NEWS: Cult of personality is stifling criticism and debate

The fundraising profession suffers from a ‘personality cult’ that is stifling the culture of criticism that the sector needs in order to rebuild following its summer of discontent, Rogare’s director Ian MacQuillin has said.

Writing in a blog on the UK Fundraising website, MacQuillin argues that when things are going well, fundraisers “lionize” some of the profession’s leading figures rather than focus on what they actually say. When someone does criticise their ideas, it is often seen as a personal attack on the people who formulate and promulgate those ideas.

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But he also says that when things go badly, fundraising professionals “self-censor” their criticism of those same personalities and exempt them from any personal accountability for their decisions.

“As a sector, we have failed to challenge the accepted way of doing things because we have been too focused on personalities rather than on what those personalities say or do,” MacQuillin says. “We have been too concerned that we say the right thing (what everyone else is saying) and avoiding saying the ‘wrong’ thing (which is perhaps what we should have been saying).”

He says that as fundraising attempts to rebuild itself with new reviews, enquiries and commissions, this mistake must not be repeated:

“We need to challenge everything. Nothing should be off-limits to critique and criticism and none of the accepted wisdom should be held so sacred that it is beyond question. No-one should consider themselves beyond having their ideals and principles challenged. And no-one should be afraid to challenge them.”

If an existing idea or practice is good enough, it will emerge from the criticism, probably strengthened. But if it doesn’t, “it probably wasn’t such a good idea in the first place”.

Rogare practises a mode of enquiry called ‘critical fundraising’, which attempts to ensure that all relevant theory and evidence is assessed when tackling problems and challenges.

Rogare is the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University’s Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy.

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