Chartered journey: Status is only half the battle; the challenge is for indviduals to become chartered

Chartered journey: Status is only half the battle; the challenge is for indviduals to become chartered

Guest Bloggers | 20 May 2019

Ian MacQuillin MInstF(DiP) says that getting chartered status for the IoF is only half the battle, and that the real work will be making it clear within the sector what the benefits of individual chartered membership is both to fundraisers and the wider sector.

Fundraising is fighting a public relations battle. Many people don’t trust fundraisers. Some are in the media, some are legislators. Some are members of the public – both donors and non-donors (though it’s probably true to say that donors don’t trust the fundraisers working for the charities they don’t give to). 

There’s also a lack of trust of fundraisers – and the fundraising profession generally – from within some charities (though perhaps fewer than previously), which is manifested as viewing fundraising as a ‘necessary evil’. Perhaps more specifically, boards, SMTs and colleagues have a lack of trust in the knowledge that fundraisers possess (or claim to possess).

There are no qualifications you need to become a fundraiser; no body of knowledge you need to acquire before you can start to practise as a fundraiser, or indeed to continue practising once you become one. Literally anyone can become a professional fundraiser, irrespective of how much they know about it.

So perhaps it isn’t that surprising fundraisers encounter so mush pushback from people who think they know as much as the fundraisers – or perhaps more.

Chartered status for the professional body that represents those fundraisers is a significant step in this PR campaign. It confers legitimacy and authority – it’s a badge that says, yes, indeed, fundraising does rank as a profession to sit alongside other chartered trades and professions, such as marketing, accountancy and civil engineering, and you can trust it as such.

Anyone with a qualification from the IoF can now point to that and say they have a qualification from a chartered body, which you can trust: you can trust the knowledge I have as a professional fundraiser  and here’s the badge to prove it.

Many of the blogs welcoming chartered status on the IoF website and other social media posts have stressed the PR and reputational benefits it is hoped that chartered status will bring.

But chartered status for the professional association representing individual fundraisers is only half the battle.

'Proof of the chartered pudding'

The proof of the chartered pudding will be in how many individual members of the IoF successfully become chartered members. As the IoF’s director of individual membership Alex Xavier has explained, the IoF is working on two possible pathways to gaining individual chartered membership, based on qualification and experience.

The question is how much do individual fundraisers value their own chartered status, not just the chartered status of their professional association?

There’s resistance among fundraisers to the need for formal training, qualification or knowledge acquisition. The lack of a knowledge-based barrier to entry is seen as a good thing – supposedly showing that fundraising is egalitarian and accepting of people from all backgrounds and all walks of life, including transferable skills from outside of fundraising, and having to acquire professional knowledge limits the talent pool (or so it is argued).

(Personally, I think the lack of a knowledge-based prerequisite for practising fundraising is bad thing and little is going to shake me from this belief.)

There are also large numbers of fundraisers who have been doing the job for a long time, never had to qualify or take CPD to get where they are, and see no need to do so now; it’s a just small percentage of the IoF’s membership that holds the Certificate, Diploma or Advanced Diploma in fundraising. So why would news entrants to fundraising need to acquire this knowledge if they didn’t have to?

A challenge for the IoF is to change these attitudes, to convince people that adding this level of knowledge-based professional development is going to be a benefit not just to current professional fundraisers, but those who will enter the profession over the next couple of decades. And part of that will be to show that chartered membership is valued by potential employers. If chartered individual membership doesn’t bring a leg-up in the job market, that removes a big incentive in investing time and money in gaining it.
Over time, chartered status will improve standards and ethics in fundraising.

But failure to convert a large number of IoF members to chartered membership carries a potential reputational risk. Imagine a situation in the mid-2020s in which another fundraising crisis follows from bad practice by fundraisers. And it turns out that although the fundraisers involved are members of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, they are not chartered members. And when the media, regulators and legislators investigate further, they discover that even though the IoF has been a chartered body for five years, hardly any of its members have acquired chartered membership.

They might well ask what the point of chartered status has been.

The IoF has done (at least part of) its bit. And while it certainly needs to push – and push hard – the benefits of individual chartered membership, it’s now over to you, the individual members. How much do you want this?

Ian MacQuillin MInstF(DiP) is the director of Rogare – the Fundraising Think Tank.

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