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Fundraising history/historiography

As an organised practice, fundraising started in the decade or so leading up to the First World War…maybe. But some suggest it can be traced back to middle of the 18th century. And of course, people have practised philanthropy and been asked to give to charity for a lot longer than people have called themselves ‘fundraisers’.


Yet the history of fundraising is missing. 


Yes, there are many histories of philanthropy – of giving to charity; but there are far, far fewer of fundraising – of asking people to give. There are just a handful of book chapters, some blogs and one or two (often out of print) books. And what there is mainly focuses of fundraising in Britain and America. And it adopts the ‘Great Man’ approach to history, chronicling the ideas and initiatives put in place at various times by a handful of influential men (they are all men).


What we are missing are historical analyses that try to put fundraising in its social and cultural contexts, and answer (or at least try to answer) questions such as the societal conditions that enabled organsied fundraising to emerge and take off, or the reasons some people have seen it as a career and some have not.


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The purpose of this project is therefore as much to consider the historiography – how history is studied and written – of fundraising, and the questions it throws up, and how different ways to think about the actual history of fundraising can give us different insights, as it is to fill in the factual gaps in the historical record of fundraising.


The project will be run as a study or discussion group. Some possible outputs from this project are: 

  • A statement or manifesto about the study of history of fundraising

  • A series of research questions that establish the research agenda for the study of fundraising history

  • Researching and producing an ongoing timeline/chronology of fundraising’s history by filling in more historical facts

  • Widening the net of fundraising’s great/remarkable people

  • Start a resource/library of articles and books that cover fundraising’s history and signpost people to them

  • Start a regular discussion group

  • A series of blogs by group members on historical matters that interest them

  • More formal/in-depth papers on research questions

  • A more formal paper on historiography in fundraising

  • A webinar or symposium on fundraising history.

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More information

  • Download the discussion paper One damn ask after another: How ought we study fundraising history?  Versions are available optimised for desktop, tablet and printing.

  • We have started to compile a list of resources that focus specifically on fundraising history or some historical aspect of fundraising. You can download this resource (Excel sheet) here.

Timelines of fundraising history

  • The first timeline covers the period 1900-present day. Click on the box to go to the timeline.

  • The second timeline covers the modern era from 1500 to the end of the 19th century. Click on the box to go to the timeline.

The first sub-project the history project team has set for itself is to compile a series of timelines of fundraising history.

The team has so far selected 282 entries for the timeline – ranging from 2021 to 1500BCE, in the following categories:

  • Fundraising first or early example

  • Notable historical example of fundraising

  • Notable fundraising failure

  • Emergence of a fundraising concept or idea

  • Milestone publication

  • Fundraising professionalisation

  • Controversy/scandals/hostile media ­

  • Legislation/regulation/governance

  • Societal/cultural ideas and shifts 

  • Notable historical person or contribution.

Everything put forward for inclusion has to be suitable evidenced, and we’ve nothing in the timelines is there because something remembered it happening and is pretty sure their recollection of it is correct.

Now, 282 is way too many entries to include in a single timeline. So we are going to break up the main timeline into our: 20th and 21st centuries, early modern era (1500-1899), Middle Ages and antiquity, along with thematic timelines

The first timeline we have completed is from 1900 to the present day, containing 42 entries, which you can link to by clicking the link in the above tab, or here. This is just a representation of the full number of entries we have for this period.

Our rationale for building these timelines is not just so people can see the order in which things happened, and maybe be a bit surprised that some things happened earlier than they realised.

The timelines contain entries that we think will help us to better understand the factors that shaped our profession, which will, we hope, give us a better insight into how to make fundraising even better.

Two of our main areas of interest are the social and cultural histories of fundraising, topics that are vastly under-explored (as are many areas of fundraising history), and so the timelines are tilted more in that direction than simply providing a chronological list of when campaigns and appeals. When these are included in a timeline, it’s because they have real historical significance and enhance our understanding of how we use them today.

We might well be wrong what we've chosen to include in the timeline, particularly if we claim somethings as a ‘first’. We may have left out other things which are culturally/socially important. We don’t for a moment claim this timeline is definitive.

We’ll shortly be uploading a response form so people can suggest inclusions on the timeline. And we’ll also upload the ‘master’ timeline (it’s in Excel) so people can see the full list of 282 (and counting) entries.

Fundraising history project team

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Marina Jones

Project leader

English National Opera (UK) 

Ruby Beaumont, Fight for Sight (UK)

Giovanna Bonora, VIDAS (Italy)

Emma Doran, Ask Direct (Ireland)

Mike Johnston, HJC New Media (Canada)

Harpreet Kondel, Animals Asia (UK)

Jayne Lacny, Freelance fundraiser (UK)

Howard Lake, UK Fundraising (UK)

Sarah Lyon, Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia (Canada)

Mark Phillips, Bluefrog/Rogare Council member (UK)

Ruth Smyth, Boldlight/Rogare Council member (UK)

Daryl Upsall, Daryl Upsall International (Spain)


Rogare's history/historiography of fundraising project is supported by Rogare Associate Member Bluefrog Fundraising.

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