By Kathleen Provost
As a professional fundraiser, I believe I have the responsibility to affect social change. As such, the very definition of “having a responsibility” means: to be an authority or a leader, therefore an influencer in a social setting. Today more than ever, as an unprecedent pandemic unfolds and affects an exceptionally high proportion of society’s members, fundraisers ought to affirm the role they play in society and become social protagonists.
The real definition of a fundraiser
Fundraising has been associated with many verbs over the years. Some of us may recall the profession being compared to selling, negotiating, partnering, merchandising, promoting or marketing, and even begging. But fundamentally, fundraising is the process of seeking and gathering voluntary financial contributions by engaging individuals, businesses, charitable foundations, or governmental agencies. Fundraisers seek financial support for a specific objective or goal. Though some individuals may perceive the role of a fundraiser as one of acquiring a donation or an altruistic gift for a charitable purpose, fundraisers are responsible for much more than the execution of a specific task associated to a function of their roles.
Fundraising is really about acquiring these contributions for a purpose. Fundraisers will facilitate the support of a specific goal, a destitute objective, or an urgent project. However, to successfully accomplish this mandate, fundraisers need to be convinced of the virtues of such need. Fundraisers will always ensure the benefits are real and tangible to all involved.
Yes, the donors will make an altruistic contribution for something they value; the receiving individuals, or institutions, can fulfilled their mandates with the support of such contributions, but what benefit does the fundraiser experience? For fundraisers, their motivations are more than facilitating the acquisition of something, their motivations are principled motivations. The field of fundraising is also known as the field of “development” or “advancement”. So, I ask: what are fundraisers really developing or advancing?
The purpose of the fundraiser in society
As I write this column, we are faced with an unprecedent pandemic affecting each and every member of society. Pandemics have occurred throughout history and societies have dealt with them in different ways. In comparison, those societies were not digitally connected worldwide as we are today. Secondly, though we are still puzzled as to the how we will stop or cure the COVID-19 outbreak, we can comfort ourselves in the learnings we have from previous occurrence that can help us ‘flatten the curve”, a privilege our ancestors did not possess.
Whichever way you define a society, we come together as individuals and form different societal gatherings in a number of ways. As a result, each individual has a vested interest in the success and well-being of the society to which they belong. Those gatherings can be geopolitical, or they can be communities of people with similar lifestyles or interest. Whatever way a society is “identified” fundraisers play an essential role in these societies because they usually facilitate prioritizing the contributions of some, towards the benefit of others. The pressing agenda items in a given society, be it: research, homelessness, diversity, health, education, climate change, or something else, become the chosen priority items for which the fundraiser will work to gather support. Fundraisers help bring to the forefront societal issues, that may otherwise not become a priority for the members of a given society.
As fundraisers, we are used to playing a leadership role and leading by example. Fundraisers are the first to make donations in support of a specific project or cause. Fundraisers execute early-on in their life their planned gifts because they understand the meaning of legacies. Fundraisers often commit to re-occurring gifts because they understand the sustainable needs of particular social agencies. And fundraisers always lead the path by creating opportunities for others to become champions of valued causes.
The need for a social protagonist
Every individual has an important role to play in their society. Fundraisers chose to be a central character in a more-or-less ordered community and lead when many feel dis-empowered by a challenging or even paralysing phenomenon — as we are experiencing with today’s pandemic.
To facilitate relationships between key societal actors, such as donors, corporations, agencies and individuals in need, or organizations delivering front-line services, fundraisers exhibit devotion and commitment for a specific outcome. Fundraisers can influence social priorities, and community involvement that impact the lives of many. When we do what we have promised, or what we have committed to do, fundraisers become reliable and trustworthy individuals.
I have heard fundraisers labelled as “the good guys”. I say fundraisers are protagonists. We lead by example and appeal to all societal players to take on an active role. In doing so, fundraisers can boost a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. All societies need protagonists to help build on their aspirations and dreams. In today’s circumstances, more so than ever.
At the beginning of the 1900’s, Reverend Dr. Moses M. Coady (1882-1959) played a key role in the development of the Antigonish Movement. A movement that used adult education to create ‘study clubs’ for ordinary Maritimers providing them with an opportunity to critically analyze the dynamics keeping them poor and to develop possible solutions. He believed; “If we are wise, we will help the people everywhere to get a good and abundant life… to become masters of their own destiny.”
Fundraisers have a role to play in Rev. Moses Coady’s vision of an abundant life for all. We can fundraise to acquire a donation for a charitable purpose and help some become masters of their own destiny. Fundraisers can also “advance” social priorities and play a leadership role in their community.
Fundraisers can be that social protagonist.
Kathleen A. Provost, CFRE is currently the Campaign Director at St. Francis Xavier University. She brings over 25 years of fundraising experience within the charitable sector. She has been a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) since 2007, and a long-time member and volunteer for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). She writes this column exclusively for each issue of Foundation Magazine.