OPINION: Do you think fundraising is as exciting as a four-winged dinosaur?

If you can get as excited about your profession as palaeontologists do about animals that sound like they belong in a fairy tale, Ian MacQuillin want you to join Rogare’s new Critical Fundraising Network to take Rogare’s work to the next level.

My first intellectual love – the first thing ever to pique an intellectual curiosity in me – was dinosaurs. Of course, I wasn’t the first five-year old boy to fall in love with dinosaurs. But that love has stayed with me all my life (and was the reason I did a geology degree). 

A couple of my shelves are given over to publications about dinosaurs, and that collection increases by a couple of new books every year. A recent addition was The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte, one of palaeontology’s new young guns.

Palaeontologist Steve Brusatte, looking uncharacteristically bored.

One word in particular recurs throughout Brusatte’s book – ‘excitement’. He’s excited by the discoveries he makes. He’s excited about visiting new sites and places. He’s excited when his research and work takes in him new directions. He’s excited by the general excitement being generated in dinosaur research right now. Sometimes he gets so excited that he can’t sleep. And he’s excited by the people he works with and bounces ideas off.

This is what he has to say about the palaeontologists engaged in cutting edge research into dinosaur evolution:

“It’s been my great privilege to be part of this excitement – as one of many young palaeontologists from across the globe, men and women who came of age in the era of Jurassic Park. There are a whole bunch of us twenty- and thirty-something researchers, working together with our mentors from the preceding generation. With each new discovery we make, each new study, we learn a little more about dinosaurs and their evolutionary story.”

Now, dinosaurs are, indeed, very exciting.

And so is fundraising. Maybe it’s not as exciting as discovering a four-winged flying dinosaur (yes, such creatures did exist), but it is exciting – at least I think it is.

A four-winged dinosaur – this one is called Changyuraptor and the one in the main image is Anchiornis. They are almost as exciting as a free pen in a direct mail pack.

I felt this when I first entered the fundraising profession as a journalist 20 years ago. OK, so for a lot of the time, the profession didn’t – and still doesn’t – actually flex its intellectual muscle, and seemed content to focus on the ‘doing’ of fundraising, rather than the ‘thinking’ about what it was doing and why it was doing it. But there were and are so many fascinating questions the profession could think about.

It’s why I set up Rogare – to spend more time thinking about those questions that we don’t spend enough time thinking about. But Rogare is not here just to think about stuff. We’re also here to generate excitement about thinking about stuff – as Rogare Council member Nigel Harris puts it, to pique an ‘intellectual curiosity’ in the fundraising.

This is one reason why Rogare has been undergoing a revamp of our volunteer structure over the past six months, which is fully detailed in our new publication Rethinking Fundraising, which also sets out our twin objectives of to build a richer knowledge base for fundraising and change the profession’s culture of learning, along with detail on our Critical Fundraising approach and our Theory of Change for fundraising.

We have replaced our International Advisory Panel with the new Critical Fundraising Network, a network of people who will contribute to Rogare’s ongoing objective to rethink fundraising through our various projects and initiatives. We’ve now organised our work into three types of initiatives: Knowledge Collectives, Research Projects and Research Centres. You can find out more about how this different types of project work and what they are set up to achieve in Rethinking Fundraising or on our website.

To help run Rogare, we also have the Rogare Council, which compromises our most committed volunteers, who help in matters such as communications, fundraising, governance and events, as well as contributing the substantial brainpower more generally. 

What we want to do now is find many more fundraisers to join the Critical Fundraising Network and help us take our research and work to the next level by getting involved in our Knowledge Collectives and Research Projects and, if you really want to commit, the Council.

To help you think about whether the CFR Network is right for you, I’ll ask you two questions.

First, does fundraising excite you? Do you thrill to the idea of passionate debate about fundraising’s complex and sophisticated issues? Do ethical dilemmas in fundraising make your pulse quicken? Does thinking about how to meet donor needs, and whether doing so might have any unintended negative consequences, make your heart-beat faster? Does coming up with new ways to argue against ideological attacks on fundraising give you butterflies in your stomach?

Rogare Council member Ashley
Belanger says she has ‘found her tribe’ at Rogare. We might be your tribe too.

If so, you’ll find other people who share that excitement in the Critical Fundraising Network. Rogare Council member Ashley Belanger says in a new blog that she has found her ‘her people’ at Rogare: “It’s a forum for ideas, intellectual banter, critical thinking, and seeking. This is my fundraising tribe.”

And second question: are you a thinker? In fact, are you an overthinker? We are fairly often criticised at Rogare for ‘over’ thinking things. We actually regard this as a compliment. Because you can’t overthink something until you have thought about it the required amount, and so many issues and challenges in fundraising are ‘under’ thought.

So if you think and think hard, if you challenge, delve, critique, question, and then having done that, think again, then come and have your thinking challenged in the Critical Fundraising Network, and challenge the ideas and thinking of other members. The types of conversations you’ll find yourself engaged in will be a  “lightning strike moment”, which is how Esther Kwaku describes it.

If you are a passionate thinker who is genuinely excited about fundraising – whether you’re a twenty- or thirty-something or one of the preceding generation – then join us. Get in touch directly with me or reach out to one of our Council Members on LinkedIn. 

As Ashley Belanger says, Rogare and the Critical Fundraising Network will not be for everyone, but they are for anyone – particularly anyone who can get as excited about fundraising as they can about a four-winged flying dinosaur (and who wouldn’t be excited about that!?).

Ian MacQuillin is the director of Rogare – The Fundraising Think Tank.

For more information about joining Rogare’s Critical Fundraising Network, click here.

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