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- Author or Editor: Beth Breeze x
Charitable fundraising has become ever more urgent in a time of extensive public spending cuts. However, while the identity and motivation of those who donate comes under increasingly close scrutiny, little is known about the motivation and characteristics of the ‘askers’, despite almost every donation being solicited or prompted in some way.
This is the first empirically-grounded and theorised account of the identity, characteristics and motivation of fundraisers in the UK. Based on original data collected during a 3-year study of over 1,200 fundraisers, the book argues that it is not possible to understand charitable giving without accounting for the role of fundraising.
The question of how donors decide which charities to support, as opposed to questions about whether to give and how much to give, has been under-researched. This article presents findings from a qualitative study of 60 committed donors in the United Kingdom and concludes that charitable decision making is primarily driven by donors’ tastes and personal background, and that inertia and path dependency also account for many of their current donation decisions. Despite subscribing to popular beliefs that charitable giving should be directed primarily to the needy, donors often support organisations that promote their own preferences, that help people with whom they feel some affinity and that support causes that relate to their own life experiences.
This chapter is a response to the call for research agenda focusing on the ‘problem of riches’. It suggests that the topic of philanthropy fits within this agenda yet is under-researched in the social sciences. In this chapter, original research into the distinctive features of contemporary UK philanthropists is presented, based on a secondary analysis of the governing documents, annual reports and other documentary evidence relating to the philanthropic acts of 150 of the most significant major UK donors in the 2006. Drawing on the literature, the chapter then discusses the ways in which philanthropy can both solve and contribute to the problem of riches. Both the data and literature review are used to evaluate the extent to which significant charitable gifts made by wealthy people can tackle the ‘problem of the riches’ such as inequality, the tension between private affluence and public squalor and the promotion of happiness. The chapter ends by concluding that philanthropy is often perceived to be part of the problem of the riches, but at the same time, it also has the potential to become a viable solution.
Chapter 1 reviews the historical roots and development of fundraising in the UK, highlighting important milestones and key issues that have emerged over time and that remain contentious today. Noting that asking is as old as giving, the standard origin myth of fundraising - which states that fundraising began in the US in the late 19th/early 20th century - is rejected as a-historical, overly-reliant on a ‘Great men’ explanation, and relevant only for explaining how for-profit consultancy came into being in specific countries. An alternative approach to charting the history of fundraising, focused on purpose and impact rather than people and processes, is illustrated with ten examples of the outcomes of fundraising over the centuries.
Chapter 2 presents findings of a major survey of over 1,200 UK fundraisers. It illustrates their backgrounds, their paths into this career and how they acquired relevant skills and knowledge. Data on personality traits and emotional intelligence, as well as trust levels, social lives, hobbies and many other factors, are presented and compared with data on the general public in order to identify the extent to which, and in what ways, people who raise money for a living – including those who have succeeded in raising £1 million or more - either share characteristics or appear to be distinctive. Fundraisers often have formative experiences of helping behaviours, high levels of generalised trust, a greater predilection for gift-giving to loved ones and donating blood to strangers, a willingness to facilitate social situations, a preference for community-oriented and intellectual hobbies, positive personality traits and higher levels of emotional intelligence. Successful ‘million pound askers’ are likely to be older, more experienced, have a mentor, be more open and less neurotic. But the idea of a homogenous, ‘perfect type’ of fundraiser is rejected due to the wide diversity of characteristics associated with fundraising success.
Chapter 3 explores ‘the science of fundraising’ through an analysis of 60 books that explain ‘how to’ fundraise, recommended by fundraisers participating in this research. There is a great deal of consensus in this literature on what fundraisers do, in terms of knowledge, methods and techniques. But alongside this broadly consistent and commonplace advice are found some notable contradictions in the depiction of the nature and ‘learnability’ of fundraising skills and knowledge. The content of these guides, and the language used in them, suggests that fundraising is often presented as a set of skills that can be learnt and mastered by anyone who puts in the time and effort. Yet many authors also accept and advance the premise that fundraising resists standardization as donors respond best to authentic approaches that respect their individuality. This chapter concludes that fundraisers are far more than ‘mere technicians because philanthropy involves meaningful and value-laden relations between living, breathing, idiosyncratic people.
Chapter 4 focuses on the ‘art’ or the non-technical aspects of fundraising, exploring how the social and personal skills of fundraisers enable them to succeed. Drawing on interviews with 50 successful fundraisers, this chapter highlights the metaphors that fundraisers use to describe their work, the importance of skills such as reading body language, and exercising good judgments about how, and how fast, to progress relationships with donors. The importance of seemingly trivial decisions, such as the precise wording of an email or whether or not to send a birthday card, illustrates the difficulty of codifying this knowledge. It is argued that the art of fundraising involves responding creatively to the fact that each unique donor has different intentions, attitudes and aspirations in the context of each giving scenarios. As the language of gift giving is, by convention, oblique, it is also argued that the art of fundraising involves an ability to hear the ‘unsaid’ in order to understand donors’ desires and respond accordingly.
Despite the apparently self-explanatory job title, most fundraisers do not see ‘raising funds’ as their central task. This fifth chapter highlights the diversity and complexity of their work and describes the everyday reality of being a fundraiser. It is suggested that the job involves three sets of tasks: (1) Fostering a philanthropic culture within the charity and in wider society, as well as amongst potential supporters and donors; (2) Framing of needs in order to establish the legitimacy of the cause and educate potential donors about the existence of credible voluntary solutions; and (3) Facilitating donations by enabling people to act on their altruistic intentions through trusted and, where possible, enjoyable ways for donors to become engaged and involved in the cause. Successful fundraisers are engaged in emotional work (in the sense defined by Arlie Hochschild) within an emotional business. Their time is spent on fostering, framing and facilitating philanthropy by creating conducive contexts in which philanthropy can thrive, by inspiring and educating both colleagues and donors, and by setting the stage for effective asking and giving. None of these are straightforward activities, and thus require the ‘art’ and the ‘science’ described in the preceding chapters.
Chapter 6 draws together the findings of the previous chapters to explore the status of fundraising work: is it a profession, a job, a calling or a vocation? This chapter begins by reviewing the debate on professionalism, exploring the different ways this concept is defined and why professional status matters, before discussing claims for and against counting fundraising as a profession. In the absence of defining traits of a profession (such as a verifiable, agreed body of knowledge and formal qualifications after extended study), and the absence of a public consensus that the value and caliber of fundraising expertise deserves the status of a profession, it is suggested that fundraising is instead best understood as a ‘creative profession’. As contemporary fundraising involves a combination of creative innovation and managerial skills, and as fundraisers possess many of the traits commonly found in the creative class such as passion, openness, ability to synthesise, non-conformity and internal motivation, it is argued that fundraisers can accurately be described as a type of creative professional.
The concluding chapter suggests that we are witnessing the emergence of ‘The New Fundraisers’ who exist in a necessarily complementary relationship with ‘The New Philanthropists’, said to typify the most recent generation of major givers. These two groups are shown to share similar demographic characteristics, attitudes and goals, including: shared passion for a cause and conviction about its importance that transcends any specific charitable organisation; the desire for agency and power; a focus on impact and results; and a joy in asking and giving. The similarities between ‘new philanthropists’ and ‘new fundraisers’ enables them to build mutually beneficial relationships that can achieve transformational results, despite a general lack of public affirmation in the UK for either givers or askers.