Peter Lewis: This is what the public think of fundraising as a profession

It is intriguing to know what people think about you, simply because of the job you do. We all have our prejudices about the stereotypical banker, sales person or nurse. And the same goes for us; people who work in the charity sector.

How many times have you been asked whether you get paid for what you do? How many people assume you are a left-of-centre, socks-and-sandal wearing do-gooder? That you are likely to be late for meetings; and that you probably spend your downtime tending your organic allotment?

As for charity fundraisers, the stereotypes are different. You might be seen as someone holding a collection box at an event, or someone on commission, eagerly trying to sign someone up to a direct debit to support a cause they don’t really care about. With all stereotypes, we know they are often wrong.

But what do people think about fundraisers and fundraising as a career? We wanted to find out answers – driven by our move to becoming a chartered profession, and our need to attract a more diverse range of people into the profession.

We worked with YouGov to produce a public survey, What people think about fundraising, supported by TPP Recruitment and Charities HR Network. The statistics looked at whether age, race, religion, disability, or gender make a difference to how fundraising is perceived and understood by different people (I really encourage you to take a look at the infographics, which are available on the IoF website).

Despite fundraising going through a few hard knocks in the media, we were very pleased to see that the importance of fundraising is shining through; 78% of people said raising money for charity is important.

But there are also areas where we have work to do. In a profession where over 75% of fundraisers are women, it is perhaps not surprising that nearly one in two men agree that fundraising ‘is not for people like me’ and 10% of respondents think ‘fundraising is a job more for women than men’. But is that perception driven by the current make-up of the profession, or is it a driver of that imbalance? We need to investigate further if we are going to create a more gender-balanced profession.

One particularly stark statistic shows the misconception that you need an undergraduate degree to even get in the door – 19% said that university education is important to a successful career in fundraising. Yet we know that many of the most successful fundraisers, including the IoF’s two previous chairs – who led fundraising at the British Red Cross and Cancer Research UK – got to their positions without a degree. So we need to do more work to communicate to the public that there are many different ways to develop the skills needed to be a good fundraiser. We’re also developing a new Fundraising Apprenticeship which will help bring fundraising as a career not only to new audiences, but also show people that a degree is not the only route to a successful fundraising career.

Perceptions of salary levels in fundraising are also worrying. People, particularly BAME respondents and 16-24 year olds, saw salary levels as a disincentive to become a fundraiser. What we need to do now is better understand whether this perception is based on an understanding of earning levels and potential within the profession, or whether this is based on a misconception that salary levels are lower than they actually are.

In relation to gaining chartered status, we were pleased that people thought that this would improve their perception of fundraising and we hope to make the most of this as we pursue our chartered journey.

Finally, we were very pleased the public saw fundraising as a more positive profession than other similar ones, such as marketing and public relations. To me, this means people understand, and respond positively to the fact that we are raising money for a good cause; that there is, in effect, a “charity bounce” for the profession - and rightly so! Our members know that the engagement with the public they lead is solely for the purpose of creating a better world.

Download the infographics ‘What does the public think about fundraising’ on the IoF website.

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