Are fundraisers going the way of the dodo? A trifle apocalyptic, maybe, but that's the question that occurred to me at the Institute of Fundraising Trusts Special Interest Group discussion recently.
The issue at hand was the crisis of competition in trust fundraising.
Put simply, trusts and foundations are receiving far more applications than they can deal with. And it's no longer a case of fundraisers making poorly targeted asks, picking names out of a book and using the 'spray-and-pray' methods of yore. Instead, applications are increasing in quality as well as in number.
In response, funders are regrouping, either focusing very narrowly on what they will give to, or else taking the venture philanthropy approach - seeking to guide and oversee the actual work of the charity they support, as well as providing the money. In the words of David Cutler of the Baring Foundation: "There's a feeling that we ought to be doing more. There's something intellectually unsatisfying about just giving charities a cheque."
As funders embrace these new approaches, their openness to the traditional fundraising ask can only narrow. According to Judith Brodie of Impetus Trust, "when I see an application from a head of fundraising, my heart sinks".
For charities, this presents a quandary. If funders want to talk directly to operational staff, will fundraisers be cut out of the equation altogether?
Will they find their efforts consigned to a dwindling pool of old-fashioned philanthropists who are still happy simply to sit back and write a cheque?
To continue to broker big relationships in the brave new world of proactive funding will demand a whole new set of skills from fundraisers. Instead of asking their colleagues what needs to be funded and then going out to get the money, they will need to develop a more fluid relationship with the operative arms of their charities.
This highlights a weakness in the way charities raise money. Fundraising departments are often 'bolted on', without deep roots in the organisation or knowledge of the issues the charity addresses. If funders want a place at the strategic top table of charities, fundraisers will need to be there too, with the confidence to mould priorities and drive through the change the funders require. Like many species before them, fundraisers will have to adapt to survive.