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The Professionals: The role of fundraisers in the charity sector

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

I am proud to be a fundraiser. I started my career in the charity sector as a fundraiser and it has played a key part of every role I have held since. For me fundraising is a vibrant and exciting profession, as well as being extremely rewarding. Like so many roles it is not without its challenges, but that is part of what makes it fulfilling.

It is important to note that I refer to fundraising as a profession. It plays an integral role in charities – without fundraising tens of thousands of charities in the UK would simply not exist. Very often, however, the sector does not have the perception as being a stand-alone profession. I have had many a conversation where the word ‘fundraising’ seems to carry so many connotations that it can feel quite misunderstood and somewhat overlooked as a career.

A 2019 report by YouGov commissioned by the Institute of Fundraising considered the Perceptions of Fundraising as a Career. The total sample size was 2,623 UK working age adults aged 16 to 64. It was interesting to learn that only 14% of those surveyed thought that the fundraising sector has a professional body, such as a Chartered Institute. Which it most certainly does!

Two thirds (64%) said they don’t know much, or know nothing, about what is involved in fundraising a career. But fundraisers are people so many of us engage with every year. In 2018 65% of people in the UK gave money to charity either by a donation or sponsorship (the total amount given to charity was £10.1billion).

What is interesting to consider is how this lack of understanding of the sector may translate to charities themselves. Recent research by Claire Warner highlighted that less than a third of fundraisers think their Board of Trustees really understand what they do. One Fundraiser told Fundraising Magazine that “because lots of trustees have experienced someone fundraising from them, they may have strong opinions about it. But just because I’ve had someone perform an operation on me, doesn’t mean I know how to perform that surgery myself.”

I have always been a firm believer that in charities, fundraising should transcend through the whole organisation. For fundraising to be truly successful everyone needs to understand the role fundraising plays and be ready when an opportunity arises!

The Institute of Fundraising has some fantastic guidance for Trustees on Fundraising. Trustees may not be fundraising experts, but they need to know that it is being done properly. The Board needs to be confident that the charity’s fundraising strategy will secure a sustainable future and enable the organisation to achieve its objectives. Having someone with a knowledge of fundraising, as a profession, can be such a valuable resource on the board. But is essential that everyone has a real understanding of the integral role fundraising plays and how it is put in practice. Boards and fundraisers should be encouraged to spend time together, to discuss achievements, challenges, and best practice.

Ultimately, fundraising must be a group effort. Trustee involvement should always be strategic, targeted, and supported by the organisation's chief executive and fundraising team. Everyone in a charity has a role to play in making sure fundraising is understood and to play their part. Once the board and the team can start to see their combined efforts paying off everyone will become more confident and ready to be involved in raising funds!

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