Is fundraising in the UK really as bad as the critics say it is?

The voluntary sector, including former IoF chief executive Lindsay Boswell, challenges the negative assessment of New Philanthropy Capital

Lindsay Boswell
Lindsay Boswell
Critical comments on the quality of fundraising in the UK by Martin Brookes of New Philanthropy Capital have drawn a mixed response from the fundraising industry.

Brookes, chief executive of the consultancy and think tank, told the Public Administration Select Committee last week that there was a dearth of good fundraising in contrast with the US, and that charities had done a very poor job at marketing themselves to the wealthy.

Some fundraisers agree with the point about wealthy donors, but feel that Brookes' more sweeping statements are not justified. Paul Marvell, director of learning at the Institute of Fundraising, says he thinks it is incorrect to say that fundraisers in the UK are not very good.

He admits, however, that skill levels vary, and says there's been a greater recognition of skills shortages in recent years.

"In some areas we're very good, such as direct marketing, corporate fundraising and trusts and foundations," he says. "With high net worth individual fundraising, however, I think there's more of a shortage of skills and experience."

Marvell says it is unfair to compare the situation to the US because important cultural differences affect philanthropy, such as religion. Charities in the UK have often imported fundraisers from across the Atlantic, he says, but this has not always been successful because of these cultural  differences.

The Institute of Fundraising has invested heavily in a new academy, launched last year in an attempt to address skill shortages. It offers masterclasses and new professional qualifications in fundraising.

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the food poverty charity FareShare and former chief executive of the IoF, says the development of the academy was prompted by a long-standing recognition that the single biggest challenge the sector faces is an increased demand for fundraising combined with a shortage of fundraisers.

He agrees with the sentiment behind Brookes' comments last week, but not with the way it was put across. "There is no dearth of quality fundraisers," says Boswell. "The problem is that the number of charities that need to fundraise, and the level at which they are fundraising, means there's a shortage of fundraisers.

"Demand has outstripped supply. Where there's a shortage, there's inevitably going to be a question asked about whether the people working in that area are of a high enough quality."

To tackle the problem, charities should take more risks in their recruitment of fundraisers, says Boswell, and bring more fresh blood into the profession rather than recruiting only people with years of direct experience. It is also important that fundraising is understood and managed correctly and effectively at all levels of an organisation, he adds.

Fiona Ellis, chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations' Funding Commission, which recently called for a £10m sector-wide campaign to help charities get better at asking for money, agrees. "Fundraising should be the job of many more people in the organisation than just the fundraiser," she says.

"Trustees need to be more involved in the fundraising process. They might not have been recruited on those terms, but they need to accept that the world has changed now."

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