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Time for action on challenging fundraising myths

Time for action on challenging fundraising myths

Every conference you go to gives you at least one piece of fantastic insight that’s totally, one hundred per cent relevant to your area of interest. At the Revolutionise Annual Lectures last week, for me it was Jeremy Hughes declaring that fundraising must follow Intel’s branding lead and become the ‘fundraising inside’ of charities.

Brilliant!

What was also instructive for me though was how many people said they thought Jeremy’s words were ‘inspiring’, or ‘needed to be said’, or some such.

In the course of his presentation, Hughes – ceo of the Alzheimer’s Society and a former senior fundraiser – outlined how fundraisers not very good at explaining what their profession does, and that some charities (Comic Relief and Barnardo’s were singled out) don’t help the collective cause by playing the overheads game.

But none of this is particularly new: people in fundraising have been saying this, or something similar, for more than 10 years. So while Jeremy’s ‘fundraising inside’ insight is absolutely brilliant and one that I shall happily co-opt (apportioning due credit, of course), I’m also surprised that people should still be so ‘inspired’ by messages such as these after receiving them for more than a decade.

For a long time up until 2010, senior figures were calling on the profession do exactly what Jeremy Hughes was saying we should do – people such as Adrian Sargeant, Joe Saxton, Alan Gosschalk, Owen Watkins, Mick Aldridge, Lindsay Boswell, and indeed me, in a number of articles and editorials in Professional Fundraising and blogs on UK Fundraising.

And then, American Dan Pallotta writes his 2008 book Uncharitable (motivated by the public perception issues that led to the collapse of his challenge events company). Two years later in 2010, he’s invited to present the opening plenary at the IoF National Convention – saying pretty much what the likes of Sargeant, Saxton et al have been saying for years ­– and its like it’s the first time anyone has ever heard these things. [For the avoidance of doubt here, in no way am I criticising nor in other respects having a pop at Dan Pallota.]

All we ever seem to do is talk about these issues and never do anything about them. The ImpACT Coalition formed in 2005 and after a year of intense productivity spent the next seven doing very little but have the same discussions over and over at its steering committee meetings. Perhaps if Alan Gosschalk had delivered his ImpACT Coalition messages in an American accent more people would have taken notice of him.

So now we have three initiatives under way that might actually lead to action and real change: The IoF’s Proud to be a Fundraiser, the Understanding Charities Group (led by CharityComms), and the work on understanding stakeholder attitudes to fundraising that we’ll be doing at Rogare at Plymouth University, including, but not confined to, my doctoral research.

These all need to make a difference and not just be talking shops. The case is already made that we need to do something about challenging the myths about how fundraising operates – we’ve had those conversations and we all accept this. Now it’s time for action.

It would be just too depressing if at the 2019 Annual Lectures, some senior fundraiser tells delegates that we must be “proud of our role as fundraisers and stop people thinking of us as the necessary evil”, and all the delegates think: “Wow! What inspiring words; it’s about time something was done about that.”

Ian MacQuillin is the manager of Rogare – The Fundraising Think Tank, at Plymouth University’s Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy.

Ian MacQuillin is the founder and director of Rogare, the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University's Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy. He has worked in fundraising since 2001 as editor of Professional Fundraising (2001-2006), account director at TurnerPR (2006-2009) and head of communications at the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (2009-2013).

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