A political fundraiser raises money on behalf of political parties, charities and research organisations.
Political fundraisers work at all levels in government, political parties, charities, research centres and think-tanks -from unpaid volunteers who go door-to-door collecting money for a local politician or project, to the highest PR svengalis in government, who oversee the streaming of billions of pounds into election campaigns.
For mid-level fundraisers, the job involves working with sympathetic affiliates, be they businesses, organisations or individual donors, to raise and organise funds for political activities. This money is then put into running campaigns or funding projects or research on behalf of a donor.
Employees can be involved in fundraising at all stages of the process, from devising funding strategies, through the successful execution of these strategies, to maintaining relations with funders – and overseeing the distribution of the money into various projects.
Fundraising is increasingly important to today’s political infrastructure, as parties have to be accountable as to where and how they acquire the money necessary to run their operations. In a wider arena, policy and government are heavily reliant on the commissioning of independent research to investigate important topics within education, housing and society, and many of these research institutes or think-tanks are supported solely by money raised from donations.
Most fundraisers work in an office to normal hours, but some attendance at fundraising or networking events can be necessary to the job.
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Many fundraisers volunteer or intern as unpaid assistants before winning a paid job. Starting salaries for junior fundraisers based in London typically range between £18,000 and £24,000, rising incrementally with seniority of position.
Senior fundraisers can earn from £40-£100,000 where the role is salaried – some positions will tag an individual’s earnings to the amount of money they bring in for the cause.
The daily responsibilities of a political fundraiser may include:
- Initiating and maintaining contact with funders and potential funders
- Managing accounts
- Writing funding bids
- Organising and managing fundraising events and networking functions
- At junior levels, fundraisers will be expected to help out with office administration
- At higher levels, fundraisers will be expected to delegate to and organise teams of fundraisers
- In senior positions, fundraisers can be expected to devise long-term strategies and oversee their successful implementation at all levels
Most political fundraisers have a BA or postgraduate degree in a relevant field, such as politics, development or history. Aptitude and a good academic record can be important, although specific interests or qualifications will vary according to the nature of the role or organisation.
Finally, a proven record of affinity with or belief in the political standing of the organisation- membership of a party, for instance – can be crucial, and will give a strong advantage to potential applicants.
The following skills can be requisite in fundraising roles:
- Good social skills and networking skills
- Computer skills, especially database management
- Organisational skills
- An ability to solve problems and take initiative, and a willingness to take responsibility for the management of accounts and confrontation of obstacles
Political fundraisers tend to work normal hours under relatively well-protected conditions.
However, most fundraisers will be expected to attend functions and events where relevant, and these usually take place outside normal office hours. Many fundraisers, for instance, may be expected to attend all or part of week-long party political conferences in different locations, and may be expected to be on duty at all times during these out-of-town trips.
That said, many fundraisers find these events can be stimulating, offering unique opportunities to network and exposing interesting perspectives on the political world.
A crowded job market means the environment can be competitive – and consequently, some fundraisers both at junior and at senior levels can feel pressured or expected to work late or overtime, and to help out in different areas.
Finally, fundraisers and organisers can be expected, occasionally, to help with the logistics of fundraising events. This can be anything from meeting important speakers at the station to lifting chairs!
Requisite experience varies according to the post, but almost all positions will expect a BA or equivalent.
In addition, relevant experience in a former job either as a fundraiser or in politics, will be expected in all but the most junior of positions.
For junior positions, successful applicants will most likely have a proven record of interest in the field, with some knowledge of the position gained by an internship or through other voluntary work or involvement in the sector.
The government and mainstream political parties are the main employers of political fundraisers.
However, political think-tanks and charities that cater to a specific political interest are growing in magnitude and in power.
A little research can reveal some fascinating specialist areas within all mainstream political persuasions – see ‘Related Links’ for lists of some of these institutions.
A majority of political fundraisers will go on to other jobs in politics, either as researchers, or working in government or policy.
Others return to university to conduct research degrees in politics or other connected subjects.
For those more interested in the idea of fundraising than in the political arena, a career in sales, account management, finance or charity fundraising can prove rewarding – and potentially more lucrative than a career in politics.
At higher levels, fundraising work tends to intersect with policy or management of the party, think-tank, charity or other institution.
However, there are a few individuals dedicated to fundraising high up in government and policy, who are instrumental in the running of political campaigns, particularly in the run up to and during elections.
Also known as…
- Operations manager
- Campaign fundraiser
- Campaign worker
- Grassroots fundraiser
What’s it really like?
Luke Hildyard, 27, is a fundraising officer for a public policy think-tank.
I have been working in policy and fundraising for about four years, since I left Sussex University where I studied American literature and politics.
After working for an education charity, I did an internship at this think-tank, and subsequently applied for a job here as a fundraising officer.
In terms of the aim and purpose of the job, the role is very similar to work as a charity fundraiser, and many think-tanks and political foundations do, in fact, qualify for charitable status. However, the process of raising money for a political organisation will not be the same as the process by which fundraisers go about raising money for non-political charitable sources.
The means by which you are assessed, and the people to whom you are accountable, within a political atmosphere, are very different. Finally, the general public, of course, tends to have a different perception of charity work and political work, though projects often intersect.
A typical day at work can involve a number of quite different activities. I might look through upcoming research projects to be undertaken by the think-tank I work at, and try and identify particular funders for these projects, either individual, societal or corporate, on the basis of previously supported work from those quarters.
I also arrange a lot of events such as talks, debates, speeches and networking functions.
I write fundraising bids, and compile briefings and project updates for funders who have given their money for us to conduct our research, and need to be kept informed about its processes and outcomes.
Finally, there is always plenty of unexciting administrative business that I have to ensure is up to date, such as maintaining the details of our contacts, and the payment schedules for funding operations.
Working in the voluntary sector tends to be less formal than working in commerce or in government, and you can meet people who are less motivated by money and share the progressive values that underpin the research we carry out. On the down side, the pay isn’t especially good – I’m currently salaried about £25,000 per annum, having worked in the area for a number of years.
Those hoping to get into politics in almost any role, including fundraising, are sometimes expected to complete a period interning without pay at a relevant organisation. When you do win a permanent, paid position, there can be a substantial amount of filing and database administration, as the successful fulfilment of the role relies heavily on these being maintained by juniors.
I would advise students who are considering pursuing a career in political fundraising to start preparing as early as possible – it would have been helpful to me if I had done some volunteering or interning during my university holidays.
Being able to network – that is, strike up conversations with complete strangers – is a handy skill, and not particularly easy, so try to practise that.
After this job, I think I’d like to have a go at working in areas more focussed on campaigning and policy, as the position I’m in at the moment has enabled me to gain insight into how these roles work, both inside and outside the governmental framework.