Please don’t shoot me till I’m finished. And please, if you must judge me, will you do so by what I say, not by what anyone else might infer I’m saying? Thanks.
A few weeks back I wrote a blog about who is a donor. See here. Who or what is a fundraiser is more controversial and perhaps less well understood. So when recently I read in the UK sector press some inaccurate comments about the fundraising credentials attributed to me and my colleagues, I bristled.
A fundraiser is anyone who, either as a volunteer or paid, works to raise the money, commitment and enthusiasm that’s needed to fuel good works. Full stop.
A hands-on fundraiser is any fundraiser who doesn’t just talk about it, but actually does it. Data-planners, copywriters, input clerks, creative strategy-formulators, major donor solicitors, fundraising directors, marketers, team leaders, envelope-stuffers, thankers and bankers, agency account executives and telephone and doorstep askers are all hands-on fundraisers. To name but a few. CEOs, board chairs and trustees could be fundraisers too, though they’re not often hands-on.
I am a hands-on fundraiser and proud of it.
So why would anyone say I’m not?
‘Joe Saxton of nfpSynergy said …he did not support the marketing message, did not wish to speak on the topic for which he had been assigned, and objected to the lack of practising fundraisers on the speaker panel.’
Civil Society, 8th February 2013
Practising means doing it day in and day out or, at least, most days. In the two weeks before writing this I was planning a major national appeal, writing thank-you letters, recommending changes for someone else’s direct mail appeals, planning strategy ideas for testing in street and doorstep fundraising, working on ‘the donor’s first 48 hours’, tracking database problems that contribute to poor retention, working with teams of fundraisers to perfect their storytelling skills and answering detailed questions from fundraisers around the world about their day-to-day activities.
Seems pretty hands-on to me. And I have been doing stuff like this consistently, for more than just two weeks. When you have shared as many exhibits on SOFII as I have, then I’ll be happy for you to tell me I’m not a hands-on fundraiser.
Wait, I hear you say. ‘But… you’re a consultant. You hold people’s watch for them, then charge to tell them the time.’
If only. Sorry, these days it doesn’t work like that. As you well know.
In the article series quoted above I was also called an old fart, a dinosaur and ‘not a fundraiser’. It was the last bit that hurt me. Though, my co-speakers-to-be Alan Clayton and Kevin Schulman, both in their early 40s, were similarly labelled and dismissed. How stupid of anyone to conclude that this line-up was composed of the old, the hands-off and the irrelevant.
Professor Adrian Sargeant may not be a hands-on fundraiser. But my goodness, where would our sector be without him? Putting him down for not being hands on is like cutting off an arm because it doesn’t help you when walking.
That said, I have learned something from this bruising experience. Fundraisers accountable to their boards and CEOs for delivering at the bottom line day in day out might well resent others less deeply engaged appearing constantly to hector them over shortcomings or to lecture them as to what they should and shouldn’t do. I’ll try to be more sensitive to that when offering advice in the future. Promise.
Sure, the structure of the Summit wasn’t perfect. The organisers (who speak for themselves, because I was not one of them) have already conceded that.
But dinosaurs, supposedly, have thick skins. I’m less concerned when blokes like myself are excluded from the ranks of ‘true’ fundraisers than I am when street and doorstep fundraisers and telephone fundraisers are excluded simply because they work for a commercial supplier. ‘True’ fundraisers routinely sneer down at these folk, despite the vital, difficult job they do, so they often feel marginalised and unappreciated by their peers. Yet these are the people who day in, day out, talk to our donors. Other fundraisers would be wise to reflect on how much they might learn from them.
My main point is, before jumping to assumptions based on limited knowledge or hearsay, surely a true professional should at the very least probe a bit to get to the truth, to find out what’s really going on?
Giles Pegram is a fundraiser. For most of his life a hands-on, creative, visionary entirely at the forefront of promoting effectiveness, diversity, equality, inspiration and innovation among the legions of fundraisers that over more than three decades worked with him at NSPCC. That much about him is chronicled publicly and is well and widely known. See here.
So why would Civil Society imagine that it should run an article on its website labelling him as sexist? See here. For the full sorry story, click on the two other links within the article.
This feature made my heart sink. What I read there is totally at odds with the character, convictions and integrity of the man I’ve known and worked closely with for over 30 years. As I went through the accompanying comments I was pleased to see many constructive and thoughtful contributions. I found myself in broad accord with Charity Chicks, even though I’m not allowed to be one (I’m long since over that).
But equally I was sad to see people I know chipping in with hurtful, often inaccurate, partial, recycled or selective comments too. Such was their ardour to condemn a supposed rampant sexist that what he actually said and the context of it scarcely mattered.
Of course Giles was foolish to even engage in any debate on the subject. For that, and any offence his unguarded comments caused, he’s apologised comprehensively. All he wanted was to introduce something significant that would move our sector on. He was making that his life’s mission. Instead he got caught up in something he never thought he’d have to do – self-justification. He wasn’t prepared for that at all. And he tripped up.
Our sector prides itself on a well-developed and robust sense of right and wrong. So was it right, or wrong, to publish that Civil Society article in the first place? At least without doing some simple background digging among those who know and have worked with the man, to establish what really lay behind such uncharacteristic sentiments? Was it right to leap on a story reporting unwise, unguarded utterances from a leading figure in our business then recycle them with accompanying criticism, knowing that doing so might destroy his reputation and ruin the last years of his working life? Was it right that he was interviewed when obviously caught off guard, that he was not given time or opportunity to form a right of reply and was not given any chance to correct what, in the light of day, were evident absurdities and contradictions in some of the things that, in haste or the heat of the moment, he might have said, to his own obvious detriment?
The outcome of this online fiasco is that the voluntary sector not only lost a much-needed innovative event, it also hurt and hugely damaged one of its genuine pioneers and in doing so looked foolish or worse to many outside our immediate circle. In my eyes at least it also lost some of its credibility and respect.
Perhaps we need to rethink the nature of modern chatter.
Now, I’m off to lunch with a potential major donor. Please wish me luck.
© Ken Burnett 2013