Is British politeness holding us back in fundraising?

By Amanda Rigali on

Nicola Bullen Profile

Nicola Bullen was Fellow for Soho Theatre until September 2016, and then took on the role of Grants Officer at Stonewall.

In the UK – manners matter. We say sorry when someone walks into us and would rather come up with a convoluted plotline riddled with holes than admit we simply don’t want to attend your birthday party. And there’s certainly the idea that talking casually about money is rude and altogether unbecoming. Stereotype? Perhaps.

But “researchers from University College London found that people are seven times more likely to tell a stranger how many sexual partners they’ve had…than have a chat about their income.” This got me wondering how our apprehension to talk honestly about money might be holding us back in fundraising in the UK at a time when we need to be raising more than ever. So how can we, as fundraisers, overcome this?

  1. Start a dialogue

If you want to make a change it has to start with yourself. If you’re constantly dreading the idea of a face to face ask then try and take the fear out of talking about money at all. Talk to your parents about how much they earn and their best money saving tips, if nothing else they’ll be pleased that you asked and value their opinion.

Similarly, be open with your partner and/or friends, it’s great to know that you’re on the same page money-wise. What they might think of as a cheap night out might seem ludicrously expensive to you. This will hopefully bring you round to the idea that talking about money isn’t as scary as you thought, so why should it be scary to ask? Whilst an ask of £5,000 might be a unimaginable thought for one prospect, this could be looked at as small change by another. The key is gauging which person is which and mimicking their attitudes when asking.

  1. Development v fundraising

Many organisations are shying away from the term ‘fundraising’. I think this is down to a fear of introducing yourself to a prospect as a fundraiser and watching them quietly back away from you because they think the first conversation will lead to an ask.

But is the term development causing more problems than it’s worth?

The amount of times I’ve said that I work in development, only for the person to assume that means development of artists, something akin to a producer role. This then leads to the awkward correction of ‘no, actually, I work in fundraising.’ We shouldn’t be ashamed of working in fundraising. Raising funds is what keeps organisations afloat. Let’s go retro, and bring the word fundraising back to the table.

  1. Better internal communication

Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Fellows from London and the South East were lucky enough to visit the National Trust Head Office in Swindon in early April 2016 and this was a fascinating look at fundraising in a large company. Susan Foster, the Director of Fundraising told us how she’d condensed the National Trust’s fundraising strategy into an easy to read document that fitted on one A4 side. This is a brilliant and simple resource to circulate around your organisation and a fantastic way to ensure that everyone is speaking the language of fundraising.

Ultimately what I’m trying to say is there’s no reason to be shy and no reason to be ashamed of asking for money. Worthwhile projects are in need of funding and after all, if you don’t ask, you certainly won’t get.

What do you think? Are there top tips you can share for us to get over the embarrassment of asking for money? We’d love to hear.

Posted by Amanda Rigali

Amanda is Director of Strategic Development at Cause4, and Head of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme. As well as running the Programme, Amanda runs fundraising training sessions for cultural professionals across England and offers intensive strategy support to a range of charities.

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