David Emerson: The Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy has been misunderstood

Third Sector Online, 10 December 2009

David Emerson

David Emerson

Research into fundraising is needed but the centre is not the place for it, says the chief executive of the Association of Charitable Foundations

I was very disappointed to read in this week's lead story in Third Sector that the chief executive of the Insitute of Fundraising had resigned from the advisory panel of the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy. The linked editorial says that the centre won't "be diverted from its agenda of academic research - the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake".

These follow a series of articles that have been critical of the centre for not undertaking practical research that would help fundraising. Ostensibly, that seems a straightforward argument, but I believe it reflects a degree of misunderstanding that perhaps those of us supporting the donor community should have done more to address.

There is a case that we should have made more strongly. First, the centre was established to do what it says on the tin: to research charitable giving and philanthropy; but this has a quite different perspective from that of fundraising - the two should be mutually supportive, but they are not at all the same.

Second, there was a substantial sector consultation exercise before the formal establishment of the centre's work programme. It addressed the distinction between the different perspectives of the charitable donor and the fundraiser. This consultation appears to have been overlooked.

Third, the fundraising community is much bigger than the almost nascent charitable giving and donor support community.  I firmly believe that fundraisers should indeed have research relevant to them, but there are other sources for that, not least within the more recently established and more substantial Third Sector Research Centre. There is so little research into charitable giving that I personally feel it appropriate to want the small resources of CCGP to remain focused on that.

Fourth, I believe that charitable giving research will more than demonstrate its value to the charitable sector, including fundraisers. The fact that it cannot demonstrate today how an extra pound of charitable income will be generated next week, does not mean it is in "pursuit of knowledge for its own sake". To suggest that is to raise a false and unnecessary dichotomy.

Most of all, I am disappointed that we have missed an opportunity to emphasise the very valid distinction between charitable giving and philanthropy on the one hand, and fundraising on the other. Potential charitable funding, as seen from the donor perspective, is very different from the point of view of those seeking the funding  - this difference is apparently little understood, but is nonetheless of vital importance. Neither lens is better or worse, and I reiterate my belief that the case for research into practical fundraising is entirely valid, necessary and enormously important. It's just that CCGP isn't the right place for it.

Because we have not begun properly to address the arguments of the fundraising community, it appears we will no longer have the benefit of Lindsay's experience on the advisory panel, and that's a big loss. If many fundraisers also feel that CGGAP is out of touch with their needs, that is a further loss at a time when a better understanding of the full context in which donors live, work and charitably give can only benefit us all.

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