By Genevieve G. Shaker, Associate Professor of Philanthropic Studies
“Never ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself” is common leadership advice. In fundraising this idea translates easily to, “Don’t ask others to give without giving first.”
The message is clear. Fundraisers should be givers themselves. This shows a fundraiser’s authenticity, brings added legitimacy to their “right” to ask, and puts fundraisers in donors’ shoes. But, do fundraisers live up to this advice?
To find out, I was part of a team that analyzed data from more than 1,600 U.S. fundraisers about whether they give and volunteer and how much. We discovered that fundraisers in the study were more generous with their money and time than people in general, with some nuances.
Our survey, conducted in 2015, asked fundraisers a broad range of questions about their career paths and experiences. It was one effort to continue to build knowledge about the fundraising profession and the central role fundraisers play in raising mission-central funds for nonprofits. This research, on the philanthropy of fundraisers, is one outcome of the larger project.
We anticipated that fundraisers would give differently than the general public. This is because professional norms and ethics for fundraisers include a commitment to the public good and a belief in their own responsibility to be philanthropically generous.
Our survey had limitations, including most who responded were members of fundraising professional associations (i.e., AFP, AHP, CASE), so they were part of national fundraising communities rather than fundraisers without that connection to one another. Like all other studies of fundraisers, our sample was not nationally representative. Therefore, the research suggests information about all fundraisers but is not definitive beyond our participants.
Fundraisers’ charitable behavior
We discovered that 98.5 percent of the fundraisers had donated the previous year and had given an average of US$2,359. In that same year, according to the Philanthropy Panel Study, 55.4 percent of the U.S. population donated an average of US$1,364 (includes nondonors).
This means that the fundraisers were nearly 80 percent more likely to give and gave 73 percent more dollars. When we took out people who didn’t give at all and considered only the donors in both groups, fundraisers gave 5 percent less than all U.S. donors (US$2,397 compared with US$2,514). Considering giving as a percentage of income (fundraisers’ salary), we found that fundraisers were more generous.
Shifting from donations of money to time, 82.9 percent of the fundraisers volunteered as compared to earlier Panel Study of Income Dynamics data showing that 33.7 percent of Americans were volunteers. A large number of “super volunteers” in the general public (those who volunteered at least 100 hours per year) meant the general public volunteered more hours on average annually than fundraisers (41.1 hours versus 11.0 hours).
However, when the super volunteers were removed from the calculations, fundraisers volunteered more (10.1 hours versus 5.9 hours). Interestingly, fundraisers at the lower end of the pay scale were most likely to volunteer, and volunteered the most hours, compared with those making more money.
Giving before asking
In this study, we examined what fundraisers do with their own money and time. We learned that our fundraisers were indeed philanthropists. They did what they asked of others—they gave and volunteered, often more than other people.
We concluded that the expectation of generosity is deeply embedded in fundraisers’ understandings of their work. In a chicken or egg moment, we also wondered if people who were already charitably-inclined gravitated to fundraising or if as fundraisers they became acculturated to the norms of giving. Either way, there is much more research to do about the individuals who choose fundraising as their profession.
Empowered fundraising means asking others to give with pride rather than apology, according to Hank Rosso, founder of The Fund Raising School. Knowing that nearly all fundraisers are givers will make “prideful asking” that much easier.
This blog is based on a research article published in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly that is available through IUPUI ScholarWorks, and was written together with Lilly Family School of Philanthropy colleagues Sarah K. Nathan, Patrick Rooney, Eugene R. Tempel, and Jonathan Bergdoll.