Learning and teaching (but mostly learning)

A while back I got to thinking about learning. Not a major surprise given that I work in a university, but I was specifically thinking about learning in the context of my own work.

See, I’m sort of a nerd. I like to know as much as possible, and as I’m winding down in my current role and getting ready to switch back into student mode,  I got to wondering. Am I an oddball who’s just curious for curiosity’s sake? How do other fundraisers learn?

I’ll admit that this was almost entirely inspired by Rogare’s Critical Fundraising and Theory of Change, which if you haven’t read yet, what are you doing on my silly blog?! GO READ IT!

Back now? Great!

At its most basic (and I don’t pretend to be half as knowledgeable as the folks at Rogare ), it’s about asking questions – challenging accepted wisdom, asking “well, why?”, and using more than just “it worked for the other guys” to back up what we do. That’s not to say that we might already be doing this, but in my experience a lot of our practices come from stuff we’ve found out ourselves. Conferences we’ve been to, colleagues we’ve talked to, presentations and articles we’ve read telling us the techniques, but not necessarily looking at what’s behind those techniques.

The other part of this is that there’s a wealth of research there from the academic side of our world, but that I didn’t know if anyone else was doing the same as me and going looking for it. Now, that may be down to a number of things; lack of access (universities are great places if you want to trawl academic journals), lack of time (“you’re waffling again Sophie!”), or simply lack of awareness that it’s there to be used (“who’s a what now?”). It could also be that the language of academia can be tremendously dense and if you’re not familiar with some of the terminology, reading it can be like swimming through caramel with 50kg toffees tied to your feet.

(Apparently I’m also thinking about sweets while I write this.)

So what I thought I’d do was ask fundraisers a few questions of my own. And here’s what I found out.

Self-directed learning infog

As the above infographic (that yes, I made myself) shows, fundraisers are inquisitive, keen to learn and for the most part look within the sector to find information. This is a great start, but we can do more. Among those who looked for sources from higher education institutions, for example, there was less certainty about the usefulness. This is probably due to access, more than any other factor, but shows that we fundraisers have a bit of a tendency to stay in our lane, and we’re perhaps not as adventurous in our learning as we could be.

I suspect the culture of your organisation plays a large role in this. If you’re encouraged to seek out new life and new civilisations (i.e. explore opportunities with agencies outside fundraising such as the DMA or IDM, both of which have valuable expertise to share), you’re probably going to feel pretty good about what you gain from it.

If however, you’re one of those fundraisers trying to ask questions and develop your knowledge beyond the “copy and steal everything” mantra that pervades higher ed fundraising, and you come across a pristine copy of a Ken Burnett book that’s clearly never been read, you might wonder if learning anything new is worth the bother.

(Spoiler alert – it is.)

The most encouraging thing that I discovered on doing this survey though, is that I’m not the only one who genuinely enjoys asking questions. Curiosity might’ve done for the cat, but reading about the Antecedents and Role of Commitment in the Context of Charity Giving (Sargeant & Woodliffe, 2007) brought him back.


*DISCLAIMER* I asked a very small sample of those fundraisers who either follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn to fill in a not-very-scientific survey I devised myself. Any and all conclusions drawn here are basically me going “huh, that’s interesting!”



2 thoughts on “Learning and teaching (but mostly learning)

  1. Great stuff! While I am always keen to look outside of fundraising for inspiration, I am cautious of applying anything I’ve found as-is. Fundraising is very different to marketing for example, and although we have adapted (not adopted) many of these techniques successfully, we must be mindful that we do not sell products, we sell the donor experience. I would have loved your survey to go out on Admin-Develop (or similar) to a larger number of university fundraisers. I suspect that your folks on Twitter and LinkedIn are much more likely than the average fundraiser to regularly seek out information to educate themselves!


    1. You’re absolutely right Holly! It’s counterproductive to try and apply directly from marketing into fundraising; as you say, they’re two very different fields. However, I do think we don’t take enough advantage of knowledge and skills outside fundraising – I’ve recently taken a GDPR course from the IDM that, although it was aimed primarily at business, was hugely informative. I should perhaps repeat the survey on Admin Develop, thanks for the suggestion!

      Liked by 1 person

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