The title of the opening plenary session at the Institute of Fundraising Scotland annual conference this year – The Art of Making Lemonade (sunshine in the hurricane): why things are not as bad as they may seem – was enough to convince me that fundraisers, on the whole, are an eternally cheerful bunch.
But if I needed further convincing, I had only to look towards the dance floor while an Abba medley was being played after the conference's awards dinner. In a scene remarkably similar to those at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands last month when the band's disco hits were played, the arena was filled within seconds.
"I don't understand," I said to one delegate. "Why are fundraisers so keen on Abba – what's the connection?"
"Optimism," he replied.
There was plenty of that in consultant Jon Duschinsky's plenary talk about ‘quantum fundraising'.
"The future of fundraising is lots of people coming together and making a change," he said.
Paul Amadi, chair of the institute and soon-to-be fundraising director at the NSPCC, echoed this in his closing line at the end of the conference. "Now go and change the world," he urged delegates.
The optimistic talk in the middle of a recession got the audience talking – but not always for the right reasons. One likened Duschinsky's speech to a Chinese takeaway: "At the time you think ‘this is great'," he said. "But an hour later you realise it had no substance."
What did have substance, though, was the debate about statutory funding. After David Cameron's announcement earlier in the week that a Conservative government would offer more contracts for public service delivery to charities, everybody wanted to talk about ‘grants versus contracts'.
Consultant John Bonnar's talk on the subject raised some serious concerns. Many of the officers implementing contracts and service-level agreements, he said, were confused about how the agreements worked, so it was little wonder that charities were unsure as well.
He said contracts and SLAs would become the most important source of income for charities in future as other forms of fundraising became more difficult. Charities should approach the Government and offer to help it fulfil its policy commitments by setting up contracts to provide services, he said.
But Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, used her opening plenary on the second day of the conference to urge charities to rally against this.
"There has been a commoditisation of charitable endeavour," she said. "Some of our bigger charities are no more than agents of the state.
"We need to fight for grants to remain grants and not be turned into contracts," she urged. "Otherwise, will this fundraising conference next year be called the ‘contract negotiation Scotland conference'?"
Not if those optimistic fundraisers have anything to do with it.