The Researchers in Fundraising conference this week in London feels like a milestone in our profession – the arrival of a real community of professionals.
There were signals everywhere that we are a real profession. We, the community, have our networks – I saw lots of ‘Hello again! How are you?’s. We have an emerging group of personalities – Martin Mina (Action on Hearing Loss) is the personification of the funny-but-with-a-message presenter. We have our academics – Dr Beth Breeze (University of Kent) continues to uncover the emotional underwiring that supports philanthropy and fundraising. We have international appeal, with Helen Brown (Helen Brown Group) and Gerry Lawless (iWave) flying all the way across the Atlantic to join us.
We have suppliers anxious to win our business and therefore competing (this is normal and healthy) to innovate for our sector. We have media – social media – as conference attendees Tweeted #RIFConf2014 to the world. We even have the beginnings of politics, the politics of women and women’s rights in a workplace where too many bosses (mea culpa) are still men, celebrated by Beth Breeze in her sense of enjoyment at a conference audience that was mainly female.
And we have the intellectual and ethical challenges that define a real profession, personified in Karl Newton of LSE with his intimate description of the Gaddafi incident.
So what’s missing? At the conference the missing ingredient, reported again and again by researchers, was power. They didn’t use that word. What they said was ‘I just can’t get my boss to take research seriously’, or ‘I couldn’t get the budget’, or ‘My boss wrote our policy and I can’t get him to change it.’
Power, and the lack of it, is not a new topic at RiF. But now that we have a real, fully-fledged profession the lack of it is becoming more painful. We need the power to influence our fundraising colleagues. We need the power to write strategy, manage people and influence policy in the fundraising community. We need the power to set budgets, hire and fire. We need the power to commission research, development and innovation in our field. With the Sword of Damocles of new EU data protection legislation hanging over us, we need the power to influence legislation.
We need power, and we need it now.
We know how power works. We research it all the time. It is linked to circles of influence, to people with a strong voice, to a community united behind one or two clear ideas simply expressed.
We don’t have to call it that. We can call it “voice” , or “influence” or “a seat at the high table.” We can be subtle about winning power or we can be loud and proud. We can fight or argue, persuade or hint.
We need friends high up in the non-profit trees. The Chief executive of a brand-name national charity who ‘gets’ research. The MPs and MEPs who used to work in nonprofits, who befriend research. Senior staff at the Institute of Fundraising. We need to find these people (ha! easy for us prospect researchers!) We need to cultivate them and we need to persuade them with one or two clear simple messages. And then, like good fundraisers, we need to steward them.
We can use the power of research. We can do this.