Last week, I addressed the Institute of Fundraising London Group’s First Thursday meeting on the subject of pride in the profession of fundraising.
I explored whether fundraisers ‘really’ felt proud to be a fundraiser – the emphasis being on ‘really’ rather than proud, because I am not sure when fundraisers are being told that they should stand up and be proud of what they do that they actually know what it is they are supposed to be proud of.
The issue, I believe, stems from the prevalent attitude that fundraising is ‘not about raising money’, or ‘not just about raising money’. If you ask someone outside the charity sector what the job of a fundraiser is, they’ll tell you without much thought that it’s to raise money for charities (it’s quite easy for them because there’s a big clue in the job title).
Ask fundraisers the same question and it’s quite likely that you’ll get something along the lines of a fundraiser’s job is to change the world, or connect donors with their causes, or be a life changer, or create a great donation experience – almost anything provided it doesn’t have that grubby little word ‘money’ in the definition. You can even buy a book on fundraising that is subtitled ‘It’s Not About The Money’.
The reasons for this have fascinated me from the moment a senior fundraiser first told me that he was ‘not just a fundraiser’ way back in 2002 (and I honestly thought he was pulling my leg). While I explored in some detail with my First Thursday audience whether fundraising was or was not about money, and ways in which it might not be, there’s not enough space to do so here, although I will come back to it in a later blog.
But that philosophy – that fundraising is not primarily about raising money – is out there, is subscribed to by a number of senior and influential figures in fundraising, and often comes across as a dogma or ideological tenet.
It has ripped a tear at the centre of the fundraising profession that inhibits us from collectively mounting of the most robust and confident defence when fundraising comes under attack and scrutiny, not just from journalists and parliamentarians, but from those within the voluntary sector who propagate the idea that fundraising is a ‘necessary evil’.
The philosophy that fundraising is not primarily about raising money often comes across as a dogma or ideological tenet
It also diminishes the role of those professionals who derive great pride and job satisfaction from the actual day-to-day, hands-on business of raising money, because anyone who is so professionally motivated to raise money clearly doesn’t ‘get’ the fact that fundraising is NOT just about raising money. To bolster their position, the ‘not-just’ school bring in the idea that you must be passionate about the cause to be a good fundraiser and that if you are not passionate about the cause then you cannot be a good fundraiser.
This is incredibly demeaning to professional fundraisers who excel at raising money as defined in their job descriptions (I personally would be sceptical of any fundraiser who didn’t get a professional kick out of segmenting her database, testing new creative against a control and then running it our for significantly more net income and improved RoI). And what about all those consultants and interims who take their skills to one charity after another – they can’t be passionate, or at least equally passionate, about every single one.
So when we hear calls, as we have been doing this past year, to be proud to be a fundraiser, and with the IoF Convention this year to be themed as ‘Proud to be a fundraiser’, what is it we are actually being exhorted to proud of? Is it being proud of raising money, changing the world, or raising the money that enables the world to be changed? Are we being asked to be proud of our passion for the cause, but demeaned if we show passion for the job?
If we can’t decide ourselves what it is we should be proud about, how will we be able to proudly defend our profession before journalists and parliamentarians? How are we supposed to confront those in the charity sector who regard fundraising as a necessary evil and persuade them that it is noble thing to raise the money the charity needs, if we don’t believe it (and are perhaps a little bit ashamed of it) ourselves? We have been told to ‘stop apologising for fundraising’. And yet many of us can’t even bring ourselves to say that we are fundraisers. All we can say is that we are ‘not just’ fundraisers.
Yet how can you be proud of being ‘not just a fundraiser’? How can you be part of a profession of ‘not-just fundraising’? Can you imagine being on Newsnight after Jeremy Paxman has just interviewed one of those sector people who regularly volunteer themselves to trash fundraising in the media, explaining to him how fundraising is ‘not just about raising money, it’s about creating a great donation experience for the donor’. You’d be ripped to shreds.
But what if you could puff out your chest, and tell him, yes, as I fundraiser, I do raise money, and I’m proud of doing it, because without me and my professional colleagues, charities would not have the finances they need to change the world?
A new manifesto for fundraising
If we think that we ought to be proud to be fundraisers, and that this will help us robustly and confidently fend off some of the tiresome media and political assaults that so frequently come our way, not to mention advocate the profession to our sceptical and disparaging colleagues, then we need something that will repair this tear in the heart of the profession. We need something that will stop these issues being presented in terms of ‘you’re with us or against us’ false dichotomies, and something that fundraisers who area proud of/passionate about how charities change the world and fundraisers who are proud of/passionate about raising money can rally round equally.
Beatrice Warde was a champion of the printing and typesetting trades in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1932, she wrote a manifesto called ‘This is a printing office’. A copy of this manifesto was posted in just about every print room in the UK and USA and, to this day, it stands cast in bronze outside the US Government’s National Printing Office in Washington DC (see photo).
This is what she wrote:
This is a printing office
Crossroads of civilization
Refuge of all the arts against the ravages of time
Armoury of fearless truth against whispering rumour
Incessant trumpet of trade
From this place words may fly abroad
Not to perish on waves of sound
Not to vary with the writer’s hand
But fixed in time having been verified in proof
Friend you stand on sacred ground
This is a printing office.
And these are printers. They don’t even write the words they composite. Just typeset them and print them. But there’s no hint of an apology here. She doesn’t say, ‘This is not just a printing office’, she says: ‘This IS a printing office.’ It doesn’t say that the people who work in it are ‘not just’ printers, nor apologise for ‘only’ taking other peoples words and typesetting them. And it doesn’t say that printing is ‘not just about compositing other peoples words, its about preserving culture for the posterity of civilisation’ – which would be an apology for printing not having enough to be proud about in its own right. Warde takes all this as read and presents the acts of typesetting and printing as the core strength from which everything else naturally and organically emerges.
And if printers can be this proud and passionate about their every day professional practice, surely fundraisers can too.
So how about this, on the front door of every fundraising office in every charity and nonprofit in the country – something that will be read by every visitor, every trustee, every colleague in finance, communications, campaigning and service delivery, everyone who thinks you are a ‘necessary evil’, (not to mention every donor), before they walked through your door:
This is a fundraising office
Treasury of the voluntary sector
Engine room of the change charities bring to the world
Through this office we connect the people who want to change the world with the people who can change it
We convert their ideals into the funding that allows charities to achieve their missions and visions
We underwrite charities’ successes and insure against their failures
Friend you are about to enter sacred ground
This is a fundraising office.
This is the new manifesto for fundraising and for fundraisers.
It tells you that you can be proud of changing the world and connecting donors to causes. But we already knew that.
It also tells you that:
- You can be proud of being a fundraiser.
- You can be proud of raising money.
- And you can be proud of how you raise that money.
You are not ‘not just fundraisers’. You ARE fundraisers. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
More from Ian MacQuillin
- Same as it ever was – fundraising and the media (12 June 2015)
- Does fundraising need an ethics committee? (30 May 2014)
- Time we ditched the fundraising personality cult (1 October 2015)