Is a BA in Fundraising Overspecialized?

Print Share on LinkedIn More

July 7, 2013; Fundraising UK


The University of Chichester in West Sussex, U.K., is offering an honors BA in Charity Development. The Fundraising UK site suggests that it is the world’s first undergraduate degree in fundraising. The degree offers flexible modules in The Third Sector, Fundraising Then and Now, Event Planning Design and Creation, Grant-Giving Trusts, Major Donor Fundraising, Community and Events Fundraising, and Project Management. They have partnered with the Institute of Fundraising to have the Charity Development degree count toward the Certificate of Fundraising, which entitles students to append MinstF(cert) after their name.

Although degrees, including undergraduate degrees, abound in nonprofit management, this degree recognizes what many in the sector understand: Fundraising jobs outnumber others in the sector. According to ThirdSectorJobs (and from the brochure for the program), “In 2012, we advertised for over 5000 fundraising vacancies. Fundraising roles make up around 35% of all our roles, significantly higher than any other kind of job function. On average, we have around 240 fundraising roles online at any one time—our second most popular function, Marketing, usually has around 90.”

Although the BA seems to fit nicely with the job market, is it an overspecialized degree? In other words, does a well-rounded degree in all functions of nonprofit management better prepare students for a career in the field that many begin in development and lead to other types of positions? What do you, our dear readers, think?—Michelle Shumate

  • Deborah Baker

    Non-profit management needs to include the cross-over disciplines of marketing, communication, budgeting, and more, in addition to fundraising, as development work includes all of those areas and more.

    It is important for fundraisers to be well-rounded and versed in many different subjects and fields. During our careers, one might be focused on education; social issues such as hunger, poverty; medical issues such as diabetes, heart, lungs, multiple sclerosis, mental illness, etc.; entertainment or the arts; the environment; as some of the many options. It is becoming more common for directors of development to become executive directors or presidents of non-profits as well, so having a well-rounded degree and experience is helpful. Similarly, those who prefer working with alumni or constituent relations, working more in the background on database management or prospect research, or event-driven fundraising can benefit from the larger scope of nonprofit management.

    Opportunities for experience are also key as each individual then finds the “niche” that best fits their interests, abilities, and helps them gain skills to translate into their area of non-profit management.

  • Pam

    I am old school. These over-specialized undergraduate degrees strike me as very trade oriented and too narrow for a field that calls on a knowledge of human behavior and motivation.. Basically, I think there is great benefit to a wider breadth of knowledge both for the individual and for the field.

  • Andrew

    This does seem like an overly specialized degree to me. I can see getting a degree in nonprofit management with an emphasis on fundraising, but a fundraising-specific degree seems a bit much. I have worked in the nonprofit world for more than ten years and a critique I often hear from others in the sector is that departments within an organization too often work in silos. A degree of this nature would seem to perpetuate that problem.

  • Ken Goldstein

    My first reaction was, yes, this is over-specialized. But then…

    We would never question whether “social work” is too specialized a degree. It is clearly different from nonprofit management, policy, or administrative functions. So, for the person who is interested in a fund development career, does a nonprofit management degree make sense?

    A well-rounded nonprofit management program should include at least some about fundraising, but that would hardly be the main focus.

    By the same token, I would hope that a fund development degree would also be well-rounded, and include some courses in basic nonprofit history, budgeting, and management.

    From a hiring perspective, a candidate with a nonprofit fundraising degree certainly sounds better than one with a general marketing or writing degree.


  • Elizabeth Castillo, University of San Diego

    As a professional fundraiser of 20 years, I am pleased that fundraising is being given the respect it deserves academically. My one caveat is that fundraising is not an island. When an organization has trouble raising money, that is often symptomatic of larger organizational issues. Hopefully the curriculum covers governance and board development, budgets and business model development, program design and evaluation, and collaboration. One reason there are so many job openings in this field is that fundraisers tend to get the blame when organizations stall financially. This creates tremendous turnover. The average stay of a fundraiser is about two years, which is why there are so many job openings. If fundraisers don’t understand the larger dynamics going on in their organization and the sector, they likely will not be able to produce the magical financial results expected. Fundraising is a piece of the financial sustainability pie, not a panacea.

  • PJensen

    Having attained great grants jobs with a BA in English, minor in Business, and appx. 52 hours of specialized training from foundations, (and then another 12 hours professional dev. after graduation) I can attest that overspecializing is not required. As pointed out in other comments, a broader degree is appropriate and then specialized training in professional development venues makes more sense and allows the employee to tailor their career path and, as time goes on, to be adaptable to any changes in their career.

  • John Godfrey

    I have long believed that a degree in fundraising is overdue and was thrilled to learn that University of Chichester has picked up the gauntlet. Fundraising is often covered in a perfunctory way in various generalist nonprofit and arts management or philanthropy program. Yet fundraising is much more complex and multi-faceted than can be covered in one or two modules of a wider management course. The subjects listed above as components of the Chichester program are selection, but not the entirety of what a fundraising undergraduate program might cover. And, yes it need include some subjects related to other functions of nonprofit management.

  • Jim Toscano

    A BA in development is too specialized, especially if it substitues for a good liberal arts education. Any develpment officer needs to be very welll-rounded, educated, and able to deal with all different types of people and siutations. Even in graduade school, where I teach fundraising as a component of a master’s degree in nonprofit management, it would be a mistake to offer a degree in just development, ignoring all of the other elements that make for a successful nonprofit executive. jim toscano

  • Charlotte

    This course will cost the student £8,500 per year. That will be £25,500 of debt for tuition fees alone, with most students also taking a loan on top of this to cover living expenses of an extra £15,000.

    I think this degree is far too specialised. It appears to be a vocational degree however the cost to gain this qualification will not be remunerated by the salaries offered to fundraisers.

    I’m not trying to say that fundraisers are only in it for the money and that salaries should go up. But I don’t agree that they should take on £40,000 of debt to be so specialised in a career that will most likely never pay off that debt.