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The Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University in the UK recently published an article titled “What is Critical Fundraising?” which discussed the need for fundraisers to embrace “critical and analytical thinking, consistent and coherent debate and argument, and a scientific approach to evaluating research.”

This article got me thinking about the overall public perception of fundraisers.

One paragraph in particular jumped out at me:

We haven’t always approached some of the biggest challenges with this quality of inquiry. Problems like the criticism of face-to-face fundraising; the continued poor public perception of fundraising; debates and questions around self-regulation; or the introduction of new concepts such as ‘stewardship’ and ‘innovation’ into fundraising. The result has often been inertia or stagnation of the debate leading to little progress being made in successfully tackling the challenges.

Those who truly understand the nonprofit sector know that professional fundraisers are truly the driving force behind the billions of dollars that fund philanthropy worldwide.

But where does this criticism and poor public perception come from?

And is it the reason why fundraisers are hesitant to announce their chosen profession? Is it the reason why a “culture of martyrdom” is so pervasive?

Fundraisers aren’t the only ones

I worked primarily in sales and marketing for most of my early business career. I often heard sales professionals using just about every other word possible except “sales” and “professional” when introducing themselves.

Those individuals felt that they had to use other words because of the poor perception of the sales profession.

My perception changed based upon my close relationship with a lifelong sales professional who had over fours decades of service. Not only did he never shy away from introducing himself as a “sales professional,” he described himself the following way:

“My profession is to spark nearly every financial transaction fueling the growth and sustainability of all commercial businesses!”

What if fundraisers described themselves with such fervor and pride?

Fueling the mission of a nonprofit is something to be proud of

During a luncheon gathering last week, a reporter from a local paper asked me why I so loved working with fundraisers. My reply was rapid and succinct:

“Because they are sales professionals with a heart and a mission!”

Over thirty years ago, these unbelievably dedicated and extremely passionate individuals earned my respect. Every single professional fundraiser, as well as most volunteer fundraisers, should be so proud of what they do. The transactions they spark drive the mission of nearly every single nonprofit in the world. In addition, the enduring benefits they bring to the mission recipients are only equaled by the pure joy flowing back to the donors!

My hope is that this sentiment becomes the public perception, but only time will tell.

What do you think we can do to improve the public perception of fundraisers? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

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Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman.
Jay Love