Interview with Dr Beth Breeze, Centre for Philanthropy

Interview with Dr Beth Breeze, Centre for Philanthropy

Clare McCullagh Profile

Clare McCullagh was Arts Fundraising Fellow for Canterbury Festival until September 2016, and has remained at the organisations as Development Assistant.

An interview with Dr Beth Breeze, Director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent

The Centre for Philanthropy was founded in 2008 and is one the UK’s leading centres for philanthropy research, teaching and public engagement. I was delighted to be able to interview Dr Beth Breeze, the Director of the Centre, in March 2016. Beth worked as a fundraiser and charity manager for a decade before completing a doctoral thesis on contemporary UK philanthropy.

As Director of the Centre for Philanthropy, she runs a range of research projects on topics such as ‘million pound donors’, why rich people give, the skills of fundraisers and how donors choose charities. She also teaches undergraduate and master’s courses on philanthropy, fundraising and volunteering. Beth has written a wide range of research reports on issues related to charitable giving and philanthropy and co-authored books including Richer Lives: Why Rich People Give and The Logic of Charity: Great Expectations in Hard Times which was recently discussed on BBC Radio4’s <a href=" achat cialis pharmacie en" target="_blank">Thinking Allowed. 

I asked Beth to tell me a bit about…

…the centre and its teaching:


Dr Beth Breeze

Dr Beth Breeze: We very much want people like yourself who are going to be working in charities to have some input at university level because otherwise, new recruits arrive at a charity and the organisation has to do all the training – it’s always struck me as a very obvious gap.

One estimate states there are 30,000 fundraisers in the UK and the main way they gain knowledge and skills is by learning on the job or by training like the Arts Fundraising Fellows do, so it’s just completely separate from higher education. Yet universities are doing loads of fundraising now, they’ve got vibrant development offices but no teaching on the topic.

We’ve been offering a Masters-level course on ‘Fundraising and Philanthropy’ since 2012 but we haven’t yet had any students studying in the School of Arts at the University. We have taught students doing Masters Degrees in sociology, social policy, psychology and history. We also recruit quite a lot of students from the Business School because I think they realise that with a degree in Marketing or Management, they can get a job in a big charity so they’d quite like to know how it all works. It is a shame we haven’t had uptake from Arts students because if you want to run a theatre or run a museum, you need to know about fundraising.

From this September, we are offering a full Masters degree in Philanthropic Studies and it is Europe’s first so we’re very proud. The MA is delivered by distance learning so we can reach people all over the country and also people who work locally who have got to be at work and can’t be on campus for lectures.

One of the main reasons I wanted to speak to Beth was to hear more about her study on the The Formation of Fundraisers: the role of social skills in asking for money. Beth was awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship  to undertake the three-year project which finishes this year. The study explores the art of fundraising and the personality traits of successful fundraiser

The research is funded by The Leverhulme Trust, a very generous funder. Fundraising is a normal part of daily life. Most people have been asked to give, by friends and by professional fundraisers, and yet it’s not very well understood what it’s all about, who does it, why some people do it better than others.

I wanted to get beyond the typical demographic information on fundraisers (gender, age, education level and so on) to ask “who are these people? What are their personal and social characteristics”, so we can get a better handle on who makes a successful career out of asking for money for good causes.

What I’ve found is that successful fundraisers are people who are incredibly comfortable and relaxed in what we call ‘the gift economy’: they like choosing presents and gift-giving, they enjoy thinking about what someone might like, they grew up in families where giving and taking were very normal: your lawnmower is broken, you go borrow one. Their parents often did fundraising and they got involved. So they had a very natural entry into the world of asking, as opposed to people who have never had anything to do with that and for whom, the thought of asking for money just horrifies them. For these people, it’s completely normal.

I also found that fundraisers are much more likely than the average to give blood. I think it’s about an in-built sense of reciprocity: ‘I couldn’t possibly lie there taking blood, if I haven’t given it.’

BYC Seniors photo by Mark Ashbee courtesy of Bristol Music Trust

BYC Seniors. Photo by Mark Ashbee courtesy of Bristol Music Trust.

Another interesting finding is that fundraisers are ten times more likely to sing in a choir than the general population. The most plausible explanation is that there’s something about the communal effort of singing in a choir, it’s an artform that relies on the group. At work, the fundraiser knows they are part of a team, their contribution is essential but they don’t really care about the glory and the spotlight, so it makes sense to be in a choir rather than pursue a more individualistic hobby.

I also find that fundraisers are more likely to take night classes and read widely. I think this is because you’ve got to be interesting to be a fundraiser – donors don’t have to choose to spend time with you so you need to enhance their life.

Does the Formation of Fundraisers study have takeaway points for those working in fundraising now?

I think the research matters because as a profession we need to have a better understanding of who we are. It’s not going to give anyone a five-step plan for becoming a successful asker, but if self-awareness and professional awareness counts for something, which I think it does, then it’s worth reading.

My overall argument is that just as we’ve got ‘New Philanthropists’, so now we also are witnessing the rise of ‘New Fundraisers’. The new style of donors are more likely to be self-made than inheritees, they are starting to give at a younger age, they’re giving while they’re living rather than through just their legacies so we’ve got a fairly well sketched out idea of who the New Philanthropists. But we also have New Fundraisers because we need different kinds of people to engage those new philanthropists. You can’t have the same old ask when you’ve got a different kind of donor.

Liverpool Biennial Grand Finale. Photo by Peter Carr

Liverpool Biennial Grand Finale. Photo by Peter Carr

When you think about recruitment, there was a time when it was possible to employ a fundraiser on the basis of their contacts. There was a certain type of person who was well connected but now that’s not enough to succeed in raising large sums for most charities because ‘new philanthropists’ are so varied.

Nowadays you have to be the kind of person who gets on well with everyone so maybe my research will have an effect on recruitment because they need to recruit people who can go for breakfast with a young hi-tech company founder and then have dinner with a retired colonel who’s got a very different world view and outlook.

The book I’m now writing, drawing on all my research plus all the existing literature about the profession, is called The New Fundraisers: Who organises generosity in contemporary society? As the title indicates, the focus is on the who, not the how. There are plenty of good books that tell you how to fundraise – what techniques and strategies are most effective – and many of those kind of ‘how to’ books are great, but they tend to say ‘do this’ and leave you asking ‘how do I do it? What kind of person can do this? For example, who can turn a no into a yes?’

You can read the existing ‘how to’ literature and you can see what the 7 steps are, or whatever, but be left without an understanding of what personal and social skills you need to marry with that knowledge and those techniques. So my work is about showing that it’s not just what you need to do to raise funds, but also what kind of person can actually pull it off.

As someone who has only been in the field for 7 months, and still with so much to learn, I get incredibly excited to see the expansion of studies in Philanthropy and so it was a pleasure to speak to Beth. You can read about her research projects here.

What are your thoughts on Beth’s research? Does it resonate with you as a fundraiser? We’d love to hear your thoughts.