OPINION: Servants’ exit – Why are some people trying to sever the connection between fundraising and philanthropy?

Adrian SargeantSome of the greatest thinkers about charitable giving have described fundraising as the servant of philanthropy. So why, asks Adrian Sargeant, is there now a movement that claims there is no link between them at all?

The recent report into European philanthropy education published jointly by Cass Business School and the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy  begins with a definition of what the authors see as ‘philanthropy’ and its relationship with related fields.

The report – which aims to “to illuminate the scale and scope of philanthropy education in Europe today and highlight some of the key issues affecting the future development of the field” – argues that philanthropy is a “source of income for the non‑profit sector” that is distinctive in its own right. The authors counsel “vigilance” in guarding against any “conceptual slippage” that might occur if the topic of fundraising were to be included in the domain of philanthropy. This, they feel, would lead to paradigmatic dissonance and somehow confuse students of philanthropic studies as a consequence. They see the “institutions, traditions, values and norms” of philanthropy as quite separate from fundraising, the latter (from their perspective), having no place in a philanthropic studies degree.

“Fundraising and philanthropy both have a place in the domain of philanthropic studies and many scholars are rightly focused on the fascinating space where the two overlap.”

They further argue that this omission does not seriously hamper their review of philanthropy education in Europe, since they find that “university‑based fundraising courses and training in Europe is currently limited so, in practice, the exclusion of fundraising courses does not significantly change the overall picture”.

At Plymouth we beg to differ. The notion that fundraising has no place in the domain of philanthropic studies is a nonsense, for five reasons.

1) Philanthropy can’t be divorced from the processes that solicited it

I can think of no other scenario in the social sciences, liberal arts or humanities where the study of something would be divorced from the study of the mechanisms or processes that created it. To do so would fail to provide a rounded coverage of the topic, which should be the purpose of any half-decent academic programme. Our best estimate is that well over 80 per cent of formal philanthropy is actively solicited.

It doesn’t occur in a vacuum and even when donors do decide to give spontaneously to a charity or non-profit there is normally someone charged within that organisation of stewarding that relationship, thanking them, providing ongoing feedback and conducting other fundraising tasks. How many donors give without a single contact with a fundraiser? Shouldn’t they therefore understand something of that individual’s role and how it might add value for them? Understanding the act without what gave rise to that act or its continuance is therefore deeply inappropriate.

2) Philanthropists need to know the role fundraising plays

To deny philanthropists an insight into how fundraising works also has the potential to do the sector great harm. How many philanthropists from the outset of their giving realise that fundraising will be key to the sustainability of the organisations they elect to support when their funding comes to end? How many understand the critical role that their giving might play in encouraging others to offer their support and what they might do personally in service of the organisation to multiply their impact? The fundraising body of knowledge can supply these insights.

3) Separating fundraising and philanthropy creates a silo mentality

Why would anyone really think, for example, that the study of donor behaviour, philanthropic psychology, public trust and confidence, giving vehicles and the whole domain of stewardship would not be relevant to the study of philanthropy? Even if one were to accept the proposition that philanthropy and fundraising are two different facets of giving, the dismissal of fundraising creates a silo mentality that will prevent the cross-fertilization of ideas and the creation of frameworks, models and theories that could otherwise potentially reinforce giving and the value that donors derive from it. The very strength of philanthropic studies is that it is a multi-disciplinary field. The arbitrary dropping of one such discipline therefore renders the whole field the poorer.

4) Fundraising is the servant of philanthropy

It is also worth noting that arguments raised in favour of the removal of fundraising from the philanthropic domain seem never to arise from within the profession (no fundraising academic was involved in the production of the current report, for example). A greater understanding of what fundraisers actually do, is therefore, warranted.

Fundraising has long been articulated by Bob Payton and others as the servant of philanthropy and it’s a definition that I think still has resonance today. Fundraising creates meaningful opportunities to give and done properly it can add real value for donors in their giving. To paraphrase another great fundraising leader, Hank Rosso, fundraising is the ‘gentle art of teaching people the joy of giving,’ and is thus concerned with bringing the right opportunities to the door of individuals who might be motivated to support them. Good fundraising stems from a detailed understanding of donor needs and preferences and a genuine passion for serving those needs and facilitating the change in the world that the donor wants to see. From this perspective organisations are merely the conduit through which donors actualise their philanthropic identity – and rightly so.

