Member Profile: Georgia Willmot
Georgia Willmot (she/her) got her first taste of fundraising in 2021 during her studies for her Masters in Mathematics at the University of Surrey, when as a volunteer she supported local charities and student society campaigns, and quickly found a passion for speaking to the public about important causes.
When applying for her first role out of university, Georgia considered how she could pursue that passion through a potential career path and came across the CASE Europe Graduate Trainee Programme. Georgia joined the 2022/23 cohort of the programme, gaining a placement at Cardiff University.
One year on, we caught up with her about her experience on the programme and to see how her career journey has progressed.
How did you find out about the Graduate Trainee Programme and what motivated you to apply?
I had been applying to nonprofits but found I struggled to get past the interview stage due to my naïve fundraising experience. When I read about the CASE Graduate Trainee Programme, I thought it must be too good to be true, as it was designed to train graduates as professional fundraisers!
Fundraising for a higher education institution was something I hadn’t considered – I think that, as a student, you don’t gain much exposure to that side of your university, especially in the U.K. where philanthropy isn’t as embedded into university culture. I had heard of higher education philanthropy as I have a family member working in that field, but I hadn’t made the connection to the skills involved with ‘fundraising’ as I knew it.
I looked deeper into higher education advancement and the programme because it seemed like a brilliant opportunity to gain in-depth exposure to the sector.
What were your key learnings over the course of the year?
I gained so much from the programme; it’s hard to summarise! In my day-to-day role at Cardiff University, I got to work on projects in lots of different teams–alumni and supporter events, communications, community fundraising, and data–and gained a great overview of the different functions of an alumni and development office. From early on they had me conducting meetings and making asks, so I quickly became confident talking about money!
I learned how to connect people with causes they might genuinely be passionate about – I think there are many misconceptions about fundraising, that it is a one-way sales relationship rather than a two-way experience. I learned to take the time to listen to the prospect, explore their interests and learn what they wanted to achieve with their philanthropy. Matching is an important skill, but not one that comes straight away, so my year as a Trainee really allowed me to strengthen this.
During the year, I also learned a great deal about my working style. It was my first ‘office’ job and the programme leaders at Cardiff were really supportive in helping me to find how I work best.
Thinking specifically about the CASE workshops and sessions included in the Graduate Trainee Programmes, what were your favourites and how did this apply to your role at the time?
The part of the programme that stands out most in my memory is the week-long Spring Institute in Educational Fundraising, which I attended with my cohort in April 2023. The residential is designed for early-career fundraising professionals, so it’s a brilliant opportunity to network with people at a similar career stage and to be able to ask questions to so many successful fundraisers on the faculty. We were also split into groups to work on a project throughout the week, which allowed space for lots of discussion and interaction. I’m still in touch with my project group!
The Spring Institute gave me lots of learnings to take back to my role at Cardiff, not just from the programme itself, but from the professionals too. Every university advancement team does things slightly differently, so hearing what worked for others gave me ideas about what we could explore further as a team.
What would you say to an individual who may be considering applying for the Graduate Trainee Programme?
If you think it sounds like something you would enjoy, I would say ‘just go for it’ – it’s a fantastic opportunity to gain a year of broad, yet in-depth experience. If you’re inquisitive and open to trying new things, you will enjoy a very varied year of work and you might find the thing that sparks your passion!
If you feel a little hesitant then why not reach out to us past graduates? We can offer specific information on what to expect from the programme. Feel free to find us on LinkedIn or reach out to CASE to connect us!
What would be your advice to an institution that may interested in hosting a Graduate Trainee?
Graduate Trainee alumni are strong ambassadors for the host institution – I know I’ll always speak highly of the team at Cardiff and the quality of the programme there. I think that there is a lot to be said for the opportunities offered to the host university in terms of attracting fresh talent. I found the advancement sector difficult to break into as a graduate with little/no experience, so by hosting a trainee you’d be helping to train the next generation of fundraising professionals and future leaders.
You’re now working as an Advancement Coordinator at your alma mater, the University of Surrey. What influenced you to return there?
Studying at Surrey was a very distinct era of my life; I am a proud graduate and feel a special connection to the University. Being passionate about the organisation I represent is very important to me and I truly believe that the institution is doing great things.
I met one of my current colleagues, who had also previously completed the CASE Trainee Programme, at a networking event. After connecting, we managed to arrange that I would complete my one-month secondment placement in the advancement team at Surrey for the last month of the programme year. This allowed me to gain some experience with the team, learn about their fundraising strategy and projects, and find out more about what I would be doing in a day-to-day role there. I loved my time there on secondment and, whilst I was very sad to leave my colleagues at Cardiff, joining the team here was a very exciting next step.
What does a typical day look like in your new role?
I have been working as an Advancement Coordinator at Surrey since August (2023). My role here is to build relationships with alumni, individuals, charitable trusts and foundations, and corporates, to gather philanthropic income for student scholarships and projects in our Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences. We are currently one year into our first-ever university-wide fundraising campaign, so it’s a really interesting time to have joined.
My favourite element of my role is meeting such a wide variety of people who all want to do genuinely good things. This is good from a career perspective, too; building relationships with a variety of individual, charity, and corporate prospects and donors requires very different skill sets. At this stage of my career, it’s great to be gaining in-depth skills and knowledge across very different areas of fundraising. I also like that my workload is varied; one week, I’ll be applying for funding for a nature conservation project, and the next I’ll be meeting alumni who have gone on to do some amazing things! But what underlies it all is wanting to make positive change, and I think that’s what inspires me about my job and the advancement profession as a whole.
How did the Graduate Trainee Programme and your programme host institution help prepare you for this role?
My colleagues at Cardiff were hugely supportive of my next step. I discussed various job adverts and asked for their advice on careers in different areas of fundraising. Their insights were really helpful when considering the direction I wanted to pursue. Throughout the programme, my manager also supported me in identifying the parts of my role I was particularly enjoying so that I could gain more experience on projects with colleagues working in these areas.
When it came to my interviews, my managers helped me prepare for difficult questions, as did the programme leaders during our Careers Workshop. And you can’t get much better preparation than hearing from those who conduct these interviews all the time! I think this is a rather unique position to be in, and one I’d definitely encourage Trainees to take advantage of – it’s not often that your managers will help you get a job at another organisation!
You’ve recently been appointed Chair of the CASE Graduate Alumni Community, what does this position mean to you?
I’m delighted to be appointed as the community’s Chair, it’s a special network of individuals who all have shared similar professional beginnings, yet have gone onto wonderfully diverse career trajectories. I think it will be great for us to share stories and experiences and know that you have a go-to community to reach out to. It means a lot to me that I’ll be able to help it grow.
What aims and aspirations do you have for the Alumni Community?
I hope the network will act as a support resource for its alumni; I certainly felt an element of imposter syndrome when I first started in my Trainee role, so it was comforting to be able to reach out to people who had been through it and could offer advice. In time, I’d like to enlist alumni as mentors to Trainees.
I also hope the Alumni Community helps its members build friendships with other fundraisers outside their day-to-day jobs. Professional networking can be tiring, but the Alumni Community is a relaxed setting where I feel I can be myself. I think it’s nice to have that space, particularly if you’re quite early on in your career and perhaps not used to formal networking.
What has been your proudest moment in your career so far?
The proudest moment to date came when I secured my first gift! It felt wonderful to have connected someone to a cause they were passionate about and know they felt motivated to support it. It gave me such a boost of confidence in my ability as a fundraiser and will be a memory that will stay with me forever.
Applications are currently open for host institutions and trainees for the CASE Europe Graduate Trainee Programme. To find out how you can get involved, please visit our webpage.