I have recently moved into a job in which I am no longer called a fundraiser.  I’m a development manager in higher education, and the move has been an enlightening one.  What seemed at first like different terminology, environment, networks, in the end had me seeing barriers in many aspects of fundraising that we need to start knocking down.
There are two things I’ll tackle here: why universities and charities aren’t so different, and how this and other boundaries we have set ourselves are damaging our potential.
Yes, raising money at a university seems different from doing the same thing at a charity.  But scratch that surface, and things aren’t so different after all:
  • As a corporate fundraiser, I am no longer attending staff events or cheering people on to run marathons.  As a trusts manager, I might be writing about students working on refugee camps one minute and an arts programme the next.  But in both my work at a charity and in higher education, what people want to know is the same – what difference can they make?  What long-term effect will their donation have?
  • Universities are often seen to have bigger budgets, but they are also fighting against a need to ask high figures for student placements and projects that may not show their full impact for years, while charity budgets can also vary enormously.
  • Charity fundraisers often think universities have it easier because they have committed alumni making up their database.  But alumni are no different from other members of the public – yes, they may have experience of your university, but that doesn’t mean they are going to give to it.  Just as charities have groups of major donors, some will be engaged, and some won’t.  And a much wider base of donor types is necessary fro success.
  • Universities have big projects and good stories to talk about.  But what charity doesn’t have emotional, surprising, urgent stories?  If you’re here, you’re probably passionate about yours, and tell your own great stories.
  • Universities can give honorary degrees – but charities can celebrate their donors too, with events, with special membership packages, with good, personalised stewardship.
  • In my experience, both charities and universities face the same problems: getting the entire organisation behind fundraising, encouraging wider staff members to share their needs with you, engaging donors, showing impact versus financial commitment.
Which has me thinking.  Since coming into higher education, there is a general sense that I have moved into another world, that my experience is relevant but that the network I built and courses I attended are helpful, but no longer as relevant.  Now, though, I’m starting to think that boundaries like this are holding us back.  Here’s why:
  • As Leon Ward debated in a recent article on this website, I believe it is time that charity careers outside London were seen as equally relevant and viable.  In the social media savvy 21st-century, we are imposing barriers that don’t need to be there by focusing on the capital.  By ignoring what is going on elsewhere, we are missing opportunities to learn. 
  • I believe that I have more ideas and knowledge about fundraising now that I have worked in charities and higher education.  There’s plenty we can share and teach each other.  By existing in two camps and assuming the other can’t help us, we are narrowing what we can learn and achieve.
  • Similarly, as a corporate fundraiser I have learnt a lot from business leaders, people moving into management, people making career plans.  That their career was different from mine doesn’t mean their challenges aren’t similat – indeed, sometimes their different perspective has taught me even more.
  • Whatever you are raising money for, the donor should remain the focus.  In today’s world of personalised and interactive technology, donors tailor their interests and will support many different causes.  We need to adjust for them, so our own categories of donor type and preference need to bend and break.  My cause and yours may not be opposites anymore.
We’re missing opportunities if we don’t share.  Our own categories of job roles, job sectors, donor types, and ways of giving are holding us back.  As ‘millennials’ change the way they receive information and interact, the best way for us to keep up is to consider changing how we categorise information and how much we are willing to interact.
So this is a call to arms of a sort.  We need to share.  We need to use platforms like CharityConnect to suggest new ideas and talk to each other.  We need to mix in different groups, we need to work cross-charity and cross-organisation, and think beyond boundaries we may not even realise we’ve set ourselves.  Set yourself a target of finding out what you can learn from someone in a completely different role from yours – a corporate account manager, an alumni expert, a legacy fundraiser.  Think bigger than your city, your sector, your role.
If we are going to move forward, the best thing we can do is be open, and keep talking.  Make time, and get outside your comfort zone.