Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

The Fundraising Academy (TFA)

The Fundraising Academy: Introducing our work

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Alignment between training for trades and work | 30 January, 2013 - 05:15


Across South Africa, there are more than 100 000 non-profits - section 21 companies, trusts, cooperatives and voluntary associations (Mark Swilling, 2005) – in addition to thousands of schools and clubs, each of which needs funding in order to operate.  Many of these organisations provide critical services to the people of South Africa, many of whom are living below the poverty line, from food to shelter to medical care. Others provide hope for a better future through education or job creation and still others improve lives through the arts, sports, and religious institutions.

These non-profits play an important role in South African society but unfortunately many of these organisations may be forced to close due to bankruptcy or may simply find they are unable to realize their goals because they do not have the necessary resources. Despite great competition for funds, there are huge untapped resources beyond the R15 billion raised by non-profits each year and the impact that such additional resources could have is untold.

This funding problem would exist to a far lesser extent if it were not for the dearth of fundraisers in South Africa. Although there are many people raising funds for charities, schools and other institutions, fundraising is not perceived to be a “real” occupation in South Africa. Because of this perception and a lack of formal training for those interested in the field, there are very few professionally trained fundraisers in the market and the demand for such employees greatly outstrips the supply.

While there is a great need for skilled staff in non-profits, there are also countless young adults who are looking for career paths which will allow them to support themselves and also provide personal fulfilment. If fundraising was promoted as a serious and important profession and training was made easily accessible, these youth could make a career of it.

The Fundraising Academy (TFA) seeks to benefit both of these groups – non-profit organisations and dynamic youth – so that more resources can be allocated to the important work non-profits are doing and more young people can be provided with job opportunities that benefit South African society.

What we are doing

Our purpose is to train those interested in a career in fundraising over a five-month period with the goal of providing them with the skills necessary to succeed as fundraisers. We specifically aim to:

  1. Teach young men and women, specifically black individuals, how to fundraise so as to better the philanthropic world and these individuals’ employment opportunities;
  2. Increase the supply of trained fundraising professionals to meet the massive demand which exists from thousands of organisations;
  3. Develop unique accredited fundraising training materials which will be an valuable asset to fundraisers; and
  4. Design a program that has placement as part of the accredited course so that job creation is well-managed.

Our five-month course is a unique experiential one where candidates learn and practice how to be a fundraiser concurrently. After the first month of classes the students are placed in internships in addition to continued classes. The last two months allow students to focus on their internship, working four days a week and meet as a group one day a week to reflect on their internship and seek guidance.  This provides benefit to both the non-profits where the students are placed, as they will receive the help they need for a small fee, and to the students themselves, as they gain on-the-job training and skills and receive a stipend to help support themselves during the course.

While the students are not experts in every area of fundraising upon completion, we provide them with a basic tool kit and an understanding of where they might wish to learn more or specialise. Once a large-enough group of graduates exists, workshops will be provided for those looking to learn more about a specific area of fundraising. We have found there is a great interest in this and we hope to begin to offer such workshops in late 2013.

As professional fundraising is not familiar to most, recruitment must be done to ensure that the right students are accepted. The course is targeted at dynamic young black students. Most fundraisers are white and not representative of South Africa’s diversity nor are they from the communities that most non-profits work with.  By training young black men and women, we will empower them to become successful fundraisers, a global occupation that provides easily exportable skills and is in high demand due to the myriad non-profits which exist. 

Our course is in the process of becoming SETA accredited. This should be completed in December 2012 and is being done in partnership with People Solutions. We raise donor funds to provide bursaries for students who otherwise cannot afford the course fees.  As the goal is to train a group that is representative of the diverse backgrounds of South Africans, we want to truly make the course accessible to all qualified applicants who are interested. The primary expected outcomes of the provision of the course are:

  1. Access to new employment opportunities for black youth;
  2. Additional resources for non-profits; and
  3. Advancement of the fundraising profession in South Africa.

To date, we have conducted two courses. An intentionally small first group was admitted, free of charge, so as to allow the course to run and be modified as needed.  The students did very well in the course and greatly benefited from the opportunity to apply lessons learned to the real world through their internships at various non-profits across Cape Town. One of the first students interned at multiple sites, as the demand for this type of intern is great. While several other organisations were interested in hosting an intern, many will have to wait to have an intern placed with them, as the demand for our interns is higher than we are able to meet.

