Un-define fundraising

I love fundraising, but recently I’ve tried to create some distance between ‘fundraising’ as a descriptor of what it is I do. It’s not because of how I feel about the term, but because of how the general public feels about it. Here in Canada, the most recent stats show that 23% of Canadians donate to charity. So when I refer to the general public, I’m talking about the other 77%.

The general public doesn’t like fundraisers, it tolerates them. However, there are exceptions. When Bill Gates asks Warren Buffett to give half his fortune to the Gates Foundation, is he a hero? You bet. When you send an acquisition mail pack, or an e-appeal, are you a hero? Nope. You are a nuisance.

So, it seems the general public only has a problem with professional fundraisers. From where I stand, it sounds like “fundraisers are great, as long as they aren’t asking me for money.”

You’re reading this blog, so you know firsthand that fundraisers like you do so much more than ask for money. You enable amazing programs in your community, country, or around the world. You inspire and spark social movements. You open doors for the underprivileged, underserved, or underrepresented. You ensure that doctors can heal the suffering around the world, or research life-saving cures. You are the conduit between a passionate donor and a worthy cause that without you may never have connected.

That’s what I want people to think about when I tell them I am a fundraiser. But, they don’t.

Fundraising as a profession has made amazing strides in formalizing and establishing itself as a legitimate career option. Certifications are an important tool for transmitting knowledge, placing value on experience, service and continued learning. Membership associations provide a strong voice for lobbying government, and creating community. Conferences transmit best practices and often have a great selection of pastries.

But do any of these features listed above contribute to changing the way that the other 77% feel about fundraising? No. We are still a nuisance.

I realize that many of you reading this will have agreed with me up to this point, and are fine with the path we’re on. The rest of this blog is for those that agree with me, and are ready for a change.

Seth Godin blogged recently about how the hardest account to invest in is often your own. Fundraising professionals need to take this to heart, and do a little PR of your own to put a dent in those troublesome preconceptions that ultimately are harmful to the beneficiaries of our causes.

We don’t need to redefine the fundraising profession, because we understand the scope and value of what we do. We need to un-define fundraising for the 77% who think they know what it is all about, then fill that gap with what we already know to be true. Inspire them, and ignite an interest in the fundraising process.

Industry associations are no strangers to this. Below are a few recent examples for Realtors (Canada) and Chartered Accountants (Australia). Neither of these professions is sexy, but they are vital for our economies, and the better they are at their job, the stronger our economies are for it. Fundraising is no different. A great fundraiser influences a strong economy, effective and well-funded programs, and efficiently-run charities. This is what the other 77% needs to be exposed to.

I’d love to see fundraising associations investing more in marketing the societal value of fundraising professionals to the general public, and less time marketing the benefits of membership. Moving the needle on the public trust and perceptions of fundraising only stands to benefit the sector, and one would hope, create a lift in charitable giving.

I’m proud to be a fundraising professional, and I know that you are too. We’ve come a long way, and there is exciting potential for even further growth. This is what I see as the next big step for our profession, but if you disagree or have other ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Leave a comment, or you can get in touch at brockwarner (at) gmail.com.

Chartered Accountants “million opportunities”

Canadian Realtors – howrealtorshelp.ca

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