Today, the fundraising think tank Rogare published “Less Than My Job’s Worth.” In this important “green” paper – a paper created for discussion – Rogare’s director Ian MacQuillin exams the questions “is fundraising a profession?” and “does it matter if fundraising isn’t a profession?”

Does fundraising have the hallmarks of a profession?

I’ve long been a proponent of viewing fundraising as a profession. I’ve blogged about subscribing to fundraising publications. And I’ve encouraged nonprofit leaders to ask their fundraisers what books they’re reading, periodicals they’re subscribed to, and what training they’re getting. But reviewing MacQuillen’s explorations of ways to define “profession,” I appear to have gotten it wrong.

In the paper, he reviews traditional ways of defining a profession – think law, medicine, or engineering – including qualifying criteria like:

  • organizes itself into some sort of professional body
  • has ethical codes
  • the community controls entry into the profession
  • and has an authority that allow clients to rely on the professional’s judgement.

So fundraising is a profession, right?

You may say, “Wait! There is a professional body: the Association of Fundraising Professionals.” To which I’d answer,”Then why is there also the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy?” There are organizations positioning themselves as central, but none are clearly the center yet. This is particularly clear in the case of the Institute of Fundraising’s complete lack of leadership in the last two years as the press and politicians in the UK ran amuck, proposing arduous fundraising regulations to combat perceived wrongs that didn’t even exist.

And you may say, “But there’s a code of ethics with AFP.” There is, but anyone can say “I’m a fundraiser” even if they don’t subscribe to that code. No one is “barred” from entry if they are unethical. They can still call themselves a “fundraiser.” (And, unfortunately, many still do.)

Do people trust the authority of fundraisers?

Think about the authority issue. When was the last time you heard a nonprofit CEO tell a fundraiser, “No. You will not raise money that way. You’ll do it my way”? This happens all the time. And impoverishes nonprofits. You’d never unilaterally tell your accountant or physician they were not going to do what they know to be most effective. You may discuss and ask for a second opinion. But you’d have a level of trusting their judgement.

The lack of trust of fundraisers is probably most damning of all.

Does it matter?

Honestly, while I’ve advocated to fundraisers that we need to be professionals, I’ve cringed when fundraisers try to beat their chests and tell others that fundraising is a profession. It too often sounds like less like professional pride and more like kids having a temper tantrum in the supermarket.

But given some of the points in this green paper, it’s vitally important that fundraising intentionally grows into a profession.

As nonprofit leaders and fundraisers, we ought to push for the research like that is being done through Rogare and the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy. In fact, that is why I am a member of Rogare’s International Advisory Panel. There has been too much “fundraising by anecdote” and too little real research into what works. Most of us trying to create a profession of fundraising have borrowed from business, economics, sociology, anthropology, and neurology. But for fundraising to emerge as a profession, we need to transcend this haphazard cobbling together of theory and practice and create a dedicated body of research specifically of fundraising.

A profession of fundraising will protect donors. Much of the harm done to donor relationships is done because “anyone” can fundraise. True fundraisers know that fundraising only works if the donor is cared for and the nonprofit is cared for. It’s not mugging. It’s not begging. And it’s not shaming donors into giving.

What do you think?

I believe fundraising is hurting itself with it’s lack of professionalism. What about you? The green paper is intended to spur a focused conversation. I’d love to know your comments here. And I’d love to have you read the entire green paper. You can get it for free at:
Less than my job's worth

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