Stephen Pidgeon: Why did Lindsay Boswell go so politely?

It's an outrage that £2.2m for research into fundraising has been spirited away into ivory-tower academe, says the chair of fundraising agency Tangible Response

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

Is nobody going to react, with vigour, to the outrage that has just been visited on fundraisers and the fundraising sector in the UK? Last week, Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, resigned from the advisory panel for the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy. He did it with the full backing of the institute's board of trustees.

Lindsay had been unable to convince the centre that the last £600,000 of the £2.2m put up by the Government and others in 2007 to fund research to "better understand charitable giving and philanthropy" should be directed, at least in part, to researching how fundraising could be made more effective. He could do no more than resign. What annoys me is that his resignation was given, and received, so damned politely.

"We appreciate the involvement of the institute," said the Economic and Social Research Council, one of the funders of the centre. "We would like to thank Lindsay Boswell for his contribution," said the Office of the Third Sector (the Government, in other words). Sweetly, politely, these bureaucrats endorsed the belief, prevalent amongst the five universities currently involved, that fundraising has nothing to do with "charitable giving and philanthropy".

How does "charitable giving and philanthropy" happen? Fundraisers know it happens when one of us asks for money from someone at the right time and in the right way. Fundraising is intimately involved with charitable giving and philanthropy.

So what's been funded by the centre so far? Strathclyde University is looking at "understanding current challenges to traditional patterns of giving as well as looking at how we recognise social returns on charitable investment." Will this be valuable to a fundraiser?

A bunch at Southampton University is investigating "whether charitable activity might mitigate or reinforce social and economic inequalities". There's research to "explore the evolving and complex forms through which philanthropy is expressed and realised". And Cass Business School and Edinburgh University have joined up "to explore the structures of institutionalised giving". Wow - the world for us fundraisers will never be the same again!

Will any value for charities or fundraising come out of this £2.2m, money that could transform the practice of fundraising if it was given to researchers closely connected with the sector?

I invite you to look up five academics on the internet - the professors or doctors directing the funded research, all of them with distinguished careers in their fields. Ask yourself just two questions: first, do their experience or stated interests suggest knowledge of the challenge of raising money for charities in the UK? Second, does their recent history of publishing papers encourage us to anticipate a flurry of academic study to help us do our work (academics judge each other on the numbers of peer-reviewed papers published in learned journals each year)?

Their names and universities are Jenny Harrow (Cass Business School), Charles Harvey (formerly Strathclyde, now Newcastle), John Mohan (Southampton), Stephen Osborne (Edinburgh) and Iain Wilkinson (Kent).

Lindsay's job means that when he resigns he has to do it politely. I don't have any such worries. This is an outrage. In my view, £2.2m given to research charitable giving and philanthropy has been spirited away into ivory-tower academe, when our sector is desperate to understand more about supporter motivation, the triggers for legacy giving and a host of other important questions. Charity fundraising has been stitched up and the Government, bankrupt of ideas and losing all interest in our sector, has done nothing to stop it.

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