Stephen Pidgeon: Giving is seen as a duty in the US and Canada

Our columnist reports back from north America where the role of the fundraiser is viewed differently than in the UK

A week or two ago I spent two weeks travelling through the mid-west of the US and Canada, talking to local fundraising groups in Salt Lake City, Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg. It's so refreshing to talk to fundraisers who seek donations where giving is an absolute way of life. Particularly in the US, giving is a requirement. If you live in a community and earn a living, there is a sense of obligation to contribute to a range of social issues. Indeed, members of the Mormon church in Salt Lake City are expected to give 10 per cent of their income to the church before they give elsewhere.

The situation is a little different in Canada because of its effective health service and other government-supplied support, but giving is still an expectation.

Fundraising is an established and honoured profession in North America. Members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals are, on average, a lot older than those in the UK. They've been around longer and they've weathered the storms of public disapproval because, without the non-profits, life for many North Americans would be catastrophic.

If people in the US or Canada bothered to think about it, they would be pleased to see fundraising using effective marketing techniques, provided of course they were used with kindness. They'd laugh at the notion that the best fundraising is done by volunteers rattling tins outside the mall. And they'd vote down politicians who seek acclaim by imposing controls they'd never dare apply to double-glazing salesmen.

But Canadians have more weighty issues on their minds at the moment, and their commitment to resolving them honourably is impressive. At the end of last year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that had been investigating a matter of considerable concern issued its findings with 94 recommendations for new policies. That matter of concern is the policy, in force for about 120 years until the mid-1990s, of separating the children of First Nation people, aboriginal people, from their parents to break their cultural heritage. About 150,000 children were placed in residential schools, mostly church-run, with the predictable allegations of abuse.

Fundraisers the world over are committed to righting wrongs, so the injustices working against First Nation people in health, education, the use of aboriginal languages and a number of other social issues seemed to be occupying their minds even more than my joyous expositions on fundraising from individuals. I was reminded how lucky we all are to be working in a sector where our colleagues take such things so seriously.

And, as I smugly reflected on how we are in Europe seem to have escaped the dilemmas facing Canada and other nations, I couldn't help remembering that it was probably relatives of ours, only four or five generations ago, who caused all the distress in the first place.

Stephen Pidgeon is a consultant and a teacher

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