The Female Leadership Gap in Fundraising: What can we do?

28 April 2020 | By Frances Campbell

The Institute of Fundraising’s latest report ‘Missing Out: Understanding the female leadership gap in fundraising’ provides detail on how gender is affecting the ability of women to reach the top jobs.

The report showed that 76% of professional fundraisers are women, but only 52% of Directors of Fundraising in the UK’s top 100 charities are women. Women’s routes to leadership are often difficult to navigate, and many women experience barriers to success that are informed - implicitly and explicitly - by gender.

So how can this report help us to support more women to reach leadership roles in Fundraising?


A key takeaway from the report is the impact of flexible working policies on women’s career progression. Leaving a career to start a family is the primary disrupter of progression, and many women cite a lack of flexibility in their working patterns as the reason that their careers have halted. This is particularly prominent for leadership and top roles that rarely offer part-time or job-share arrangements.

The report further highlights the issue of ‘window dressing flexibility’, where a job is advertised as flexible but is not willing to provide the actual flexibility needed for employees to meet childcare commitments or work from home.

The recommendation here is that women use their negotiation skills to work out a flexible arrangement that truly works for them before accepting a role. However, using negotiation windows for flexible working may mean sacrificing the potential for higher pay.

Two key recommendations for organisations are:

  • Design a working environment to suit those most in need of flexibility, which will result in a better environment for all.
  • Be as clear and open-minded as possible on the detail of flexible working conditions in job adverts

Flexibility means different things to different people. Clarity is necessary, as is a willingness to have open discussions about the level of flexibility employees need to thrive in their roles. 


The gender pay gap exists in fundraising like in many other roles, however, the report shows that this is a complicated issue. There was no statistical difference in the starting pay of men and women. However, when looking at senior managers, men reported salaries 14.3% higher than women in the same jobs.

Yet once age, years of experience, and organisation size were accounted for, the gender pay gap fades, suggesting that structural factors are likely at play – such as women’s ability to gain promotions, stay in the workforce, and access jobs that are flexible.

Women also report grappling with larger issues around whether they are willing to compromise on working for a cause they care about in order to reach top jobs, and how to get the challenges and progression they deserve. 

Pay can be a sensitive issue and not all organisations are willing to be transparent. The report tells charities to investigate the gender pay gap within their organisations, and to be transparent about their findings and plans to tackle to the gap.


The charity sector is by no means lacking ambitious and talented women, with more than 81% of women aspiring to a leadership position. The report shows clearly that women want - and deserve - to take up their place in leadership roles across the sector.

What is interesting is that whilst women ranked higher than men in statements such as ‘I actively seek career enhancement opportunities’ and ‘I feel confident in my ability to lead others’, they scored lower on the statement ‘I would put myself forward for a promotion even if I didn’t meet all the criteria’.  Men were also more likely to consider their current role a leadership role, suggesting differences in the way leadership is viewed across genders. 

What this shows is that the attitudes of women towards applying to a promotion or putting themselves forward to take on responsibility is different to men, despite having self-confidence and belief in their abilities. 

So what to do when the ambition and skills are there, but women are still not reaching those top jobs? It is easy to say that women should just apply and take more risks, but it is also up to organisations to analyse the way they view leadership, and how they encourage people to apply for promotions. Seeing role models of women successfully navigating senior roles is also essential.

The report provides invaluable data to understand gender-based discrimination, and gives touch points for charities and individuals to consider in tackling the issues. We would certainly recommend reading it in full.

What would you do to address the lack of women in leadership in Fundraising? Tweet us@OfficialCause4.

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