1. High-performing, ‘winning’ organisation: with a supportive board and strategic commitment to fundraising
  2. Big risk, big reward: challenged to perform, well rewarded and career progression
  3. Save the world: inspiring mission and exciting challenge
  4. Lifestyle: flexible working and lifestyle benefits.

How To Find Professional Fundraisers To Join Your School:
Having the right people on your team is critical for success, yet finding them can often be challenging and time consuming. Some of the best avenues to reach fundraisers with your opportunity include:

  1. Advertising through specialist fundraising websites, publications and LinkedIn
  2. Reaching out through your networks and community
  3. Attending and actively participating in conferences and events, and being a member of professional associations that target fundraisers
  4. Working with a trusted recruitment partner that specialises in the recruitment of professional fundraisers and has extensive knowledge of, and access to, market intelligence, as well as a deep and wide pool of contacts and quality candidates.

The Recruitment Journey: From Brief To Placement.
Richmond Associates recently worked with two leading international schools to find talented fundraising professionals for their teams. Here, we give you a behind-the-scenes look at how the campaigns unfolded.

1 – International School of Geneva – Director of Development

About the School:
Also known as Ecolint, the International School of Geneva is a world-class, not-for-profit Foundation, with three separate school sites across Geneva.

Recruitment Brief:

  • identify a seasoned, major and principal gifts fundraising practitioner with international experience, ideally with fluency in both English and French
  • understanding of the philanthropic culture in Europe (particularly in Switzerland)
  • ability to re-establish and consolidate philanthropic support for the School.

Search Strategy and Candidate Pool:

  • an international search and advertising campaign attracted 95 applications; 4 were shortlisted

The successful candidate brings senior and strategic experience of working across the commercial sector as well as in fundraising for an international development charity and higher education institution.

David Hawley, Director General, Ecolint (The International School of Geneva)

“One of the drivers for the success of our strategic ambitions is the strengthening of our economic engine. For nearly 100 years we relied almost exclusively on tuition fees. We wanted to build a culture of philanthropy from the ground up and introduce a sustainable best practice approach from establishing a robust annual campaign to creating a substantial endowment.

As the oldest international school in the world, our search for talent is always global. We were motivated to work with an agency with a proven track record with a variety of clients worldwide. The recruitment campaign was a great success, from the process to placement of the final candidate.”

2 – United World College South East Asia – Head of Fundraising

About the School:
United World College South East Asia (UWCSEA), based in Singapore, has an established advancement office that was set up more than 10 years ago.

Recruitment Brief:

  • identify a leader with an excellent track record in developing robust fundraising strategies and in cultivating and engaging both donors and alumni, ideally on a global level, to maximise the impact of philanthropic and alumni relationships at the College.

Search Strategy and Candidate Pool:

  • an international search and advertising campaign attracted 60 expressions of interests and 27 applications; 6 were shortlisted.

The successful candidate brings robust international fundraising experience across annual fund and major gifts programmes, gained from working in two Cambridge Colleges before joining the central University advancement team.

Carma Elliot: College President, United World College South East Asia

“As we plan for the future of our College, seeking mission-aligned partners who share our purpose and who will help support our ambitious philanthropic agenda is really important.

The leader of the fundraising function at the College was therefore a critical hire for us: we had not made significant external appointments in this area before and we were looking for a search partner with experience in recruiting fundraisers and a global reach, but most importantly who already had key contacts and understood our sector and the region well.

Working with a search partner helped us to define our goals really clearly and gave us access to a pool of candidates with whom we might otherwise have struggled to connect.

We are already seeing the benefits of having our new fundraising leader on board and are excited about the possibilities that are now emerging for us.”


  1. Understand and promote your organisation’s DNA, its culture and values
  2. Set a strategic direction for fundraising and make it a core activity of your institution, rather than a side area
  3. Develop a profile of a successful employee and get clear on the skills, abilities and attributes you need
  4. Consider candidates with transferable skills from the commercial environment (e.g. financial services, law, PR, recruitment, sales)
  5. Work with a trusted search partner with a proven track record
Beng Hwee Chua
Sonja Dunphy
The Authors:
Sonja Dunphy is Managing Director of Richmond Associates, a global executive search firm with offices in London, Sydney and Singapore that specialises in recruiting fundraising and advancement professionals.

Chua Beng Hwee is Director of Richmond Associates’ recently established Asia office, based in Singapore.

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