In the mid-1990s, although the fundraising occupation had been in existence for decades, it still was not well understood, and many people did not consider it a profession.
Beyond anecdotal stories and short reports published by the National Society of Fund Raising Executives, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ predecessor, few studies had been conducted to determine who fundraisers were, when they became involved in the field, and how long they stayed in each job. So, Dr. Eugene Tempel, then Vice President of External Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and Margaret Duronio, then Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement at the University of Pittsburgh, conducted the first-ever comprehensive national study on the fundraising profession.
Over 1,900 mail responses and 80 interviews later, the duo published the information gathered in a book, with data and stories woven together.
“It was the first time there was a data set about who fundraisers were, how they came to the profession, how long they stayed in their jobs, among other information,” reported Dr. Sarah Nathan, associate director of public programs and adjunct faculty member at the school.
Over the years, the nonprofit sector and the fundraising profession grew and changed. Dr. Tempel wished to conduct a follow-up survey to determine if some of the changes he saw taking place in the field were true. Along with Dr. Nathan, Dr. Tempel was able to conduct a follow-up to the 1996 study. Approximately the same number of respondents (1,826) answered the online survey; however, Drs. Tempel and Nathan found dramatic fluctuations in several key areas when comparing the 1996 study to the 2015 study.
One difference is the increasing feminization of the profession.
“During the 1996 study, fundraisers were 55 percent men and 45 percent women – almost a 50/50 split,” Dr. Nathan said. “The recent data set reports that fundraisers are comprised of about 73 percent women and 27 percent men.”
Another noted change is that fundraisers are coming into the profession younger.
“Half of all fundraisers start fundraising before 27,” Dr. Nathan said. “The age at which they start in the fundraising field has decreased by three years compared to the previous study. More people are choosing fundraising as a first career, which is really exciting.”
Finally, Dr. Nathan noted the increasing professionalization of fundraising.
“There are over 300 universities and colleges now that offer at least one course in nonprofit management,” she said. “We have places like the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy that specialize in philanthropy and The Fund Raising School that offers professional training. Fundraisers, no matter the type of organization they work for, are increasingly coming to that work with training in ethical practice, an understanding of how comprehensive development programs are managed, and an understanding of donor motivations. That’s good for donors and for nonprofit organizations.”
Dr. Nathan noted that the individuals in the study expressed concern over nonprofits over-emphasizing metrics (e.g. how many donor visits, total dollars raised) at the risk of discounting the long-term nature of fundraising and relationship building.
“One of the potential downsides of professionalization is that it’s become very data driven, which has created some tension between metrics and mission for some fundraisers,” she said.
Overall though, Dr. Nathan sees the growth and professionalization of the field, in addition to the growth in academic and professional training, as positive changes.
“As fundraisers, we approach our work from a position of pride,” she said. “We’re matching donors to something that they care about and that makes their communities better.”
Want more information about this study? Stay tuned over the next several months as Dr. Nathan further breaks down some of the study’s key findings, including the increasing feminization of the field and the reasons behind professionals entering the field at a younger age.
Abby Rolland is the blog content coordinator for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.