Do fundraisers raise funds?

It sounds like a rhetorical – or even facetious – question, but I’ve been thinking recently about the role that fundraisers play in raising funds for good causes. I started my career as a fundraiser and I think it’s a fantastic profession full of dynamic, inspiring and hardworking people who are doing their best, often on minimal budgets, to keep great organisations afloat.But in my current role as a researcher I’ve been interviewing donors about why they choose to support charities, and they rarely mention any interventions by fundraisers. The stories donors tell about what attracted them to a cause and their reasons for sticking with it usually centre on internal impulses – their own passions, concerns, empathy etc – or the urging of loved ones and associates to make a donation.

Yesterday I was reminded of this disparity between the official role of fundraisers as the expediters of donations and donors’ accounts that write fundraisers out of the picture. I went online to make a donation to the emergency response to the recent series of disasters in the Asia Pacific region . At one stage in the donation process I was asked to select from a list of 16 options to conclude the statement ‘I am making this donation because…’. I looked in vain for an option that related to my vague desire to ‘do something’ in response to the scenes of misery filling the TV news. But 12 of the 16 options that appeared in the drop down list were variations on the theme of being asked by a fundraiser (eg. ‘I saw an advert’, ‘I read a leaflet’, ‘I spoke to a fundraiser’) and none of the other 4 options were accurate (I wasn’t memorialising a loved one/celebrating a birthday/participating in a workplace scheme).

It is clearly unfair and untrue to write fundraisers out of the picture, yet this list assumed that funds are only raised as a result of such prompts.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter much; so long as funds are raised who cares who gets the credit? But if we are serious about creating a culture of asking to complement our culture of giving, then I suspect the fundraising profession needs to take two seemingly contrary steps. Firstly, it needs to remind donors that their impulses are often inspired, nurtured and sustained by the efforts of people working in fundraising departments. And secondly, it needs to recognise that people can make a decision to give without having been on the receiving end of any specific appeal.

9 responses to “Do fundraisers raise funds?

  1. We shouldn’t care who gets the credit, but in light of targets and goals we too often do! Trust or major donor? Event or community fundraising?

    There is so much crossover among income streams that we now need to reexamine traditional fundraising roles (trusts, MDs, events, etc.) to reflect this emerging reality.

  2. Thanks for your comment Rick, it reminds me of that quote: “You can achieve anything so long as you don’t care who gets the credit”!
    I think there’s also a further issue here about the extent to which fundraisers facilitate, rather than raise, funds – particularly from major donors who expect to be approached by a peer rather than a charity employee. In the absence of peers willing to approach their circle, fundraisers have to step into the asking breech, and I wonder to what extent that depresses the final amount raised.

  3. I’m encouraged by the fact that fundraisers don’t figure too much in donors’ recollections of why they gave. That’s quite an achievement.

    On the assumption that the billions of pounds donated to charity each year are not all given in response to news items or genuine personal philanthropic drive, fundraisers are clearly operating very effectively, especially if they leave donors with the sense that they gave out of their own free will.

    Fundraisers are of course not out of the picture. I think fundraisers can feel pretty satisfied with this phenomenon, if they can assume that very few donors would ever bothered to have explored the workings of Gift Aid, legacies and payroll giving, had they not had them presented and explained to them by fundraisers.

  4. Good point Howard: lack of recognition of the role played by fundraisers is clearly not the same as them not having a role, and might even count as an achievement. But doesn’t it make it harder for charities to justify the money they spend on fundraising activity if donors rarely recognise the importance of that function?

  5. *Do* donors have to recognise the importance of the function, Beth? It would be desirable for them to understand the role, skills and professionalism that goes into fundraising, not least because they should understand that a proportion of their gift will probably and necessarily pay for securing further funding. But it is not essential.

    Lack of recognition by donors should not affect a charity’s willingness to invest in fundraising. There are all the other methods you mention that charities can use to measure (to some extent) the impact achieved by fundraisers.

  6. Howard, I absolutely agree that charities should invest in fundraising whether or not donors recognise the role that department plays in prompting donations. But I do think that without greater awareness amongst donors of the role that fundraisers play in raising funds, we will see a continued escalation of the view that ‘overheads’ are entirely a bad thing, and that a defining feature of strategic/engaged/new philanthropists will continue to be an insistence that they pro-actively seek out good causes rather than react to requests. Thanks for all the comments on this post – both those appearing here and those I received directly, it’s clearly a good topic for further reseach!

  7. That’s great that you’ve received comments directly, Beth, but I would encourage those contributors to add to the discussion by making their views public.

  8. Interesting article Beth. I’m pretty sure that the results of some longitudinal analysis that CAF and NCVO commissioned a few years ago was that the impact of major campaigns was difficult to identify after all the other variables that could affect giving levels – the economy, house prices and so on – were controlled for. Which might lead one to conclude that just like cigarette advertising, fundraisers’ main role is in relation to brand allegiance. I’m not going to be as bold as to say I think this is the case, but it does suggest that there is interesting research to be done about whether, and if so how and why, fundraising increases the totality of donations rather than switches them between recipients.

  9. When approached by a fundraiser to help our charity, being told we would get help raising money for immediate needs. We were impressed and agreed to pay for a professional to help yet they failed to deliver the result. More organizations need to be aware there are charlatans out there, even if they may have letters after their name like CFRE of which there are only a few awarded in the UK. Sounds impressive to me and using the word award makes me think of an O.B.E. In fact few have heard of this award which it is obtained on line through an American organization by many. Perhaps this is impressive, but with out the results it appears this type of award only given to a handful in the UK needs to looked at with caution. Correct me if I am wrong but I like many make the assumption that fundraisers do raise funds.

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