Women were happy for men to do the talking at the International Fundraising Congress

Third Sector fundraising reporter Kaye Wiggins on last week's conference in the Netherlands

Kaye Wiggins, Third Sector's fundraising reporter
Kaye Wiggins, Third Sector's fundraising reporter

Before my first experience of the annual International Fundraising Congress, which took place in the Netherlands last week, I expected fundraisers to be a lively, enthusiastic and energetic bunch. And I wasn't disappointed.

The first sign of this was the enthusiasm with which they embraced the Pirates of the Caribbean theme with their costumes at the conference's gala dinner. This was soon surpassed by the speed at which they raced to the dance floor when a pair of Lycra-clad entertainers took to the stage to sing some seventies disco classics.

But although they had no qualms about giving it their all to the sound of Abba, fundraisers lost their enthusiasm when it came to talking to the Third Sector Online video camera. Tasked with making short videos for the website, I set about approaching people, camera in hand.

And this was when the gender divide in the fundraising world became apparent. The delegates were overwhelmingly female, and too worried about their hair and make-up (or, in one case, what the boss would think about the effect on the charity's brand) to appear on camera. One even grabbed a male colleague and pushed him my way when she saw me approaching.

But not so with the experts. Most of the speakers - those in senior roles who could share their wisdom and experience - were male. Experienced at talking in front of an audience, they had no qualms about being filmed.

I don't doubt that there are female fundraising directors and consultants, but they were nowhere to be found at the conference. Is it really the case that fundraising is dominated by a small but vocal group of men and staffed by hordes of nervous women?

If so, this is probably why Tony Elischer decided to grab their attention by making a joke about databases being "the fundraiser's contraceptive." By way of an explanation of this somewhat bizarre comment, he said that having detailed information on a screen meant fundraisers never had to talk to donors.

But this pearl of wisdom was at least more useful than the information delivered in my IFC low-point: Canadian consultant Tony Myers' workshop on "What influences major donors to give."

Having noticed in the IFC programme the promise of "a three-year study on donor influences" that was described as a "breakthrough", I headed to the session hoping for a decent story. But after an hour and a half of group discussion about the definition of a ‘major donor' and vague talk about a ‘philanthropic tipping-point', no survey results had materialised.

I asked Myers after the talk whether I might have a look at the results of his research. "You can't," came his reply. "It's in my head..."


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