With the unemployment rate holding steady at 6.9 per cent, jobs remain elusive for many Canadians, but some post-secondary students have found a little-publicized corner of the job market that offers immediate job prospects after graduation.

A sector in constant need of help, and not just the monetary kind, charities and non-profits are facing rising demand for trained fundraising staff to help them solicit donations, create relationships with donors, and handle jobs such as writing up grant proposals.

With approximately 85,000 charities in Canada plus 100,000 non-profit organizations competing for cash - and less than 25 per cent of Canadians listing charitable donations on their income tax returns - these groups need skilled fundraisers more than ever. And it's a field that's appealing to people who are passionate about a cause.

'We’ll have students with backgrounds in political science, geriatrics, kinesiology, international development.' - Ken Wyman, Humber College

While fundraising has been a career option for many years, formally studying it is a relatively new concept.

“When I started in the field about 23 years ago, it was really something that you fell into,” says Susan Storey, president of board of directors at the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “You had the opportunity to maybe help with an event or something and then got to learn a bit more about the sector.”

Now, students enrolling in fundraising programs are using their academic credentials to beat the odds and find jobs right out of school.

Organizations taking on fundraising workers right now range from United Way and Amnesty International, to medical causes such as Toronto Western Hospital and Sick Kids Foundation, to more commercial organizations like Toronto International Film Festival.

Post-secondary programs

Post-secondary programs in fundraising are being offered at Carleton University, Humber College and Ryerson University, with courses such as Major Gifts, Team Management and Grant Writing. Students are trained in the skills necessary for raising funds, such as ethics, legal issues, financial management and e-philanthropy.

According to Humber College’s Fundraising Management program co-ordinator Ken Wyman, the school's course attracts Canadians from an assortment of backgrounds.

“Many of them have master’s degrees, have law degrees, engineering degrees,” says Wyman. “We’ll have students with backgrounds in political science, geriatrics, kinesiology, international development.”

Thirty-eight students are enrolled in Fundraising Management at Humber this semester. Wyman says the program is comprised mainly of students fresh out of university, or people seeking a career change, along with a handful of mature students who are going back to school.

'At the end of the day, what I think everyone needs to have is passion for the cause.' - Susan Storey, Association of Fundraising Professionals

According to Storey, graduates from programs like these have an edge over fundraisers who stumble into the career. While practical experience helps, Storey says being trained has its advantages. A recent study showed 96 per cent of fundraising grads were able to find jobs in their field.

“The folks that come out of those programs already know how to write a proposal, how to develop a recognition plan for a donor and have a good sense of how to develop a budget and set targets, says Storey. “If individuals are coming from one of those programs, they can hit the ground running.”

Storey helps organize Fundraising Day, the Association of Fundraising Professionals' conference taking place today in Toronto. Fundraising Day offers a full day of sessions focusing on issues in fundraising, and the event is expected to draw 500 fundraising experts. This year’s Fundraising Day’s theme is "Get plugged in," and the goal is to encourage fundraisers to exchange ideas about how they’re handling technological changes in the industry.

The vast number of charitable and non-profit organizations makes the market extremely competitive, with fundraisers needing to prove to donors why they should donate to their specific cause. Technology is also making it harder to compete.  

“In my day it was a matter of sending out letters, having special events and using the old boy’s network to make contacts,” says Wyman, “But now we’re getting more letters with fewer responses, more online fundraising and more events on any given night in Toronto, all competing for the same audience.”

Groups tend to pay fundraisers salaries rather than on a commission basis, and Wyman says it’s a reasonably well-paying career. Salaries for graduates of fundraising programs range from $27,000 to $50,000.

But despite the job opportunities and promised salaries, it doesn’t seem to be the money that attracts the majority of people to this line of work.

“At the end of the day, what I think everyone needs to have is passion for the cause,” Storey says.