The director of fundraising and communications at a well-known charity told delegates at last week's International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands that he was bored with fundraisers acting "like victims".
The senior fundraiser, who spoke on condition of not being named in media reports, said he had attended the IFC for several years and was struck by the inward-looking attitude of the fundraising sector.
"I'm kind of bored with the sector, to tell you the truth – coming to the same conference, hearing the same things.
"I'm bored with hearing people in the sector act like victims and saying we're misunderstood. Actually, we're all self-reaffirming; we're not bringing in a view from the outside. I think we're losing relevance – it's happening around us and we're not really reacting to it."
He said that fundraisers were seen as being "just about the money", but this needed to change so that people realised they were also engaged in inspiring people and in mobilisation.
Billed in the conference programme as a discussion about how the sector could ensure it did not repeatedly make the same mistakes, the event featured about 10 fundraisers who delivered pre-prepared speeches to the group, before attendees broke into smaller groups to identify problems and suggest solutions to them.
A common problem identified by delegates at the session was the pressure from their charities' managers to mail supporters frequently. One fundraiser said she became disillusioned with being required to mail supporters 14 times a year, so she left her charity to become a consultant.
At least two other consultants shared similar stories of frustration with the pressures placed on them in their charities.
The director of fundraising at an environmental charity said she believed the sector had become formulaic and institutionalised. "We need to get out of the current way of thinking and look for new fundraising models," she said.
A fundraising consultant said it appeared that many charities had lost sight of their missions. "It feels like the mission has become the charity," he said. "We're too focused on keeping organisations going, on keeping the lights on, rather than whether we're really solving the problem we were set up to solve in the first place."
Another fundraiser said: "If our mission is to solve poverty, for example, maybe we could look at taking less money as poverty starts to lessen. Money should be the means to an end for us, not the end in itself."
Delegates also heard from Nick Mason, formerly of the RNIB and now head of fundraising services at the social impact firm Aleron, who agreed to be named. He said that one reason he no longer worked for a charity was that he had become exasperated by the sector's mentality of short-term targets. He said they led to charities engaging in "perverse behaviours", rather than focusing on what was best in the long term for their donors.
Mason said charities were at risk of facing a similar existential threat to the black cab drivers who were seeing their business model threatened by Uber. "Fundraising might go through the same pain as giving is disrupted," he said.
Mason told delegates at a conference in July that fundraisers would be out of jobs in 25 years’ time as donors took control of their own charitable giving portfolios.