David Lacey: ‘Working class fundraisers should feel proud of their roots’

11 Oct 2022 Interviews

David Lacey discusses why he decided to set up a network for working class fundraisers and the barriers people with his background face in the charity sector

David Lacey, founder of Working Class Fundraisers

David Lacey

David Lacey set up the group Working Class Fundraisers after considering the idea for “absolutely ages”.

Lacey always assumed he would work in a shop when he was older, like his parents both did. He stumbled into working for charity and was shocked to find a lack of working class people in the space. 

He has worked in the charity sector for almost 20 years, largely in fundraising roles. He is currently director of fundraising at the Eve Appeal. 

However, upon entering the sector, Lacey felt “really out of place” when he realised his colleagues were from vastly different backgrounds. They would talk about their various holidays while he had very rarely gone abroad, or discuss their private or degree-level education that he did not have. 

Lacey admits to changing his accent since joining the sector in a bid to fit in. But the longer he’s been in the sector, the more he realised there are “more and more people” who are working class – they had just been hiding it, too.

Plans for the group

Lacey says: “I thought I should start a group just so we can all have a chat and have a chance to make some friends in the sector, but also to potentially influence policy further along the line.”

The group is still in its infancy, being set up only last month – but has already garnered over 500 followers on Twitter. 

“There's quite a strong desire for the group to challenge discriminatory practices, and to call out bad practice from different territories in terms of how they're treating working class staff.”

Currently, the Twitter page includes a link to a survey  that followers can fill in to decide how they would like to use the group.

Lacey explains that so far, people want to use it as a network and a campaigning tool to change discriminative policies in the sector. Many followers have also voted for using it to mentor and coach new working class fundraisers. 

He feels that mentoring could help retain working class people in the charity sector, who can be more inclined to leave due to feeling like they “don’t fit in”. 

Mentoring would also help working class people gain connections and build a professional network – something they are less likely to have than their middle class peers.

Discriminatory policies

Lacey feels there are a “tonne” of work policies and practices that disproportionately impact people from working class backgrounds. 

One of these is the “blanket requirement for a degree in any subject when going for a job. When you already list all of the necessary criteria, what's the need to then say you have to have a degree as well? That's a barrier for working class people. I think there are lots of other [classist practices] once you're in [the sector] as well.”

Lacey says expense policies, for example, where an employee pays for something to be paid back by their employer sometime later, impacts people on the lowest incomes. 

“Coming into the sector, I definitely got into debt with expenses – I had to put them on a credit card,” he says. 

Lacey ended up homeless after one such policy, he admits. In a previous workplace, he received some training which he had to pay the company back for after he left the role.

“In my instance, they decided to take that payment out of my last salary and they didn't warn me about it. On payday, I just didn't get it. I spoke to them and they told me why. I offered a payment plan so I could pay back in instalments – they said no, so I couldn't pay my rent. So, I was homeless. I think if working class people had been in those roles, they wouldn't have done that or they would have understood where I was coming from.”

He hopes that the group can work towards increasing working class visibility and inclusion in the sector to prevent things like this from happening. 

“If working class people can feel more proud of where they come from, then they can challenge those practices more readily. Whereas at the moment, it's a bit embarrassing to be like, I don't have the cash in my bank account to pay for some stamps and envelopes for you to pay me back in two weeks' time.”

Wider issues, such as nepotism and people recruiting in their own image also affect working class people, he says. 

If class is invisible, so are the issues arising from it

Lacey is keen to stress that “there aren't as many barriers [for working class people] as a lot of other people in the sector will be experiencing, whether they have a disability, whether they be part of the LGBTQ community, whether they're a person of colour, a woman or non-binary.”

However, there seems to be a lack of representation of working class people in the sector, he says. 

While there are people in senior positions such as chief executive who are proud of their working class background, they “may have had to mask it to try to get to that position in the first place,” Lacey suggests. 

Negative responses to the group

The overwhelming response to the group has been positive, Lacey says, but there have been a few critics. 

“There are people saying that class just isn't an issue in the sector and that the sector is inclusive enough already, or people saying that the group is divisive and not helpful.”

One critic said to Lacey that his project would be like setting up a group solely for middle or upper class people. 

“I thought – that's just the sector already.”

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector, sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here.


More on