Is Fundraising Education and Training worth it?

By Shanelle Clapham

I used to run training and I’m not jaded by the running of the training. I think that when you’re in the room, doing training feels totally worth it, but after you leave that room, I do question whether there is a lot of value in it. So, my answer to is training worth it for fundraisers is yes, but. So yes, but it needs to be ongoing and practical. Yes, but the person doing the training needs to be self-motivated and needs to want to do it and needs to have asked to do it and needs to have a justification of how they’re going to implement it later. Yes, but it only works if the person then has the opportunity to implement it, to practice what they’ve learned quickly, not 10 years later. So like, I don’t know if the give us some metaphorical hands up if you’re in the audience.

How many of you have done a training course, like a one day course or longer, and then you’ve never really used the skills afterwards? Mine would be PowerPoint, some things I’ve learned in Excel. It might be like I’ve been on some time management training courses that had really practical things, but there was no one there to make sure I was doing it. There was no one there to, you know, enforce it.

I’ve done cultural training, which was fascinating and interesting. And I learnt that I’m guilty of microaggressions when I thought that I was the least racist person possible, but that asking someone about their hair can be a microaggression or asking someone what their cultural background. But I think a lot of us, we might learn one little thing, but do we if we don’t and if it’s not ongoing, if it’s not something that we can use daily, then it doesn’t often work. But if you’re self-motivated and if you have a personal connection to this or a personal desire and ambition, then it will work. But it only it’s a yes but. There’s always a caveat.


So, I’m going to tell you my story about why I sit on the fence this way because I came into the not-for-profit space after a decade in corporate and in media. And I was the first ever digital person at WWF Australia. I was, there was, but I didn’t have any colleagues. Like I didn’t have any other people that near digital, so there was so much of an education process that I had to do internally to try and bring people on this journey, to get them to invest in digital, to get them to see the benefits of it for fundraising for the organisation.

When I started Parachute Digital after my time at WWF, one of the first things I was like, there are no digital skills in this not-for-profit space. We need more digital skills. We need more training. So, the first thing I did, like the first sort of product I created for the industry was to do training courses, like full day, half day, email marketing courses, things that will have tangible, like five things you can do that will increase the money that you make off your email sends for an appeal.

Things that you can do to drive money from Google search. Like you get this $10,000 Google grant, but none of the charities seem to know how to use it. So, it’s just set and forget, or you get a few charities that invest in a digital person, but they’re doing too many things, so they can’t do it. But what I learned in my first two years in business is that because of some of the things that you know, we’re spending on training just because there’s a budget line or just because it’s for staff retention. But the budgets are not commensurate with what it really takes to do this training. So, you know, a person, a charity might have a $400 budget for an organic, for each individual to do some training. And that’s not even enough to do a one day course. So, you know, they, the minute the word training is included, it peeped leadership don’t value it. They don’t invest in what it really takes for that training to be implemented. So, I found that I could sell a $50,000 project to an organization easier than a $500 training course.


I totally believe more training is needed but it needs to be in an ongoing setting. So, what I learned from that and what I’ve changed is that we now don’t offer training courses. We build as a pro bono offering into all of our projects, mentoring and capability building and capacity building for charities. So, if we’re doing a digital lead gen project, then we’ll say, what do you guys need to learn? If you want to learn how to set up a Facebook advertising campaign, we will teach you. If you need to learn how to implement Google Analytics tracking so that you can do it, we will teach you. But it’s done in a practical setting with a project so that you can use it. You can see the KPIs that are set as part of the project. And then you can measure it. You can use your new skills to constantly measure us and the performance that we’re doing but also, we teach you how to do it and then you have an opportunity to use it in a day-to-day or week-to-week ongoing capacity. So yes, training is beneficial, but only if you can use it in an ongoing and practical implementation setting. So, and when I think back to training that I’ve done that I’ve used over and over again that has been really practical.

When I was in high school and I was getting an allowance from my parents, my dad made me do a typing course. And it was like, I wasn’t allowed to get my allowance unless I did an hour a day of this typing course. You had to put a tea towel over it, and I had to learn to touch type. So, I was like 13, 14 years old, but I had to do that every day. It was ongoing and it went for like 10 weeks. I didn’t get my allowance, so I was motivated to do it. But I could touch type at high school, whereas, and I’ve been able to use that ever since in my career. The other training that I’ve done that I’ve used over and over is driving lessons. I was very motivated in that. I had a personal benefit to me. I did a paddy diving course, which I’ve used that training for the last 15 years because it’s something I love and I’m passionate about. But I’ve also done training in leadership, and it’s been inspiring, and it’s been interesting, but I’ve learned a lot more in my just managing people and in leading a business than I have from any course. I’ve done design thinking training and what it taught me is I already use a lot of this stuff intuitively; I just didn’t have the theory behind it. But I haven’t then been able to implement many of those things. I did a 12-week course.

I started my career in digital doing, I had a boss that was really supportive. He wanted someone to just relaunch the website. I put my hand up and said, oh, I’d be keen on learning that.

I went off and did a 12 week digital marketing course in my own time at night. And then, but he made the time for me every day after my course. So, I’d do it on a Tuesday night for three hours. And he had put a meeting in my diary every Wednesday morning and we would sit down and go, what did you learn last night? And how are you going to implement it this week? But he gave me the time and the space and the opportunity to implement what I was learning by myself on my own terms, he let me guide it and then he would sort of say, oh, why don’t you try this or do that? But it was impossible. But I think that training is worth it, but only if it’s ongoing, only if the person is personally motivated to do it, and only if the environment that the organization, the manager, gives them the opportunity to practice it and use it and implement it immediately and in an ongoing capacity.

The ethical use of donors’ money in training for fundraisers. Obviously, there’s been a big launch in Australia with off the back of this uncharitable movie where they’re talking about, we need to change how we talk about overheads. And like, you know, that often training is used as a way to retain staff and as a way to improve the culture, like people are happier when they’re doing training. I think that’s a really good use of money, especially if we’re talking about a measly 400 bucks a person. If that will retain someone, that’s far more beneficial to fundraising to the programs that we run and loss of downtime.

We know that it pretty much costs a whole person’s salary to replace someone. So, if you’re replacing a fundraiser on $75,000 a year, when they leave, the downtime and the change management of that person to a new one, and you often having to pay more for someone coming in, again, that I think that’s a good use of training budget, but that’s not the point of is the training good?

I just think that that’s a good use of training budget. And also using training to improve cultural growth mindsets and to improve like staff happiness and wellbeing, I think is a good use.

Is training worth it, but for me, if I could spend 400 bucks or even $2,000 to retain a staff member that is good by sending them to a conference, to me that is a worthwhile use of donor money. I did think that the leadership, like the thing that’s really swayed me with Rebecca’s argument training, like managers and leaders aren’t going, okay, well, we’re going to send Chanel on that leadership training because we want her to take over a different role next year. I think that happens 1% of the time, but at most of the time it’s happening where it’s like, oh, I’ve got that budget, I want to spend it. So, I think that the challenge is to leaders in the fundraising space and in the not-for-profit space to sit down at the start of the year with their team and say, and co-design it, what are we going to do together to make this worthwhile so that we can implement it?

I’m going to close out by using some of the words that both Nigel and Rebecca have used.

Yes, training is a nebulous, indulgent exercise that is really just supporting people on an intellectual journey. So, I think it needs to be on the job, training, and coaching, that you will learn in an ongoing place where you can implement it.