Stephen Pidgeon: We must revisit our basic principles

Fundraising has barely progressed over six or seven years and it's time to revisit the fundamentals of our trade, writes our columnist

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

I am just on my way back from New Zealand. It brings to a close a wonderful year of working with charities around the globe. Truly, I am privileged. Wherever I go, colleagues express their admiration for UK fundraising, the support structure of a well-developed institute, the regulatory function of the Fundraising Standards Board, the interest of government and, most of all, the sheer bloomin' creativity of so many of our fundraising campaigns.

Cheeky I know, but I have virtually dined out on the excellence of Friends of the Earth's Bee Cause campaign, which offers 'bee-friendly' wildflower seeds to those who are texting their first gifts, or of Breakthrough Breast Cancer's distribution of Touch Look Check guides.

So is our fundraising on a roll? Certainly it has been a great year. I am looking forward to the Charities Aid Foundation's apology for getting its figures so badly wrong last November, when its research claimed - what was it? - there had been a 20 per cent reduction in giving? What rubbish!

However, in another sense, our fundraising has barely progressed over six or seven years and it's time, once again, to revisit the fundamentals of our trade. One of the themes at the International Fundraising Congress this year was "new thinking". There was a great line-up of sessions and speakers, but there was actually little new thinking at the IFC this year.

New thinking comes from new research. With the exception of pieces from nfpSynergy and Russell James's work on bequests, little new research has been published that influences the way we ask donors for support. Do you remember the £2m given by the Labour government to the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy in 2010? That was frittered away by academics, with little of value emerging to interest charities.

I warmly welcome the growing excitement at the new Centre of Philanthropy at the University of Plymouth. I declare an interest - I am involved, and proud to be. This is a gathering of academics, such as the incomparable Professor Adrian Sargeant and Professor Jen Shang, who apply academic rigour to their deep and research-based understanding of fundraising.

The list of topics that they want to tackle is impressive: how can we grow philanthropy? What emotional connections are most satisfying for donors? How can our communication with donors give greater pleasure? And, two years after the Institute of Fundraising created the new qualifications for fundraisers, why are so few big charities using them as part of staff training? Think tanks will be set up on important topics like this.

In the UK, we will better deserve the admiration of the world if we continue to revisit our truths and beliefs. We must grow our understanding of our supporters. Failure to do so will, one day, catch us out.

Stephen Pidgeon is a trustee of the Institute of Fundraising, a consultant and a teacher

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