Catherine Demetriadi: Trustees should stop passing the buck to hired help

Trustees must take responsibility for fundraising or an industrial-scale fundraising industry will continue to grow, writes our columnist

Catherine Demetriadi
Catherine Demetriadi

In the last century, I wrote a series of letters to the Waltham News Tribune in Massachusetts calling out factual errors and flat-out lies by two of its columnists. The letters were published. The editor rang to ask "how about writing for us?" Before I agreed, I asked a question based on Samuel Johnson's elegant statement "no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money". Those columns, eventually printed in the local suburban newspapers, bought groceries for six years.

Third Sector has frequently published my comments, which seems to have earned me a column - just one, and money hasn't changed hands. I have a bee in my bonnet about everything, and here's one of them.

Where I come from, the word "fundraiser" - when not attached to a college president, executive director or trustee - means either a fundraising event or a salesman who will fleece his own granny for a commission.

Until trustees take responsibility for fundraising and stop passing the buck to the hired help, two bad things will continue to happen. The first is the growth of an industrial-scale fundraising industry that does anything to separate Joe Public from his hard-earned cash, usually by hiding behind gimmicks. The second is that "fundraising" staff - whom I contend should be called development staff or anything that doesn't use the word "fundraiser" - will bow to the demands of a brutal target culture that upsets donors and, yes, grabs headlines.

The accountancy mentality behind targets demands more for less, disdains the years needed to form and deepen donor relationships, treats donors like commodities, makes a mockery of philanthropy and threatens to populate a profession I hold dear with salesmen.

Catherine Demetriadi is director of FundraisingPoint

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