Ian MacQuillin: Fundraisers deserve more honours than they get

While charity chief executives regularly feature in the New Year’s Honours, very few fundraisers do

People say virtue is its own reward. Which will be comforting for fundraisers, since that’s often the only reward that will be coming their way.

Despite what the Daily Mail might like to believe, most members of our profession are not going to get mega-rich from managing customer relationship management databases or organising challenge events. There’s not always a reward in the form of professional respect from colleagues for a job well done. Let’s not bother rehearsing all the old ‘necessary evil’ and ‘magic money tree’ arguments again.

Fundraising is a vocational profession, foregoing material reward in order to serve the common good. But can fundraisers expect recognition for their lifetime of service towards the end of their careers? Civil servants, those in the creative and performing arts, business leaders, sports people, police and the military, legal and medical professionals, and many others, can all look forward to a gong (and many expect it) at the end of a career of service, for which many of them have also been handsomely remunerated.

Not fundraisers, though. While charity chief executives and directors regularly feature in the honours lists, very few fundraisers do. 

The 2024 New Year’s Honours list has recently been announced. Two members of the fundraising profession received honours – Ian Woodroffe, founder of easyfundraising, and Chris Norman, founder of the Good Agency, both got OBEs – along with nine other people nominated for their fundraising. All nine were volunteers. 

This made me think of which professional fundraisers I know have received honours. Not many came to mind and Fundraising Chat’s hive mind only offered up a handful more.

I went through the official honours lists. This wasn’t a comprehensive research review, although I probably spent more time researching this than I should have. This is what I found:

Philanthropists are regularly honoured and most people who are honoured specifically for their fundraising are volunteers.

When fundraisers are honoured, it is often for services to the sector that they work in rather than for services to fundraising or the voluntary sector. Giles Pegram received a CBE in 2011 for services to the voluntary sector. But Tim Johnson, whose 35-year career as fundraiser spans six charities and who is now a fundraising consultant, received his MBE last year for services to young people, probably because he spent 17 years fundraising for Great Ormond Street Hospital and was previously the chief executive of a children’s charity.

Other times, fundraisers get honours but for volunteering in a different capacity than fundraising; fundraising was incidental to their honour.

I also looked at the 21 winners of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s lifetime contribution award since the turn of the century. Surely if any fundraisers have been decorated by their country, it would be this cohort? 

No. Among this number are four OBEs (one of whom was already an OBE before she won the lifetime contribution award) and one CBE. Ken Burnett (2007 lifetime contribution award-winner) does not have an OBE. He would probably say that he doesn’t deserve or want one, but that’s not the point.

Fundraisers should be more regularly honoured for excelling in their field, in the same way that other professionals are. But the only people likely to nominate professional fundraisers are other professional fundraisers.

Saying fundraisers should receive more honours is not a shallow, cosmetic attempt to get a bit of silverware for a few individuals. It’s about enhancing fundraising’s professional status. The more fundraisers who are honoured (maybe one day we’ll get fundraising’s first KBE/DBE), the more we stand on an equal footing with other professions, the higher our status becomes and the less likely we are to be perceived as a necessary evil.

Yet currently, even when fundraisers do receive honours, there seems a reticence to recognise that this was for doing their day jobs.

Former England cricket captain Sir Alastair Cook was knighted for, when you strip it back to the fundamentals, hitting a ball with a plank of wood for 15 years (although, admittedly, he did it very well).

Surely devoting your life to the moral ideal that charities should have enough voluntary income to be able to change the lives of the people who rely on them is worth an MBE at least.

Ian MacQuillin is director of the fundraising think tank Rogare


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