This chapter introduces the concept of a personal philosophy of fundraising, established by each fundraiser and made personal to one's own engagement in fundraising. The personal philosophy includes a set of guiding principles that are foundational to successfully engaging in fundraising. The chapter argues that the development of a personal philosophy of fundraising begins with reflection about one's own experience with, and understanding of, philanthropy. It evolves throughout careers in the field, based on job position, shifting organizational dynamics, evolution of fundraising structures and forms, and the complexities of the external environment, including cultures, in which individual and institutional donors exist.
As a result of this chapter, readers will:
- Understand the importance of developing a personal philosophy of fundraising.
- Examine personal and professional experiences in relation to who they are as fundraisers.
- Consider societal factors relevant to their philosophy, including the roles of philanthropy.
- Reflect on organizational conditions influencing their philosophy, including foundational principles of fundraising as professional work.
- Reflect on examples from the authors' philosophies.
Why a Philosophy of Fundraising?
Fundraising professionals are what is known as “boundary spanners,” functioning in the space where the organization interacts with its external environment (Kelly 1998
). They are like marketing and sales personnel in business and foreign ambassadorial staff in governments. Those who live in these roles must have the strength of character and confidence to represent the organization to its constituents, to negotiate on behalf of the organization, and to represent the views and values of constituents and donors to organizational leadership. They must become trusted agents to both internal and external parties. Thus, it becomes important for fundraisers to articulate: “I know who I am; I know what I do; and, I know why I do it.”
Early leaders in the field of philanthropic studies challenged scholars and practitioners alike to work toward and advance a philosophy of fundraising (Burlingame and Hulse 1991). Thirty years ago, Hank Rosso (1991
) offered his perspective on essential elements of ethical philanthropic fundraising based on a lifetime of teaching and reflection, the status of fundraising as an emerging profession, and society at the time of first edition of this book. His essay “A Philosophy of Fundraising” was printed in the subsequent editions and shared widely.
Today, we acknowledge the ever‐changing dynamics of fundraising in the twenty‐first century and suggest each fundraiser should have their own philosophy of fundraising based on the contexts of time and culture, study and understanding of fundraising and philanthropy, and experiences over the course of a career. This chapter will help readers develop a personal philosophy of fundraising through multiple lenses – the personal, the societal, and the organizational – and distill lived experiences, beliefs, and values. A personal philosophy of fundraising is a guiding force for a meaningful career. Throughout this chapter, the authors demonstrate the formation of a philosophy of fundraising by sharing examples from their own lives and careers.
Personal Experiences and Philanthropy
Reflection begins by looking internally. A lifetime of experiences shapes each person at any given moment in time. Formally, an individual's identity is considered “what an individual will stand for and be recognized as” (Josselson 1987
, 8). Informally, identity may be considered the key attributes, preferences, and experiences that define who we are. While each person may emphasize certain attributes in different settings, one's professional identity is inseparable from personal experiences, roles, and expectations. People do not stop being parents, for example,
when they walk into the office. Likewise, they do not stop being leaders or organizational representatives when in the grocery store. (This is especially true for those living in small towns like Sarah!)
Indeed, personal and professional identities are layered on top of lived experiences. Individuals see the world from their vantage point(s), for example, of gender identification, racial and ethnic background, and with a history of many or limited financial resources. Physical abilities, orientation, nationality, faith tradition, geography, parental status, and more shape each person and how they approach philanthropy.
The Philanthropic Autobiography
As educators, we use the philanthropic autobiography to help learners develop individual perspectives on philanthropy. The philanthropic autobiography is the place to begin developing a personal philosophy; it reveals the “roots” of our philanthropic self.
The autobiography identifies people's first memorable experiences of philanthropy as both givers and receivers, and from role models to experiences over time that help them modify, amplify, and develop how they help others. In teaching the philanthropic autobiography, we ask such questions as: “What are some of your earliest memories of philanthropy? What are some of your defining philanthropic moments? Who are your philanthropic role models? Describe the most meaningful gift you've received.” A philosophy of fundraising begins with these principal experiences.
Gene's philanthropic autobiography begins as a six‐year‐old in January 1954, when his family lost its home and belongings to a house fire. The volunteer fire department (an active philanthropy in St. Meinrad, Indiana) made a valiant attempt to save the house, but the fire had a head start, and the department failed. More acts of philanthropy followed. Members of the local parish, neighbors, and the community at large organized on all‐out effort to collect clothing and toys, to provide food, and to search for shelter. They did not think of themselves as fundraisers, of course. None had developed a philosophy of fundraising. But they achieved their goal of providing for Gene's family by engaging a large portion of the community in the collective effort. The experience opened his eyes to the role of philanthropy (a word he only learned later) in making people's lives whole. Perhaps Gene has been repaying that effort his entire life. Certainly, it is the foundation of his understanding of philanthropy as an activity focused on others.
Sarah's earliest memories of philanthropy are from the 1980s gymnasium of her parochial school and the day when volunteer parents formed an assembly line to make frozen pizzas. Students then sold and distributed the pizzas to friends and neighbors as part of an annual fundraising effort. The parents had found a unique fundraising niche that suited the times before local stores had dozens of frozen pizza options. Sarah's dad must have believed he was coaching her to “pitch” pizzas (he was a small business owner, after all), but he was really teaching her to make the philanthropic case for support. Articulating why and how pizza sales supported her education was the case for support. Like the community members in Gene's story, the parents and children would not have called themselves fundraisers or used a term like “case for support,” but that is what was happening. Sarah learned to use her voice to advocate for a cause from which she also benefited. Money raised went toward a new school playground, which volunteer parents later installed.
Individuals' experiences as givers and receivers bring to life philanthropy focused on others, which is at the core of a philosophy of fundraising.