Fundraisers in Popular Culture

If your experience at explaining what you do for a living has been anything like mine, you have probably been met with a lot of confused faces, or even hostile questions. It is not a huge surprise that the general public does not really understand what we as fundraisers do. This would make sense since fundraisers are never characters in books, featured on TV, or talked about by the media. But, is it really everyone else’s fault? I think that before we start pointing fingers, we must look at the three pointing back. As fundraisers, we do not validate our profession enough. I believe that a huge part of marketing the fundraising profession begins with us, and the idea of promoting fundraising as a fulfilling career that plays an integral part in generating social change. Since we are supposed to be great storytellers, we need to get better at telling our own story- who we are, what we do and why it matters.

We are a HUGE Part of Canadian Society

So what got me thinking about fundraisers in popular culture you may ask? This past year, I set a new year’s resolution for myself to read more and decided to follow an online book club. As I was scanning the book list I noticed number nineteen – a book where the protagonist has the same profession as you. This lead to a lot of googling, and ultimately coming to terms with the fact that fundraisers are underrepresented in modern literature, well actually popular culture in general. Fundraisers aren’t really talked about, unless it’s by fundraisers.
History tells us that systematic fundraising is relatively new. Accordingly to historian Scott M. Cutlip, it is a twentieth-century phenomenon. Charities today usually begin with a group of like-minded individuals from a community who want to make a difference. Previous to this, philanthropy was done on a much smaller scale, primarily funded by a few wealthy individuals in response to personal appeals from churches and schools. Not a huge influence in society. Yet, fast forward to today and the nonprofit sector is the third largest employment sector in Canada, and the second largest in the U.S. So why isn’t this reflected in mainstream society?

Let’s Promote our Sector and Diversify

In my eyes a huge factor is that as fundraisers we are not promoting our profession and sector as one that is essential in helping charities reach their missions. In my experience the general public does not understand what we do, nor do they see it as important. We are never put in the same category as doctors, lawyers, astronauts and entrepreneurs. In terms of our story, how can we place ourselves as a hero? We need to be loud in our messaging- fundraisers create positive change. I would suggest starting with the next time someone asks you what you do for a living; really explain it and start a conversation. Additionally, for those with hiring capacity, strengthen and diversify your workforce. The ‘third-sector’ needs more people from diverse communities and young people if it is to truly reflect the mosaic that is Canadian society. In many diverse communities fundraising is not known or understood as a career choice. By hiring more diverse groups we can grow by promoting our profession to even more people.

What remains clear is that there is a need amongst fundraisers for our work to excel, so why not the perception of our profession? Through encouraging fundraising as a career, and endorsing diversity and relationship building, we can create a level playing field within the community. This will ultimately benefit not only the organizations that we work for, but our sector as a whole as well.