How I got my job: Fundraising Academy Project Coordinator


Looking to break into the third sector or cultural industries? In this blog post University of Leeds student Nick Watts explains how he did just that with his industrial placement year.

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About me

I’m Nick and I’m doing an industrial placement at DARE (a collaboration between Opera North and University of Leeds) as the coordinator for the UK’s first Arts Fundraising Fellowship Programme. Before that I had completed my second year BA Music and Philosophy (Ind).

About the job

Art charities face a real lack of high quality fundraisers and this programme aims to address that gap by giving graduates and early career professionals a paid fundraising job at a major arts organisation complemented by high quality training and mentoring.

I coordinate the day to day running of the training programme. The job is varied, from organising training and high-profile events to doing the finances. At the beginning of the fellowship I was thrown in at the deep end, organising the assessment day for the applicants. This day was also the launch event for the programme, attended by the chair of Arts Council England, Sir Peter Bazalgette, and was featured in the Yorkshire Post.

Attending and organising the fundraising training has really helped me professionally. As well as developing my fundraising skills I’ve also had the chance to meet people from a lot of other arts organisations, which has helped to develop my professional network. The sessions have included some inspiring speakers and experts in their fields. Time spent asking them questions and hearing about their experiences is never time wasted.

Working in the Opera North offices has been a great chance to see what happens behind the scenes of a major arts organisation. I had no idea how large the organisation is (one opera production can require over a hundred staff). My work comes under the DARE collaboration between Opera North and the University of Leeds. DARE and Opera North provide exclusive opportunities (advertised on the Careers Centre vacancy system) to University of Leeds students, so it’s worth knowing about if you want to get into the arts sector.

What I did to get this job

I applied for a summer internship with DARE in my first year of university but was unsuccessful. After realising I lacked the necessary work experience I spent the following summer doing three very different jobs which helped me get my current job.

Previous Experience

The first job I had was on fast food vans at racecourses. Though not what I wanted to do long term, it was one of the most valuable jobs I have had and it taught me a lot about hard work and how to deal with a variety of customers. I also learnt how to get on quickly with some very strong characters who put in a real hard graft. The work was hard, greasy, stressful and boiling hot, teaching me how to work quickly under pressure.

I then went on to arrange a classical concert at The Roses Theatre for T-Fest, a music festival for young people in Tewkesbury. I learnt how to create an event from scratch, how to ask for a favour (very important!), how to think and plan logistically, how to recruit and motivate people and how to work to a deadline.

Voluntary Work

Finally I began volunteering at Snoezelen, a leisure therapy centre for people with learning or physical disabilities. I sat in on music therapy sessions and simply got involved with the music making which was a huge amount of fun. Seeing music help the participants so effectively helped cement my belief in the value and power of the arts. A lesson I learnt that summer: work for inspiring people and causes, even if it’s not for long. It gave me a compass for what I want to do with my career.

I then started my second year and did more voluntary work for Leeds RAG as a leader for the Tour to France challenge. I, along with five other leaders, worked with little guidance and supervision to get thirty cyclists to raise over £15,000 and cycle from Leeds to Paris in just six days. Having that responsibility was a great lesson in how to coordinate and market a project, and how to lead people in challenging conditions (miserable weather and two road accidents). Most of all it gave me a huge confidence boost and made me more ambitious – “if I can do that, I can do this”.

Securing my job

The application deadline for my current role was just before my exams. Whilst I suspect other students were distracted by their exams, I made sure to set time aside to complete my application before the deadline.

I took full advantage of the Careers Centre, getting my CV checked and doing a mock interview. Having someone else check over my CV picked up mistakes I missed and the Careers Centre staff looked at the application from the point of view of the employer. The mock interview was great, giving me a trial run. When you’ve done the interview once already the second time doesn’t seem so stressful!

I made sure I’d done my research on DARE before writing my CV or going to the interview. I was asked in the interview what I knew about DARE and how I would describe it – had I not done my research I’m sure this question would have stumped me and lost me the job.

Final thought

It took me a year of work and experience to get the job I wanted – if you aren’t successful straight away, don’t be disheartened but don’t expect an easy shortcut. Go away, get some experience and reapply.

You can join Nick’s professional network on LinkedIn.

1 Comment

Filed under Advice, Develop your employability, How I got my job, Work Experience

One response to “How I got my job: Fundraising Academy Project Coordinator

  1. David

    Great story! Fundraising certainly is a worthwhile job and it is best to get some experience. I’ve just graduated and have a good job in the third sector because I found paid part-time work through https://inspiredpeople.org which gave me valuable fundraising experience during my studies.

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