Why does the philanthropy sector ignore fundraisers?

Wonderful to spend time at the Institute of Fundraising convention last week. I bumped into lots of great colleagues and enjoyed hearing Adrian Sargeant, Joe Saxton, Bernard Ross and Glen Fendley give provocative talks at the Growing Philanthropy Summit.

Unfortunately my visit was cut short by being taken ill – huge thanks to all who helped me, especially Amanda Delew – a few days of tests shows it’s nothing too serious and I hope to be back out at events once I’ve got the problem under control.

From the few hours I was there, the comment that stuck with me was this seemingly innocuous remark: “Fundraisers raise £10 billion every year”.

Do they?

Do fundraisers raise money? Or do donors give money? Most of us see the fundraiser/donor relationship as two sides of the same coin, but recently the Institute has complained of a failure to acknowledge the role that fundraisers play in generating donations. Whether fundraisers raise funds or donors donate, is something I’ve written about in an earlier blog.Having begun my career as a fundraiser, I know that donations have to be inspired and collected as well as given. People are generous, but their altruistic impulses are often nurtured and sustained by the efforts of people working in fundraising departments.

But the philanthropy sector often forgets to acknowledge the role of the fundraising profession because donors so rarely attribute their gifts to any interventions by fundraisers. Donors describe an internal impulse to use their money to do something good. They talk about their passion for a cause, their empathy for beneficiaries and their desire to help. They don’t say “I only gave because s/he told me to”. As Alec Reed, one of the UK’s most loveable philanthropists says, in a case study in the 2009 Million Pound Donor Report, “most people prefer to buy than be sold to – a concept frequently applied in retail but almost unheard of in the charity world”.

I think Sir Alec is absolutely right. A couple of analogies that strike me: we all want double glazing in our homes but no one likes double glazing salesmen; and we’re obsessed with buying and selling houses but despise estate agents. It might be unfair and untrue to write fundraisers out of the picture, but so long as funds are raised does it really matter who gets the credit? It would be wonderful if, at the next Institute of Fundraising convention, it was acknowledged that donations are not just raised, they are given.

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