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Philosophy of fundraising

Posing and answering fundraising’s existential questions

Most professions and academic subjects have foundational ‘philosophies’. You can find books and treatises on the philosophy of engineering, sport, linguistics, education and marketing, to name just a few.

Such ‘philosophies’ aim to build the conceptual foundations for those subjects, by posing and answering questions such as what is it, what is it for, why is the way it is, and could/ought it be done differently? Existential questions such as these go beyond a functional analysis of professional practice (what works, and how and why does it work).

For example, in fundraising, we have many studies that look at the mechanics and antecedents of donor behaviour which are built into models that will allow fundraisers to predict – within a margin of error – which asks are likely to be most successful. 

But questions about donor behaviour from a more philosophical perspective include:

  • What is a donor? How is ‘donor’ defined? 

  • Do people who give to charity even think of themselves as ‘donors’? What does it mean to be a ‘non-donor’?

  • What types of relationships between donors and fundraisers are most appropriate, and what are inappropriate? What power do donors have in their relationships with fundraisers and is that power ever abused? 

  • Are there different ways we can build and steward relationships with donors other than the way we currently strive to do it?

  • Should fundraisers always put the interests of their donors first or should other stakeholders’ interests (sometimes/often/always/rarely) take priority?

  • Are there ideological reasons why people might choose not to give i.e. to become ‘non-donors’?

We spend far less time posing, and then answering, questions such as these than we do researching what donors want and what they do.

It’s questions such as these – and many others like them – that a philosophy of fundraising would consider. There are people in our sector (both scholars and practitioners) pursuing many lines of enquiry, study and thought that could be thought of as ‘philosophical’. But these are not brought together into a coherent or holistic philosophy of fundraising, nor is there much concerted effort to build such a philosophy (something to which both marketing and public relations – fundraising’s two closest cousins – devote scholarly time and energy).

Much of what we do at Rogare already contributes to building a philosophy of fundraising because in all our work streams – even those that are focused on practice and fundraising methods – we pose these existential, philosophical questions, and try to answer them. For example, our work on relationship fundraising and donor dominance tackles some of the questions raised above, while the question of balancing the interests of donors with those of other stakeholders is the cornserstone of our approach to fundraising ethics.

We start this new work stream with the two projects:


Our work on fundraising ethics also falls within this overarching work steam, as does the project on the historiography of fundraising


In future, we aim to present ideas on:

  • What is the social role of fundraising?

  • Innovation in fundraising.

  • A new concept of ‘charitable altruism’ and how fundraisers might make use of it.

But as we said previously, almost everything we do at Rogare falls within the purview of the philosophy of fundraising in some respect.

What we are working on

We have two live project in this work stream, as well as our all our work on fundraising ethics and historiography of fundraising.

Postmodern fundraising

Different ways to think about and conceive

Dintermediated giving

Ethical issues of
giving directly to beneficiaries


Concepts, theories and frameworks for ethical practice


How ought we study the history of fundraising?

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Selected readings on the philosophy of fundraising from Critical Fundraising

  • The fundraiser’s duty to ask: A philosophical rationale – by Cherian Koshy

  • Neither amateur nor professional but something in between: the ‘Corinthian’ nature of fundraising and the problems that causes – by Ian MacQuillin 

  • Never ending story: Postmodern storytelling for postmodern donors  – by Ashley Scott

  • The history of fundraising is more complex than our simple narratives suggest  – by Marina Jones

  • Making sense of criticisms of donor-centred fundraising – by Ian MacQuillin 

  • ‘The end of donor-centred fundraising and the last fundraiser’ – by Cherian Koshy

  • Are we curious enough about fundraising? – by Nigel Harris

  • How to put beneficiaries first, without throwing donors out with the bathwater – by Ian MacQuillin

  • The ideological attack on fundraising, Part 3: Why we need an ideological defence – by Ian MacQuillin

  • The philosophical dispute between fundraising and data protection – by Ian MacQuillin

  • The donor is always right, part 1:  Is being a donor the same thing as being a consumer? – by Ian MacQuillin

  • All posts tagged ‘philosophy of fundraising’ on Critical Fundraising

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