Though the intention of the internship is to provide the student with an opportunity to practice the skills taught in class and gain experience, some of the internships may result in employment as we have seen.   

Going forward

The next cohort will begin in February 2013. In this cohort, we are hoping to be joined by more young adults already working in the non-profit sector. One of the students in the second cohort was already employed by a local organisation and was sent on the course to help her in her role. We found this worked very well for a number of reasons. Firstly, the learning curve was less. She was able to immediately apply lessons learned without having to spend the first part of her “internship” learning about the organisation and building relationships with supervisors and colleagues. Secondly, there is a greater commitment on the part of the student as this is not simply a short-term course they may decide to drop but rather part of their job. We believe these young adults who are already involved in the non-profit sector will benefit greatly and encourage non-profits who have personnel that could benefit (be it people working in fundraising who have not received formal training or administrative staff who have potential to grow and assist in fundraising efforts) to send these workers for professional development.

One of the largest hurdles that we faced was recruitment and retention. After a high dropout rate (50%) in the first cohort, we attempted to recruit a larger group and young adults who already had a better understanding of the non-profit sector and what professional fundraising entails. However, we still found that a large number of people dropped out. Of twenty-one confirmed students the week before the course began, only fourteen showed up for the first day of class. Of these fourteen, only nine completed the course. As with the first cohort, those who dropped out did so for a variety of reasons, namely financial (students who had to take full time work to support their families) or personal (e.g. childcare issues). It was not seen as a negative reflection on the course as these students left for valid reasons, but was still unfortunate.  As the first course was provided at no cost, we felt having a course fee in the second round would ensure a greater commitment on the part of the students. In retrospect, however, we were still too lax in this. The deposit we required before the start of the course (R200) was too small to really keep students and we allowed the students to pay the remaining R800 by having it deducted from their monthly internship stipends. Because many of our students were in difficult financial situations, we felt this was a reasonable solution to allow them to participate without undue hardship. However, when students didn’t “feel” the payment, they were less likely to take the course seriously. In the final interviews we received feedback that the course fee was too low given the depth and breadth of the course. We have increased the course fee to R1,500 for the third cohort and are requiring a 50% deposit to be paid by a date set in advance and the remainder due by the first day of the course. We hope that the R750 paid will encourage students to show up to the first day of class and remain in the course.  Though this is more in-line with what we were told by the graduates, we will no doubt still have students who are unable to pay this amount and we firmly believe in making this course available to anyone who has the potential and passion to be a successful fundraiser. We will have to consider these students on a case-by-case basis.

Commitment in terms of completing assignments was also an issue.  Several of the students allowed assignment deadlines to pass without concern. While we would ideally have dismissed these students, we did not feel we were able to given the size of the cohort. In evaluations, students acknowledged this and suggested there be some sort of financial punishment so that they take it more seriously (e.g. R10 is deducted from the stipend for every day the assignment is late). 

Additionally, the issue of professionalism came up several times throughout the course. While the students were fairly young, many lacked an understanding of professional behaviour. Tardiness and absenteeism were common, as was a lack of communication, both with instructors and internship supervisors. In order to ameliorate this, we have chosen to use a job coach in the third cohort. While the expertise of our lecturers is in fundraising, the job coach will be an expert in working with staff (here, the interns) and their supervisors to set goals, ensure the relationship is successful, and handle other personnel issues. This will allow us to spend class time focusing on questions and guidance sought specifically around fundraising as opposed to professional issues. Too much of our time in our internship review sessions dealt with workplace issues that were not related to fundraising because these were the issues the students came to us with.  Several of our students interned in organisations where their supervisors did not truly understand fundraising and thus the types of tasks they were given were not helpful for their education and made them feel like they were wasting their time. The job coach will be able to assist in these relationships to ensure that both parties are gaining something from the experience.

Beyond sharing these learnings, we also would like to share its fundraising material with non-profits who are interested. You can download the their manual here.


Gardens, Cape Town

 (021) 461 8376


In Short

In this learning brief The Fundraising Academy (TFA) introduces us to their work.  Having identified the need for more qualified fundraisers in South Africa, they have set out to make it a career path for the many talented young people who struggle to access opportunities. This brief explains how TFA came about and describes exactly what they are doing and hoping to achieve. They also share their early lessons learned.  What is more, they are offering to share their fundraising know-how resources with other NGO's so take them up on this offer! 

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