Adrian Sargeant has been awarded Civil Society's Fundraising magazine award for Outstanding Contribution 2010. The first academic to win the award talks to Celina Ribeiro about what it means, and what challenges he sees ahead for the sector.
Adrian Sargeant’s email signature reads like the periodic table: “MBA, DipM, PGDip IM, Cert Ed, F Inst F, FCIM, FIDM”.
The world’s first and only full professor and chair of fundraising is undoubtedly the most qualified of any individual to have been awarded Fundraising magazine’s Outstanding Contribution award. If you’ve ever been to a conference or read a fundraisingrelated publication, you’ve probably come across Sargeant.
In over two decades in fundraising academia, a discipline he has helped forge, he has presented at more than 150 conferences, penned a number of books, more than 120 articles and reports and edited the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing. He founded, authored and maintains CharityFacts.org, helped develop the National Occupational Standards for Fundraising, advised the Home Office on how to boost individual giving and is working with the Institute of Fundraising on its next phase of fundraising qualifications. In short, Sargeant is probably the busiest non-fundraiser in fundraising.
The Robert F Hartsook Professor of Fundraising, from Indiana University, is also the first academic to be awarded Fundraising’s Outstanding Contribution award. But the judges of the award had no hesitation in breaking with tradition:
"Adrian Sargeant has done more to make the profession of fundraising respectable than anyone I know"
- the words of judge Andrew Scadding, chief executive of the Thai Children’s Trust.
"There are lots of people who’ve headed big fundraising departments at big charities, but there’s only one Adrian Sargeant," he added.
Pauline Broomhead, chief executive of the Foundation for Social Improvement, agreed Sargeant has been fundamental to the professionalisation of fundraising: "This guy has done a tremendous amount... Generations are going to be able to benefit from what he’s done," she said.
Assistant director of fundraising at Mencap, Michael Naidu, agreed that Sargeant’s contribution to fundraising has, indeed, been outstanding, however said the UK sector should be able to support such talent, rather than having to see people such as the professor leave for the United States: "It’s a shame he had to leave here to do what he has to do. It’s an indictment on our sector."
But whether he resides on this side of the pond or the other, Fundraising is delighted to celebrate Sargeant’s career and contribution with this award.
An interview with the winner...
This is the first time an academic has won this award. What does that mean to you?
This award sends a message to me that I’m practically relevant. That’s always been my goal: that my research is academically interesting and offers some practical value for fundraisers. It’s that message that they value what I do. Hopefully I won’t be the last [academic]. Hopefully there’ll be other people who come along and do some other research and develop fundraising education.
How do you see the fundraising community’s relationship with academia?
What’s nice about our sector is that people are very willing to share in a way that you don’t find in the corporate world. It’s not easy to do, and I don’t think you could do it in any other sector. It’s just the willingness of fundraisers to get involved and participate.
What have been the major changes in the sector over the course of your career?
People were always willing to give researchers access, but I think when I first started they were sceptical of what the academic community might be able to offer fundraising. I think that’s changed. The other big thing over the course of my career is the recognition now that it is helpful to have a qualification in fundraising. When I started there wasn’t a qualification in fundraising, the Institute didn’t have a certificate – there was really nothing you could do if you wanted to study fundraising. We’ve changed quite dramatically over the last few years. The Institute’s certificate is taken quite seriously and I suspect will be more so in the next couple of years.
What are you most proud to have achieved?
CharityFacts.org is one of the things I’m most proud of. Probably the sector could be making more use of that, and I think maybe will over the next few years. One of the things that really makes a difference to giving is the level of public trust in the sector – we’re awash with regulations in fundraising, but that’s not really the way you would go about building trust. One of the barriers we needed to overcome in fundraising is to explain to people how fundraising works so that when they bumped up against the reality of how fundraising works, they weren’t shocked. The thrust of CharityFacts is to educate members of the public and journalists about the realities of how fundraising works.
What will you be working on in the future?
The next big thing I want to work on is the whole concept of identity and, in particular, what identities we’re expressing when we support organisations because that really is one of the big drivers of donor behaviour. It appeals to me because it’s a mechanism for growing the giving pie but not by exploiting people. It’s growing the giving pie by enhancing how good people feel about making their donations. It’s what we should be doing in fundraising really. It’s not about twisting people’s arms. It should be about understanding more about what they’re trying to say when they give to our organisations, and then adding value for them after that. Typically when you begin to play with these identity ideas you can increase the amount people give by between 10 and 20 per cent. But the positive thing is that when you look at how people feel, they all say they feel better about themselves for giving. So it’s a real win-win.
What challenges are the sector facing right now?
The other big thing that we have to do is to encourage other academics to think about and to conduct fundraising research. There shouldn’t be just one chair in fundraising on the planet. It’s a huge industry worldwide and we should be encouraging other people to come along and get involved and work in our sector. We need to encourage grantmaking trusts to think about encouraging research in these areas. No one is making that their mission right now, and I see that as a glaring gap. Potentially you could make a hell of a difference just by aiding organisations to do a better job of fundraising. If you could put just a little bit of money into that and improve the amount of money organisations were able to get out of their other donors by say 10 per cent across the board, then that would make a huge difference to the sector.
Are you hopeful that will happen?
I think the time now is right because of a general shift in that more foundations are now interested in systemic change, they’ve bought that. So it’s just a matter of persuading them that investing in fundraising would be a sensible thing to do. Giving really hasn’t changed much in 50 or 60 years really. We’re no more generous today than our parents or grandparents were despite the efforts of successive generations of fundraisers. Partly that’s because we haven’t really understood why it is that donors give and how we can enhance the value of the giving. I think the key to growing giving is to enhance the quality of the donors’ experience, and then you’d get the pie grown. So really we should be focusing on that. That would be so exciting.