Ian MacQuillin: Should fundraisers expect to be fed information by colleagues? Of course!

We all know the relationship between fundraising and other departments at some charities is dysfunctional - the challenge is how to repair it

Headshot of Ian MacQuillin

The National Society for Doing the Right Thing fully understands that it can’t do the right thing unless it has enough money to do the right thing. So the NSDRT has worked hard to develop a culture of philanthropy that integrates fundraising into everything it does.

NSDRT service delivery staff (who do the right thing) and campaigners (who encourage others to do the right thing) actively support their fundraisers.

They involve fundraisers in decision making, keep them in the loop about new ways to do the right thing, and willingly respond to fundraisers’ requests for information – information that will lead to more money with which they can do the right thing.

The Utopian vision of the NDSRT is not how many charities work, where fundraising is not just siloed, but separated from the rest of the organisation.

Fundraising is often perceived as, say it with me, a ‘necessary evil’, and fundraisers’ requests for help, support and information as irritants that get in the way of doing whatever specific ‘right’ thing it is that charities do.

That there is dysfunction in the relationship between fundraising and other departments at some, perhaps many (probably the bigger), charities is not in doubt. The challenge is how to repair these dysfunctional relationships.

In Third Sector last month, Martin Edwards proposes a solution. He argues that fundraisers need to take responsibility for making these relationships work.

I don’t disagree (and neither do some fundraisers I’ve spoken to). I’ve previously advocated a form of ‘total relationship fundraising’ in which fundraisers need to take ownership of all the relationships that facilitate the raising of money – not just with donors (relationship fundraising’s current focus), but also relationships with staff, agencies, regulators and the media.

However, I do take issue (as do other fundraisers I have spoken to) with the context in which Martin couches his ideas.

He says that fundraisers “expect” to be fed service information, in a way that implies fundraisers have no right to expect that information (charities such as the NSDRT understand that not only do fundraisers have a right to expect such information, but service delivery have a duty to provide it).

Though to be fair to Martin, he might mean they expect to be fed information without asking for it.

Martin also says he’s “bemused” by many fundraisers’ reliance on service users to present the case and make the ask, saying that this is an “odd way for fundraisers to make themselves indispensable”.

Fundraisers don’t have to make themselves indispensable; they are indispensable.

That some charities don’t understand this simple fact of voluntary sector life, and even seem to resent it, is the crux of the organisational problem we all know only too well.

But Martin’s solution is not a structural one based on organisational change; it’s one based on the agency and interventions of individual fundraisers (such as bringing homemade cakes into the office).

This is not a sustainable solution to a systemic problem - there is no guarantee the individual relationships fundraisers cultivate with other staff will be translated into an organisation-wide culture of philanthropy and relationships will have to be built anew every time there is staff turnover.

Building an organisation-wide culture of philanthropy that centres fundraising as an indispensable function is the only sustainable solution to this systemic issue.

It will come through enlightened, top-down leadership, not from fundraisers have to bribe their colleagues with cake.

Ian MacQuillin is director of the fundraising think tank Rogare

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