Ian MacQuillin: Do fundraisers need a ‘Bill of Rights’?

There are bills of rights for donors and for various other consumer groups - but what should be put in a document to protect fundraisers?

Headshot of Ian MacQuillin

Donors have rights – so many that the America-based Association of Fundraising Professionals has collated them in a document it calls the Donor Bill of Rights. The UK equivalent, the Fundraising Regulator’s Fundraising Promise, started life at Chartered Institute of Fundraising (then the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers) in 2001 as the "Donors’ Charter".

But what about fundraisers? Don’t we have rights too? Shouldn’t these also be collated in an equivalent "Fundraiser Bill of Rights"? Such ideas are raised periodically, most recently by the American fundraiser Evan Wildsteen.

I’ve found three other calls for a fundraiser bill of rights, by Norma Cameron in 2012, Rachel Muir (no date, probably about 2018), and Amelia Garza and Jennifer T Holmes in 2021.

Bills of rights stipulate the rights people have against entities that might exploit them. The most famous is the bill of rights in the US Constitution, aimed at protecting citizens, but there are also bills of rights for consumers, and specific consumer groups, such as clients of architects and accountants.

We can see why donors might have a bill of rights – to protect them from exploitation by fundraisers – but why would fundraisers need one? Against whose power do we need to be protected?

That some fundraisers are even proposing such a bill suggests things are not right in the state of fundraising. In a profession that jokes about how others regard it as a "necessary evil", complaints and grumbles are rife regarding interference in strategy and practice by boards and senior management, lack of professional respect, short-term targets and lack of investment.

More recently there has been a backlash against donor dominance, which is what the bill of rights proposed by Amelia Garza and Jennifer T Holmes directly addresses.

So if a bill of rights is to protect fundraisers against exploitation and interference, what should it contain?

Rights and duties can be viewed as correlates. If someone has a right to something – such as free healthcare – then it follows that someone else has a duty to provide that healthcare. Without the correlative duty, the right is worthless.

What struck me about the 10 points in the most recent proposal by Evan Wildsteen was that many were not rights owed to fundraisers but the duties of fundraisers.

Some describe the duties that fundraisers owe themselves, such as taking a break and not taking work home.

Others describe the duties that fundraisers owe to others (often donors), for example, to not excessively research donors before meeting them, and be “ardent stewards of our trusted supporters”.

Donor rights have found their way into some of the other attempts to build a fundraiser bill of rights. So ingrained is the notion of serving donors and philanthropy, that we find it hard to shake this idea even in documents in which we are supposed to think only of ourselves.

But what are the duties that others owe to us as professional fundraisers that fall out of, because they are correlates of, the rights that we have – or ought to have?

What are fundraisers’ fundamental rights as professionals; rights that if they were lessened or removed would make it immeasurably harder to do our jobs and diminish us as professionals.

There are many such fundamental rights described in the four proposed bills I have linked to, though some of the entries feel more like optional "nice-to-haves".

Let’s crowdsource ideas for a bill of fundamental professional rights of fundraisers. Third Sector will tweet a link to this blog, so please add your suggestions. Below are three ideas of my own. 

Fundraisers have a right to:

  • Be granted respect as knowledgeable professionals and accorded the professional autonomy to carry out our jobs. This carries a concomitant obligation on our part to be and demonstrate our professional competence.
  • Fair and appropriate compensation for the work we do.
  • Work safely – nonprofit organisations have a duty of care to protect us from excessive or inappropriate demands from donors.

Ian MacQuillin is director of the think tank Rogare

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