When I grow up, I want to be…

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up? A doctor? A vet? An astronaut? An explorer? A Kardashian?

By Emma Doran - May 22 2019

A fundraiser?


Probably not.


For most of us, we ‘fell into fundraising’. For me, I had finished a degree in Economics and Sociology and was gearing up for a Masters in Criminology when my sister suggested I dip my toes into the ‘real world’ first with an internship. That internship was 8 years ago in the fundraising department of Oxfam Ireland and I never looked back.


Fundraising provides a challenging and dynamic work environment, and it also means I get to feel good about what I do. But how many of us actually feel proud to be fundraisers?


According to the latest Charities Institute Ireland report, there is a major disconnect in the public’s expectations of charities and the people who work for them. They want charities to attract the best professionals, they just don’t think those people should be paid, with less than half of those interviewed agreeing that charities should pay competitive wages for said professionals:


“the public perception of those that work in the charity sector is very demeaning and it is assumed it should be done for free. It is no longer a job that you announce with pride, to be honest more shame, even though I know where I work and what I do matters. Tired of defending my job to strangers and family”.


That last part, “family”, really sticks with me. I’m pretty sure my dad thinks I shake buckets on Grafton Street - and sometimes I do! - but my job is so much more than that.


How many taxi rides have ended in an awkward silence or a rant about CEO salaries when you answer the dreaded question of “So what do you do for a living?”


The charity sector has been damaged by scandal after scandal in recent years and it is not recovering. This Charities Institute Ireland report shows it has remained largely static since 2014, with less than 7% surveyed saying they trust charities. 3 in 4 do not think charities are doing enough to build trust with their donors, and only 1 in 4 feel they know what charities do with the money donated. The report concludes that; “trust can be restored, but it has to be earned”.


Nevertheless, charities provide essential services – from the Mater Foundation, that strives to provide world-class care to patients and their families across Ireland to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, allowing people who are visually impaired to have the freedom and independence to lead their lives to the full.


And yet, that one question about what we do for a living can really shake us to the core, making us feel ashamed and undervalued.


And it’s not just the public’s perceptions we have to deal with, but internal perceptions too, as quoted in this Rogare report:


“Too often, I’ve seen board members and CEOs insist their own opinions (and power) trump fundraiser’s knowledge. These same leaders wouldn’t talk that way to an accountant or a brain surgeon… or even a building contractor. This common disrespect harms non-profits and beneficiaries and our communities. The contempt for fundraising and fundraisers demeans our value and commitment.”


But what can we do about it?


Along with the theme of the 2014 Convention being ‘Proud to be a Fundraiser, the UK’s Institute of Fundraising (in conjunction with Revolutionise) developed a ‘Proud to Be a Fundraiser Toolkit’, listing 7 key pillars based on the findings from the Great Fundraising Report.


These pillars are:


  1. Leadership –the ambition of the organisation, and the importance of fundraising in achieving this ambition, is clearly defined, understood and exemplified by the Head of Fundraising, CEO, Senior Leadership Team and board of trustees.
  2. Unity –staff, volunteers and donors alike are unified under this single ambition
  3. Investment –invest in the medium to long term needs of the organisation; “you have to spend money to raise money”
  4. Donors – whether recruiting new donors, or retaining the ones you have, they deserve the best experience you can give them. After all they are critical to achieving the ambition.
  5. Communication – fundraising needs to be at the heart of all your communications; sharing beneficiary stories of the need and the difference fundraising makes.
  6. Inspiration & Motivation – simply put; motivated, inspired and proud fundraisers raise more money.
  7. Telling the World – actively defend your organisation’s fundraising practices with pride in an open, honest and inspirational way.


 This toolkit is built on the ethos that ‘Income grows when the entire organisation is proud of its fundraising, as an integral part of its mission.’


However, a fundamental requirement is that leadership operates from the top down, so unless you are part of the senior leadership team in your organisation, or can convince them to champion this toolkit, you might struggle to get anywhere with it.


Alas, don’t give up! Sometimes the easiest way to create change, is to start with ourselves.


The Oxford Dictionary definition for a ‘profession’ is: “A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification”.


With this in mind, we need to hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard, and that starts with professionalising the sector. As Colin Skehan recommended as part of a report into the fundraising profession in Ireland:


“We must continue to explore how we can further develop and engage with a coherent body of knowledge and evidence – and bolster opportunities around growth and continuous self-development.”


So many of us have years of experience that make us really good at what we do, but formally studying fundraising gives us access to the body of research and knowledge available, allowing us to qualify our decisions and ground them in research and evidence. And to qualify our standing as a professional sector.


As Adrian Sargeant and Claire Routley assert in the opening pages of the book ‘Legacy and In-Memory Fundraising’:


“Despite paid fundraisers having existed in some form since the middle ages, fundraising as we know it is still an emerging profession… A vitally important element of any profession is its body of knowledge – this is what enables members of a profession to grow, learn and reflect. Immersing oneself in that knowledge is, arguably, is what makes one a professional fundraiser”.


Of course, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t practice what I preach! Right now I am doing the Diploma in Fundraising through the Institute of Fundraising, recently awarded chartered status, and already it has changed how I look at things and make every day decisions in work.


Sure, it requires an investment of time (and money if your organisation doesn’t have the training budget) but - damn it - doesn’t anything worth having require hard work?


We need to do it for ourselves, each other, and the people we are ultimately trying to help.


And so that one day, a kid will say; “When I grow up I want to be a fundraiser.



Emma Doran


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