NEWS: Rogare’s theory of change aims to change ‘copy the case study’ learning culture

  • Encourages fundraisers to ask questions about evidence and theory
  • Basis for a new ‘movement’ of critical thinkers in fundraising
  • Aim to change fundraising by ‘influencing the influences’

Fundraising’s learning culture needs to shift from a ‘copy the case study model’ to one where fundraisers ask to see the evidence and theory behind what they are told. And Rogare’s new Theory of Change for fundraising aims to provide a mechanism to allow this to happen.

The Theory of Change outlines how Rogare aims to ‘influence the influencers’ by establishing a movement of critical thinkers in fundraising who can bring about this culture change.

Rogare’s theory of change states (see graphic below):

  • By enabling fundraisers to Ask the right questions about
  • Theory and
  • Evidence
  • through Critical thinking,
  • in a mode of enquiry we call ‘Critical fundraising’,
  • we can establish a Critical fundraising movement
  • that will engender a Culture of questioning, in which we will explore
  • Under-researched issues (evidence), and
  • Under-thought issues (theory)
  • leading to Better theory and Better evidence
  • that will close Knowledge gaps,
  • and, by Influencing the influencers
  • Embed new knowledge and thinking in professional practice
  • resulting in a Paradigm shift in how fundraisers use Theory and Evidence to tackle Professional challenges.

British fundraising consultant Amanda Shepard – who as co-ordinator of Rogare’s International Advisory Panel led the group that devised the first draft of the theory of change – says:

“We have a copy-the-case study model where fundraisers learn by going to conferences to hear about how other fundraisers have succeeded. Yet just because something’s worked in one scenario doesn’t mean it will work in another.

“We’re aiming for a new culture in which fundraisers have the confidence to ask for the theory and evidence behind anything that they are told works, or is the correct best practice.”

“I think we can sum up what we are trying to do at Rogare by updating the give/teach a man to fish proverb: If you show a fundraiser a successful case study, she can use it for her next similar campaign. If you teach a fundraiser to understand the theory and evidence behind the case study, she can adapt that to suit any future campaign.”

Shepard concedes that there was some pushback on the central part of the new theory of change, with some members of Rogare’s Advisory Panel stressing the need to provide answers that fundraisers could then use in their day-to-day roles, including identifying which fundraising practices were and were not ethical. However, consensus among the panel favoured this new approach.

UK Advisory Panel member Katharina Steinkellner, head of philanthropy at the Science Museum in London, says:

“Enabling fundraisers to critically think about their professional practice and environment is key and is the only way to achieve a cultural change in the sector. Providing answers means to prolong the existing paradigm.”

And American panel member Heather Hill, vice president for advancement at Concordia College in New York state, says:

“The nonprofit sector and the environment in which it operates are both continually evolving. Questions are dynamic and can be responsive to changing states. Answers are static and would require frequent updates. As such, I think enabling funders to ask the right questions is the better long-range strategy to improve the profession.”

The theory of change will be delivered through a network of fundraisers and others engaged in the fundraising profession who have bought into to Rogare’s ideas. These include members of Rogare’s International Advisory Panel and those fundraisers who have joined and contributed to the debate in the Critical Fundraising Forum on Facebook.

Rogare’s rationale for an ‘influencing the influencers’ strategy is because the ultimate goal is so big that it can’t be achieved by trying to directly influence or change coalface professional practice, but would need to be achieved through a trickle down effect by influencing those people or bodies who will buy in to our vision, take it on board, and then reach a much wider audience through their networks.

Such influencers whom the Theory of Change would try to reach through its advocates in the critical fundraising movement could include:

  • CEOs and trustees
  • Training bodies
  • Educators (e.g. IoF Academy) and academics
  • Future leaders programmes
  • Students on fundraising courses
  • Media and bloggers
  • Fundraising umbrella and representative bodies (including regional branches and chapters).

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