5 steps for career progression in a small charity

14 June 2024
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This is part of our collection of resources aimed at small fundraising teams, individual fundraisers and small charities. Produced by the Chartered Institute and our expert partners.

Karen Harlow
Karen Harlow
Senior Content Manager, CharityJob

If you work as a fundraiser for a small charity, you’ll know it can be both challenging and exhilarating. When the time comes to take your career up a level, you might wonder how you can do that. Here's how.

Small charities do valuable work on minimal resources, providing services that greatly benefit communities. For a fundraiser, it requires real dedication to the cause and consistent creative problem solving to overcome barriers.

The benefits of working in a small charity

A smaller charity can be a great fit if you’re self-motivated - there’s plenty of room for autonomy. There are fewer hoops to jump through to get your ideas approved. You’ll also be calling the shots more often, since most small charities only have one or two people working in each field.

Due to limited funding for paid roles, there’s often an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ culture where everyone mucks in and does a bit of everything. This means you’re likely to get a broad range of experience.

What factors can affect career progression?

At a small charity, there can be fewer opportunities for progression because there simply aren’t as many positions available to move into. And budget constraints can mean you’re limited in what you can do.

This means you often have to advocate for yourself and take responsibility for your development.

Five things you can do

Here are a few ways to advance your fundraising career if you’re working at a small charity:

  1. Plan your fundraising career path
    It’s useful to have a rough idea of your fundraising career path. You don’t have to have every future role mapped out, but knowing your main goals can help point you in the right direction. Do you want to get into a specific type of fundraising? Plug a gap in your skill set? Or maybe you want to move into a leadership position? The Chartered Institute of Fundraising has some great resources to help you audit your experience and plan where and how you want to develop. Have a look at the Competence Framework.
  2. Look into learning opportunities
    Do you have access to learning and development opportunities in your current role? If you’re unsure, ask your line manager what’s available. They may be able to pay for external training. NCVO runs training events on a wide range of topics. Take advantage of other kinds of online learning too, such as webinars. These can be useful to further your sector knowledge—try JustGiving or Charity Digital to start. Or why not check out CharityJob’s low-cost coursesLinkedIn and Google also have lots of training options.
  3. Network
    A charity network connects you with the industry and helps inspire professional growth. It helps to build long-term relationships with other charity professionals—you never know when you might need someone’s assistance. And when it comes to taking that next career step, it doesn’t hurt to know a few people in high places. Have a look online for events and groups you can join. CharityConnect is an online network of over 17,000 charity professionals where you can meet like-minded people in the sector and find support in your role.
  4. Seek out a mentor
    Finding a mentor is a great way to benefit from the expert advice and experience of someone more senior. They can act as a sounding board for your work problems or to bounce ideas around. You have someone to advocate for you, to help you focus your goals and support you to achieve them. Does your charity have a mentoring scheme? If not, you could put a call out on CharityConnect, join a networking event or find a match via CharityComms.
  5. Volunteer
    The more of an overview of the sector and its opportunities and challenges you can gain, the better a position you’ll be in. Not only is volunteer experience good for your CV, it’s also good for building your network. And if you’re looking to gain managerial experience, applying for a trustee role can help you to do so.

Ready to progress your fundraising career even further? Browse jobs at charities today.

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