5  The best philanthropy education already includes a fundraising component

All of the major global schools or centres that teach philanthropy teach fundraising as a component of their programmes. The Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, for example, offers fundraising modules in both its BA and MA in Philanthropic Studies and has done so since their inception. It also proudly houses The Fund Raising School built by Hank Rosso some 30 years ago and the world’s first and only endowed Chair in Fundraising. When the overwhelming weight of collective academic thinking argues that fundraising has a legitimate place alongside the study of philanthropy, there needs to be a very strong argument to dismiss this. I see no such argument in this report.

From my perspective, the field of philanthropic studies is currently more academically vibrant and exciting than it has ever been. We have some fantastic scholars now working in the field and their students can expect a rich and highly detailed insight into the domain and its relationship with other aspects of society. It is frankly quite wrong to attempt to arbitrarily limit the scope of that field, to police student thought and to limit their experience.

The CASS/CGAP report is a very helpful and constructive review of philanthropy education in Europe and is well worth reading. I hope they will have the opportunity to revisit their findings periodically to track the field as it develops in the future. In my view though, their definition of philanthropy and what constitutes the field should be expanded to provide a much rounder perspective on philanthropic education and a perspective more in keeping with the weight of current academic thinking and practice.

Fundraising and philanthropy both have a place in the domain of philanthropic studies and many scholars are rightly focused on the fascinating space where the two overlap. To deny that knowledge to students and practitioners of philanthropy would be a serious mistake and the field would be all the poorer as a consequence.

  • Professor Adrian Sargeant is the director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, Plymouth University and Adjunct Professor of Philanthropic Studies (and former Hartsook Chair), Indiana University.

3 thoughts on “OPINION: Servants’ exit – Why are some people trying to sever the connection between fundraising and philanthropy?”

  1. Rarely have I heard anything so strange, so confused, so foolish as to separate philanthropy and fund development (or fundraising). Why do most people (or businesses or foundations or whatever) give? Because they are asked.

    Very few people sit around at home wondering to whom they should send money. We react to the telephone bill. And we react to the letter requesting a contribution to a charity.

    As I wrote in my 2008 book KEEP YOUR DONORS: “Philanthropy means voluntary action for the common good. Fund development is the essential partner of philanthropy. Fund development makes philanthropy possible by bringing together a particular cause and donors and prospects who are willing to invest in the cause. The goal is to acquire donors of time and money who stay with the charity. This is done through the process of relationship building. With the donor at the center, fund development nurtures loyalty and lifetime value, thus facilitating philanthropy. You know if your relationship building works because your retention rates rise and the lifetime value of your donors and volunteers increases.”

    The billions of dollars given annually in the U.S. — the pounds given in the U.K. — and euros given and the yen and and …. These financial resources would NOT exist without the professional of fundraising. That’s a well-rsearched fact.

    It’s past time to focus intense academic work on fundraising. Actual fundraising began centuries and centuries ago… This isn’t some casual activity but rather an increasingly documented and researched process that relies on psychology and organizational culture and neuroscience and management theories and more.

    By separating fundraising and philanthropy, we do a disservice to civil society and the NGO sector. By separating fundraising and philanthropy, we disregard what can be learned and improved and grown through academic research.

    (So what’s my background? I’ve worked in the NGO sector since 1975. I’ve written multiple books, presented at conferences all over the world. Served as an executive director, chief development officer, full-time consultant moving into my 28th year. I teach in a masters program in philanthropy and development in the U.S. I serve regularly on NGO boards, often as chair.)


  2. “Philanthropy” is a composite of many things, including chemicals in our brains and an instinct to cooperate. But philanthropy is also in vast, incredibly varied ways, across continents, the RESPONSE to a specific STIMULUS, which is fundraising, where the one and only commandment is, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” I.e., if you don’t fundraise, lots of philanthropy doesn’t happen. Push button, light goes on. How can you usefully or accurately study human behavior (philanthropy) while willfully ignoring the reason (fundraising) so much of that behavior occurs? Isn’t a study along those lines condemned to misjudgment and distortion from the start? The fact that a business school is associated with this bad and blind approach speaks ill of Cass, I think. Where’s the sharp thinking in this plan?


  3. You merely need to look at the amount of funds raised via nonprofit website “DONATE” buttons to realize it is a small percentage of the total amount raised. This is not a coincidence that a fundraiser is not involved!

    In addition, upon further inspection a fair percentage of the funds donated on-line came after interaction with a member of that charity’s team. (Most likely the fundraiser or the executive director!)

    People desire to connect with other people for so many reasons. Thankfully, philanthropy is one of them…


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