One day last week I had a thought-provoking chat with one of our Shelter street fundraisers. He made me feel proud and inspired. When I tweeted about it, I was pretty surprised to get an email saying CEOs rarely big up their fundraisers, and asking for this blog. If it’s true that charity CEOs undervalue fundraisers, there are big problems ahead.
Fundraising is hard. That street fundraiser was out in the cold, and had dealt with a lot of “no”s that day. All fundraising involves two significant psychological and emotional challenges: accepting rejection, and asking for money. Fundraisers need resilience. So they deserve both support and appreciation for doing a tough job. But that’s just the start.
If you work for a charity, you’re a fundraiser. If you don’t consider yourself one, then you’re definitely not a good one, and that’s bad news for anyone who depends on your charity.
At Shelter, the last thing we need is an isolated fundraising department. Our goal is far too important and ambitious for that. We exist to defend the right to a safe home. Our services give life-changing support for people whose right to a safe home is denied or under threat. On top of that we are campaigners and fundraisers. All of us.
We reckon we need a movement of at least 500,000 people to get the country out of this housing crisis that has become a national emergency. If we can’t get the people who work for us to pull together, the chances of building a movement don’t look good.
Our fundraisers defend the right to a safe home every day, no more and no less than their colleagues in policy, campaigns, digital, and for that matter human resources, finance or anywhere in the organisation.
Our Executive Leadership Team and trustees have been out fundraising, and I don’t just mean meeting major donors and senior corporate partners. I mean conversations on the doorstep, on the street, with buckets at tube stations. Our fundraising awayday included people from other departments and even from other charities – and most importantly it included donors and supporters, people the whole organisation needs to understand and value.
We’ve joined fundraising and retail together into one department, but the blurred lines don’t stop there: our shops will be fundamental to building that 500,000-strong movement, bringing Shelter into communities, supporting both our services and our campaigns.
At Shelter we are nowhere near perfect (yet!). But what I hope all our people understand is that our voluntary income is what we buy our freedom and independence with. The more we want to empower, innovate, speak truth to power, the more voluntary income we need.
Fundraising is at the heart of the very idea of charity – in its original meaning of love for our neighbour. Charities give people the opportunity to contribute to a better world; a world in which we all help others in their hour of need. In the age of public sector funding contracts, we can too easily forget that our charities were founded to be the connection between people who need help and people who want to help. That connection is what charities uniquely offer, what makes us a critical part of a good society. And it’s our fundraisers who make that connection real.
The IoF’s Introduction to Fundraising Course provides a practical introduction to the profession covering basic principles and best practice and is perfect for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of fundraising.