Why celebrating fundraising matters: reflections on judging the National Fundraising Awards

14/03/2024 | by Professor Beth Breeze, director of the Centre for Philanthropy, University of Kent

I’m writing this blog after leaving an all-day meeting for the judges of the National Fundraising Awards. It was a privilege to be asked to help with judging this year, and my head is buzzing with all the fantastic examples of fundraising brilliance and resilience that we have been discussing.  

Between the eight judges we read 222 nominations across 12 categories, every one of them lovingly written by someone impressed by the quality of work – paid and volunteer – being done to bring in the resources that good causes need to be able to pursue their mission. 

Fundraising belongs to all of us, so I want to share three reflections after sitting in the judging hot seat… 


A front row seat on fundraising excellence

Firstly, what an absolute pleasure it was to have a front row seat on fundraising excellence. It is no exaggeration to say that there were no bad submissions, and that we had to work very hard to identify those with slightly higher ratings on the blow-your-socks-off-ometer.  

I hope the winners enjoy their moment of recognition when their names are called out at the ceremony on 3 July, but every nominee can feel proud that they were in the mix. And as a profession we can all feel proud to be part of a community that is creative, hard-working and successful in finding myriad ways to nurture the philanthropic impulse that fuels big and small charities, serving every conceivable cause, across the UK and beyond. 


Fundraising is a necessary activity to nurture generosity

This is why my second reflection is a reminder of the sheer breadth of organisations and activity across our sector. It may be a tired adage to note the impossibility of comparing apples and oranges but it’s nonetheless true when it comes to fundraising.  

How do we weigh the impact of a tiny charity securing its first CRM against a mid-size charity hiring a dynamic new staff member against a major charity securing a significant new major donor or private sector partner? How to compare an international charity securing thousands of new committed donors against a UK charity recruiting hundreds of new fundraising volunteers against a regional charity identifying dozens of new legacy pledgers? The answer is that we can’t.  

None of us judges believe that fundraising excellence can be assessed by entirely objective criteria, but we do agree that highlighting examples of diverse best practice is worth doing because it is encouraging and inspiring, and because it offers a rebuttal to critics who see fundraising as a nuisance rather than a necessary activity to nurture generosity. 


Celebrating the fundamental importance of asking 

Which takes me to my third and final reflection: that the benefits of celebrating effective and ethical fundraising go beyond the named winners. What we are doing with the National Fundraising Awards is celebrating the right to ask, and the fundamental importance of asking. When people doubt the value of fundraising (as, let’s be honest, they often do) I share one of my favourite quotes from Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity International which has housed 59 million families across the world. He said: “I have tried raising money by asking for it, and by not asking for it. I always get more by asking for it.”  

If the fundraising cynic then questions why we are so obsessed with raising money, I have another great quote ready. This one is from Basil O’Connor, fundraiser in chief for the March of Dimes which helped fund the polio vaccine. He said: “We do not exist to raise money. We do have to have money to exist. That is the whole difference”. 

It has been an honour to help celebrate colleagues whose immense hard work, creativity and success in asking for money is enabling good causes to carry on making a difference to our society. Bravo to all those nominated and look forward to seeing the winners at the awards ceremony!