Fundraising: It’s a Call to Service
I was recently in a café waiting for a prospect to visit me. As usual, I was early and was preparing for the meeting. Suddenly, someone who I had known for more than 25 years and not seen for several years yells out, “Whose pocket are you going to pick today?” I smiled at him without saying a word. Inside, I was very disappointed that this person would show me disrespect without knowing it. I felt his perception of me was wrong. My appointment had not even arrived yet, and this person guessed I would be soliciting someone. I wondered if others had that same perception of me or my profession.
In his article, “To Change the Perception of Fundraisers,” Jay Love, co-founder and CEO of Bloomerang, asked the question: What is critical fundraising? An article published by the University of Plymouth Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy in the U.K. made him think about the overall public perception of fundraisers. He stated that the following paragraph jumped out at him:
“We haven’t always approached some of the biggest challenges with this quality of inquiry. Problems like the criticism of face-to-face fundraising; the continued poor public perception of fundraising; debates and questions around self-regulation; or the introduction of new concepts such as stewardship and innovation into fundraising. The result has often been inertia or stagnation of the debate leading to little progress being made in successfully tackling the challenges.”
Love stated that those who truly understand the nonprofit sector know that professional fundraisers are truly the driving force behind the billions of dollars that fund philanthropy worldwide. A perception problem could exist because fundraisers are sales professionals with a heart and mission, and there is a poor perception of sales professionals. He hopes over time the perception of fundraisers improves as the role they play benefits society in such an important way.
Henry “Hank” Rosso, in his powerful book, “Rosso on Fundraising, Lessons from a Master’s Lifetime Experience,” encouraged fundraising professionals to embrace a call to service as a reason for making fundraising a lifetime of work. He noted that service can be defined as the selfless process of investing ourselves, our energies, our talents and our spirit to serve the public good. Fundraisers are learned professionals, accepted as such by society.
When responding to a call, fundraisers should consider these six questions:
- 1. Who are we?
- 2. Why do we exist?
- 3. What is distinctive about us?
- 4. What do we intend to accomplish?
- 5. How do we plan to do it?
- 6. How will we hold ourselves accountable?
One section of the insightful book, “Careers in Fundraising” by Lilya Wagner, deals with many aspects of a fundraising professional. In the section titled "Confronting Negative Perceptions," Margaret Duronio and Eugene Tempel enumerated some perceptions that affect a fundraiser’s success:
- 1. Lack of understanding by the external and internal public that affects the ability for the fundraising professional to generate significant funds.
- 2. Negative public perceptions of fundraisers that use the term “used car salesmen.”
- 3. Negative perceptions of fundraising by fundraisers who question the value of the field and why they are in this field of endeavor.
Both Duronio and Tempel feel the profession is making progress, and most fundraising professionals understand the negative perceptions while moving ahead toward extraordinary success. They focus on key attributes for success, such as professionalism, commitment to the profession, collegiality, education, service orientation, special skills and knowledge that supports successful practice.
I truly believe the profession involving fundraising and nonprofit management is a calling. You must be honest, ethical, committed and dedicated to service before yourself. I am proud to be a fundraiser. Just like any profession, there are some members who give the profession a bad name, but they will come and go. I know my longtime colleagues who chose to take the same career walk feel the same way I do about our profession. It is a call to service, and our profession's perception is extremely positive!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last nine years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 25 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years. He received his doctorate from West Virginia University with an emphasis in philanthropy, masters from Marshall University with an emphasis on resource development and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with emphasis in marketing/management. Currently he is executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org.