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Brilliant new study into USA fundraising has insights for UK

Brilliant new study into USA fundraising has insights for UK

The problems that Directors of Fundraising have in the US strikes a strong cord with me and it is great to see the solutions spelt out in this study.

We may think that the US cultures of fundraising and philanthropy make life much easier for fundraisers over there, but their problems are closer to ours than we may imagine and the solutions are those I would suggest we adopt here, by working to instil a similar culture of philanthropy in our organisations. ?

US Directors of Development have a high turnover and often do not intend to stay in the profession thoughout their working lives, which came as quite a surprise to me, but the reasons are the same that can be found in play here. The expectations on fundraisers are colossal and the involvement of the CEO and the Board often less than satisfactory. Where we might think that US trustees have to “Give, Get or Get Off” in practice this survey shows they are often as reluctant as ours to engage in fundraising in any meaningful way.

So, what can be done? The answer posited by the study is to create a culture of philanthropy whereby:

      Most people in the organization (across positions) act as ambassadors and engage in relationship-building.

  • Everyone promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving.
  • Fund development is viewed and valued as a mission-aligned program of the organization.
  • Organizational systems are established to support donors.
  • The executive director is committed and personally involved in fundraising.

Of course, this involves the Board too and in one organisation I am working with we are engaging with the Chair of the Board to define the position of trustees within this framework, and to induct them into how it works in practice. Some trustees will be brought onto the Board precisely because they have the connections that count in reaching the wealthy on our target list.

“Fundraising can’t be a priority for just one individual. It has to be a priority, and a shared responsibility, for the board, the executive director and the staff alike.” Linda Wood, Senior Director, Leadership and Grantmaking The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund (whose study this is).

Naturally we hear the following – again quoting from the study:

“Fundraising is not something I enjoy doing. I don’t like having to ask people. And the problem in this is a very involved community of people…  …and you just get to the point where you feel, ‘I can’t ask my friends anymore’.” Board Member

And really, we will continue to fail in creating a true culture of philanthropy in our organisations until we can disabuse trustees of the notion that they will be called on to ask their friends for money when they are not the right person to do that, and when we are given the time to explain that trustees are in the enviable position of being able to invite their friends to fascinating and unique events where they will be moved by the work of the organisation and only asked to help at the right time, in the right way, by the right person. Of course, it is also our task to ensure these cultivation events are brilliant.

Considering where wealth lies in our society this may be our single most important task for the rest of this decade.

John Baguley




John Baguley is the CEO of the International Fundraising Consultancy (IFC) and a Fellow of the Institute of Fundraising. IFC has a global reach with twelve country directors and runs the free Top Table business breakfasts for fundraising directors. John is a regular speaker at international fundraising conventions, and a writer and blogger on fundraising.

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