Ian MacQuillin: Does fundraising even need a professional institute?

The knives are out for the Chartered Institute of Fundraising and the new chief executive has a tough job on her hands

Ian MacQuillin
Ian MacQuillin

Do you remember the Fast Show character Archie? He was the geezer in the pub who, when he found out what anyone did, would say of their occupation that it was the “hardest game in the world”.

I can imagine Katie Docherty nipping down the pub (lockdown regs permitting) to celebrate her appointment as the new chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising. Unfortunately, she sits next to Archie.

“Running the professional institute for fundraisers? It’s the hardest game in the world,” he opines.

Archie’s pub bore hyperbole might not be far from the truth: running the CIoF right now is a tough gig.

The travails engulfing the CIoF – mostly of its own making – are well enough known that I don’t need to recap them (I wrote recently about the 20-year culture of secrecy at the CIoF that has almost certainly contributed to their current situation).

Not only does Katie Docherty have to put right everything that’s wrong at the CIoF, she has to win back the trust of a significant proportion of the sector who don’t believe things can be rectified.

The knives seem to be out for the CIoF. Each downturn in its fortunes – such as speakers pulling out of its conference – is greeted with no small degree of schadenfreude. I don’t think it’s unfair to speculate that some would be happy to see the CIoF implode and completely disappear.

Let’s suppose this happens. Once the cries of ‘good riddance’ have subsided, what happens next? What happens to the profession of fundraising if it has no professional institute to represent its members and their interests?

Some might argue that fundraising doesn’t need a professional institute. Yet, such institutes are cornerstones of every profession.

Marketing and public relations both have chartered institutes, while architecture has the Royal Institute of British Architects. Even my previous industry sector has the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management.

Apart from containing the prefix ‘chartered’, what do professional institutes actually do?

Most play a key role in self-regulation by setting the profession’s code of practice and regulating their members’ adherence to it. This is a role the then non-chartered IoF relinquished to the Fundraising Regulator in 2016.

Many institutes run the qualifying/competency pathways for new entrants to the profession – for example, educational programmes, apprenticeships and continuing professional development – ensuring they obtain the skills and competencies they need to practice successfully, the Chartered Institute of Marketing being an exemplar.

But fundraising has no competency-based qualifying entry pathway. While the CIoF has a well-regarded educational programme, and contributed to the development of the fundraising apprenticeship, it has little in the way of CPD.

So it sounds like it wouldn’t make much difference if the CIoF disappeared. But not having the CIoF as our professional institute is not the same saying that we don’t need a professional institute.

In the absence of such a body, who develops policy and represents fundraisers’ views to government, the Charity Commission and Fundraising Regulator, for example, regarding any overhaul of GDPR post-Brexit?

If we accept that fundraising needs an entry pathway of the type run by the CIM – notwithstanding that many fundraisers would say we don’t – who should deliver it?

Who would represent the UK in organisations such as the European Fundraising Association, or be the British signatory to initiatives such as the International Statement on Ethical Principles in Fundraising?

The absence of a professional institute for fundraisers would create a gap that others would seek to fill.

Training providers might seek to replace the educational component (though training and education are different things) or someone like the CIM might start tailoring its courses to fundraising. It might create an opening for the CFRE, which is based in the US but offers a certification process for fundraisers around the world. 

Bodies such as the Resource Alliance or the NCVO might offer themselves as the collective voice of fundraisers/author of fundraising sectoral policy (the last time the NCVO did this we got the Fundraising Preference Service).

It might even lead to a power vacuum in which organisations compete with each other to represent fundraisers (the sniping between the IoF and the now-defunct Fundraising Standards Board during the ‘fundraising crisis’ of 2015 was less than edifying).

Any organisation stepping into this gap would have to answer questions about its own transparency and accountability to the people it now claims to represent. It would need governance structures and procedures that it might not necessarily currently have.

As the debate continues about whether the CIoF is fit for purpose as fundraising’s professional institute, let’s ensure we don’t conflate that with a different debate about whether we need a professional institute at all.

Ian MacQuillin is director of the think tank Rogare

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