What new research into arts and higher education fundraisers shows about their resilience

12 June 2020
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Research by Dr Marta Herrero and Dr Simone Kraemer about fundraisers pre-COVID-19 offers a reminder of just the types of competencies we can expect from them during the pandemic and beyond.

When much of the world went into lockdown within a week, most fundraisers across the globe moved from working within a stable and physical organisational environment, interacting with colleagues and donors face to face, to being in a situation where everyone works remotely. All interactions are now online, using Zoom and Microsoft Teams to connect with colleagues, peers and donors alike. 

The current health crisis has seen us observe the mobilisation of philanthropic funds across the world and across all sectors which not only mobilise causes but also fundraisers, the public and philanthropists alike.

This goes from universities quickly setting up hardship funds for struggling students and research funds to enable developments, initiatives by health organisations to support local communities, individual philanthropists starting major initiatives down to the paid fundraisers collaborating and sharing their ideas and practices across the globe.

Offering advice and support

Happening parallel to these new changes is the growing need for the fundraising community to offer advice and support to one another. In mid-March one webinar offered by an American Consultancy Firm reached more than 1,000 attendees from across the world and time zones via one of the latest online meeting and conference facilities. New Facebook support groups are another example of the desire for support; one reached 6,000 members in the UK alone within a few days providing a platform for fundraisers to share, discuss and debate the best ways forward.

But in this new environment where everything is in flux and changing so rapidly, there is also a need to take stock of what it is that fundraisers do, or better did, in order to carry out their jobs, what their strengths are when they work in organisational environments, what difficulties they face and how they overcome them.

Fundraising as a resilient profession

This is precisely the topic of our article in the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, where we examined the strategic understandings and competences fundraisers developed in order to carry out their daily work. Our research was based on data drawn from interviews with fundraisers working in the arts and higher education in the UK; in essence, our main finding was that fundraising is a resilient profession and practice.

One of the main tasks fundraisers have to deal with is learn how to operate in their organisational environments by negotiating and surmounting obstacles internally, within their organisations, by coordinating and reconciling organisational differences.

Gaining public legitimacy

Most of the time, fundraisers had to struggle to determine, even amongst their co-workers, the importance and value of fundraising to the organisation. That such positive perceptions are in place is crucial when fundraisers are developing, over time, long long-term relationships with their donors. Even externally, the fundraisers we interviewed agreed that they had to work hard at gaining public legitimacy for fundraising as a profession, in ways that other established professions didn’t have to.

Of course, these are all things that fundraisers already know. We have, after all, come to these conclusions by interviewing fundraisers. But at a time when they are seeking to develop new tools, to follow advice, to fundraise in such challenging circumstances, it is fitting to remember that fundraisers are resilient, they have been working in challenging environments, and that these traits, behaviours and practices are all elements of the resilience fundraisers carry with them in such an unprecedented challenging environment. We believe that this is a worthwhile reminder.

Dr Marta Herrero is from the University of Sheffield and Dr Simone Kraemer is from the University of Kent. 

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