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3rd – 5th July 2017
The Barbican

Managing your fundraising talent in a (rapidly) changing world

: Gary Kernahan

Head of Regional Development at Muscular Dystrophy UK, Gary Kernahan, explores the place of talent, skills and development in achieving fundraising excellence in a fast changing world.

Over the years I have done my fair share of recruitment and have been very successful in recruiting highly skilled and talented fundraisers.  Last year, however, I started to find recruitment more difficult and found myself frequently having to go back to market.  I was still getting a good number of applications which, on paper, looked like very credible but something wasn’t clicking.

Like many others I was observing and experiencing a change in attitudes to and expectations of work.  Much has been written about the impact of millennial’s entering the workplace and it is clear that there has been an effect of organisational culture, on career development, on communication preferences and on working arrangements.


A widening of the Community Fundraisers skill set

I have done a lot of work with my team at Muscular Dystrophy UK to equip them to maximise the opportunities presented to engage with supporters online.  A lot of time has been invested in up-skilling team members and creating an environment that gave the freedom to try. 

The developments in communication preferences, I believe, have had a profound effect on the skill set required to be a successful Community Fundraiser.  Previously I was looking for people who were skilled relationship managers’ offline.  But now I need talented verbal communicators with strong interpersonal skills who also have the ability to write engaging copy for a variety of digital platforms which is shareable and in less than 140 characters please!


A change in mindset

When reflecting back on recruitment challenges of 2015 I now think that I was looking for someone with a growth mindset.  Someone who will thrive on challenges, who will embrace change and welcome the opportunity to learn and to implement learning.  I think this point is a significant point as we spent a lot of time getting ready to embrace these new opportunities and I experience some difficulties transferring technical training to the job. 

Approach going forward

The range of technical competencies required to be a successful Community Fundraiser has now grown.  Some things have not changed (people are still at the heart of what we do) but digital has become a fundamental competency. 

As I touched on earlier there are social developments that will require careful consideration in talent development strategies or human resource planning.  For example, the growing importance of flexibility is interesting.  As a father of two young children I was interested to note the increasing number of Dads who drop their children off at school.


Managing staff turnover in the charity sector is a well-established challenge.  I have learned to accept that for some roles turnover in <2 years is inevitable and it is therefore prudent to focus on your ‘anchor roles’. 

An anchor role to me is a role which is absolutely fundamental to the delivery of your fundraising ambitions and as such stretching the length of service of people in these roles from 2 years to 3 years would be significant. 

In conclusion, going forward how you will manage your fundraising talent will be critical.  What type of people do you need?  What skills do you require from your fundraisers?  How will your team members acquire and implement these skills?  How will you retain your talented people for as long as possible?

Gary Kernahan, Head of Regional Development, Muscular Dystrophy UK 

Join Gary, Carole Milligan, Luke Mallet, Tim Diggle in London at Fundraising Convention on the 4th July and in Glasgow at the Scottish Fundraising Conference on the 4th October 2016 as we explore managing fundraising talent in a (rapidly) changing world.

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