The art of fundraising

Call centre16 July 2012

By Sophie Goodchild

How do fundraisers' social skills affect the amount of money they raise? Are their personalities defining their performance? These are some of the questions being examined by Dr Beth Breeze from the ESRC-supported Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy.

Her project is the first university-based study to focus on the behaviours and attitude of fundraisers, instead of on donors. Dr Breeze aims to identify the personal qualities of a successful 'asker', and how these qualities interact with their professional skills.

Public sector cuts mean the fundraiser’s task is more important and urgent than ever. UK charities have a combined annual voluntary income of £11 billion generated by around 31,000 paid fundraisers, and countless voluntary fundraisers.

The research project 'The Formation of Fundraisers: the role of personal skills in asking for money' is funded by a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship. It will be based on interviews with fundraisers and volunteers who have raised significant sums, as well as major donors who have given £100,000 plus. The study will also include findings from a survey of 1,000 UK fundraisers.

There is a growing literature on the technical skills and strategies involved in fundraising. This is now widely acknowledged as a profession, with qualifications, codes of practice and a professional body.

Dr Breeze, who has 10 years experience in charity fundraising, says raising money for good causes has become increasingly understood as a skillset instead of just something that anyone can do.

"Major donor fundraising is all about building relationships which are enjoyable and create high levels of trust. This is massively important because in most cases people can't see what the charity is spending the money on," she points out.

But there has been almost no research, says Breeze, into how personal skills enhance a fundraiser's performance. These skills include the charisma to attract support or the patience to develop a relationship gradually with a potential major donor, as it often takes at least 18 months between the initial introduction and the first donation.

Donors can only expect to meet the chief executive of a charity if they have given a considerable amount of money. This means that fundraisers are the only point of contact the majority have with any charity staff - so the need for them to be a good representative of their cause is increased.

In Dr Breeze's opinion, a 'good ask' is crucial in persuading donors to contribute to worthy causes.

"The main reason anyone makes a donation is because they were asked," she says. "People give because they want to achieve change, or support a cause they care about. But they're rarely proactive: they're normally reacting to a request that comes through the door, in person or even in a telethon. Fundraisers have written and shaped all those requests.

"The US is the most philanthropic country in the world. We need to ask why that is. My view is it's all about how well and how often they're asked. US philanthropy is thriving because US fundraising is thriving.

"The past decade has seen a lot of investment in building a stronger culture of giving in the UK, but it's time we invest in developing a better culture of asking in this country," Dr Breeze concludes.