Prepare for a tougher fund-seeking world, says academic John McLoughlin

The Centre for Philanthropy research fellow tells a seminar run by the Voluntary Sector Studies Network that philanthropy will not replace withdrawn state funding and the sector should embrace fundraising as a strategic pursuit

Fundraising: treat it as a moral undertaking, says McLoughlin
Fundraising: treat it as a moral undertaking, says McLoughlin

Non-profit organisations should prepare for a messy, tougher world of fund-seeking and not think of philanthropy as a way to fill the large-scale withdrawal of state funding, according to the fundraising academic John McLoughlin.

Speaking at a Voluntary Sector Studies Network one-day seminar in London yesterday, McLoughlin, an honorary research fellow at the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, said that philanthropy and fundraising could not be seen as a reliable, predictable source of income that could solve society’s greatest challenges or transform society.

Presenting a paper called Un-illusioned Philanthropy and Fundraising, McLoughlin said that as non-profit organisations entered a long-term era of funding constraint in the UK, the rest of Europe and North America, they would need to become more skilled in engaging philanthropic support and social investment. At the same time, he said, they should be realistic, sceptical, "hard-headed and shorn of illusion" in their search for funds.

McLoughlin said charities should embrace fundraising as a core activity that is morally worthwhile and strategically important. They should see donors and potential donors as partners and peers and work together with them, he told the seminar.

"There are two great challenges that non-profits need to master for long-term success: to be skilled and positive in their fundraising, and yet at the same time to work on reframing the philanthropic space as one of solidarity and common moral commitment, and not a private reserve," said McLoughlin.

He said that politicians and policy-makers were wrong to view philanthropy as a handy tool for delivering policy, because its personal, heuristic and non-rational nature meant it was not something that could be directed or switched on and off like a tap.

He said the "energetic, innovative politician" Jeremy Hunt, who is health secretary, had already realised this. When Hunt was culture secretary in 2010, he announced an £80m "matching fund" to encourage private donations to arts organisations.

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