When I started working in fundraising, eleven years ago, I naively didn’t imagine I would hear many negative comments about my job – I was working for a charity and that was a good thing, no?
What I find interesting about the responses I get when I say I’m a fundraiser is what it reveals about attitudes to the charity sector generally – a sector particularly under the spotlight with the focus on charity executive pay, increasing negativity towards face to face fundraising, falling donations, and rising demand for the services charities provide.
I’m lucky to have a job that I love, and wouldn’t want to do anything else – but I’ve learned that when I tell people what I do, I will almost always get one of the following comments:
1. "Are you one of those chuggers? <insert criticism of chuggers here>"
By far the most common response, and one which I find difficult to deal with. On one hand, I want to support my fundraising colleagues, and defend my profession; on the other, I struggle when approached by face to face fundraisers myself, principally because I have the unfortunate and unhelpful knack of making slightly awkward social interactions profoundly more so.
I am so indoctrinated into saying yes and being accommodating to people that I cannot say no, even though as a professional colleague it should be easier, not harder. Instead I allow a conversation to start from which I quickly have to extricate myself. As I say, awkward.
Interestingly the prevalence of this response suggests that face to face really has become the “go to” image of fundraising.
2. "Have you ever thought of holding a raffle / car boot sale / fashion show / charity ball hosted by a famous person?"
I heard the phrase “everyone’s a fundraiser” in my first week in fundraising, and have said it myself many times since. The tricky thing is, it’s kind of true.
Everyone IS a fundraiser, and given my remit includes developing community fundraising, I am keen to encourage this involvement – even when the person making the suggestion seems to be under the impression you have never considered ways in which you can ask people for money.
However it seems churlish and ungrateful to start pointing out that your target for the year is £250,000 or that a suggested activity will take about a month of preparation and net £50, and more than that, it is unfair to do so – after all it is my job, and my problem, and their intentions are nothing but good.
Also if you then start to explain quite how difficult it is to plan and deliver a successful Ball, you will discover that they themselves organised one for the school PTA, got Cat Deeley to host, David Beckham to donate to the auction, the cast of Strictly to perform and raised £200,000, and you will feel like the smallest person that ever lived.
My response is always to smile and say, what a great idea. Then get them to join your Fundraising Committee.
3. "I think it is disgusting you get paid to do that"
I have heard many variations on this theme; but this is a direct quote from a family member. Yes, someone I am indirectly related to felt this was a socially acceptable, and not at all impolite, comment to make. They then upped the ante by confidently declaring that volunteers could do my job, and there was no need to pay fundraisers.
I have no doubt at all that there are any number of volunteers who would be more than capable of doing my job, unpaid. But very few that would wish to.
Volunteers give their time for many different reasons, often because they do not have to work a 45 hour week, and want their skills and experience to benefit others. Frequently they give their time to more than one cause, or in the economic climate, combine their volunteering with paid work.
Unsurprisingly, people who are themselves volunteers rarely claim that charities could do away with paid staff.
Charity pay has been under increased scrutiny since William Shawcross made his spectacularly unhelpful comments about Chief Executive pay and charity leaders “moaning” (Does he know he is Chair of the Charity Commission? Should we tell him?).
But his statements only gained so much traction because they tapped into what many people already think about charities – that despite the growing dependence on the voluntary sector to provide essential services and plug the gaps through which the most vulnerable people in our community, our country, our world, would fall - the people behind them should not be paid with “our” money.
There is particular distaste for fundraising costs – how often have you assured supporters that you spend as little as possible on generating income? The assumption is that we would all donate to good causes without being asked, completely ignoring the reality that most people who donate to charity do so only because they are asked.
4. "Are you going to ask me for money? Fnar, fnar…"
You bet I am. In fact I’m going to go one better. I’m going to get you up Mount Kilimanjaro. Six months intensive training, months of fundraising, and preparing for altitude sickness. You’re going to have the time of your life AND thank me for it.
5. "That sounds really interesting – I’d love to help, what could I do?"
I love you. No really, I LOVE you.
Now - have you ever thought of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro?
This is my top 5 – what would you add?