A mode of enquiry to help us rethink fundraising
What is Critical Fundraising?
The fundraising sector is home to some extremely committed and passionate people. But passion and commitment aren’t always enough. To solve the problems and meet the challenges the fundraising sector faces, you also need critical and analytical thinking, consistent and coherent debate and argument, and a scientific approach to evaluating research.
We haven’t always approached some of the biggest challenges with this quality of enquiry – issues such as 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.
Challenging the fundraising orthodoxy
Critical Fundraising is a concerted attempt to critically and constructively evaluate these issues and provide practical solutions to them. It is very loosely based on the idea of critical marketing, which is based on the concept of critical management studies, which is informed by critical theory.
Critical theory is the school of thought that assesses and critiques society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and humanities.
Critical marketing is espoused by marketers and marketing academics who challenge the orthodox views that are often seen as central to the core discipline of marketing.
So, while at Rogare we don’t claim a direct genealogical link with critical theory – as this is not our academic tradition – our overarching goal is to challenge, where appropriate and beneficial to the sustainability of fundraising, some of the assumptions at the heart of fundraising. We will do this by applying knowledge from areas outside fundraising/philanthropy research and practice. These include professional ethics, behavioural science, evolutionary psychology and moral philosophy.
And as fundraisers use our Theory of Change, they will use the Critical Fundraising ethos and approach to ask questions about where our theory and evidence is weakest.
Having identified such a knowledge gap, Rogare will use adopt the Critical Fundraising ethos to underpin all our research projects and other outputs, such as blogs and seminars, as we investigate areas of fundraising that are under-researched or ‘under-thought’.
Under-researched – topics where you feel there is simply not enough reliable data to inform current practice. Our aim would then be to find out what research does exist and suggest how this could be used by practitioners.
'Under-thought’ – subjects where you feel that the arguments, discussions and debates lack cohesion, substance and/or internal logic. These are likely to be characterised by the same rhetorical arguments being repeatedly used (from within the sector as well as without) without progress actually being made. Our aim is to develop new theory in order to ask better questions to get the evidence we need.
Critical thinking guidelines
Two members of our International Advisory Panel – Cherian Koshy from Des Moines Performing Arts, and Ashley Belanger of Ashley H. Belanger Consulting – have written a guide to critical thinking in fundraising. These guidelines underpin Rogare's approach to our research, and we encourage fundraisers to take a similar approach when evaluating not just our work and arguments, but the ideas presented by everyone involved in knowledge development in fundraising, whether that's presenting a case study at a conference or a major piece of practitioner research.
Critical Fundraising Forum (Facebook)
This is Rogare’s ‘window to the world’ where more than 1,000 members discuss and debate current issues in fundraising. If you would like to join the conversation on some of the most challenging and difficult question in fundraising, you can join our community here:
Join the Critical Fundraising Forum.
Critical Fundraising Blog
We explore many topics, issues and challenges in depth on the Critical Fundraising Blog. This blog is not just a place for Rogare to present the ideas and research we have been developing; it’s also were members of our network and other guest authors can present arguments to an engaged, critical readership.
Go to the Critical Fundraising Blog for the best new ideas in fundraising.
Critical Fundraising Reports
One strand of our programme to develop a richer and robust knowledge base for fundraising involves fundraisers compiling Critical Fundraising Reports for their own areas of relevance, expertise and interest. Working on these reports – using Critical Fundraising and the Theory of Change – encourage fundraisers to think critically about the challenges they face as well as raises awareness of those issues themselves.