Why Fundraising Awards Are Evil

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Now, let’s be clear. My attitude towards the regular cycle of fundraising awards (such as the Institute of Fundraising national awards now being advertised), is completely driven by the likelihood or not of me, personally getting one. Any award Tobin’s organisation gets is a true watermark of distinction, reflecting pure quality and excellence and anyone who disagrees is driven by sheer envy and bile.

But before I let myself be overtaken by the kind of vanity which ought to embarrass a five year old, it is worth I think asking if the current awards we have in our sector are doing the job they are supposed to.

It is very easy to feel queasy about the whole thing. The guiding principle of all fundraising is, surely, that it’s really not about you. It’s about the beneficiary and it’s about the donor and we are just the means to connect the two. So awards for fundraisers can feel a bit incongruous or uncomfortable. We really shouldn’t be the ones collecting the prizes. And many of our best fundraisers don’t go near these ceremonies for that reason.

But there are practical reasons why awards have a place. It does seem a good idea to encourage organisations to do better fundraising than they otherwise would do. And spread good behaviours and practices across the profession.

But do they? Let’s take the IOF awards which I think it’s fair to say have the most credibility amongst people who work in fundraising in the UK as the awards to win. I think there are a few aspects of these awards which cause some unease.

Are we rewarding the right things? The categories for the IOF awards are a bit odd, if you think about it. There are lots of awards for using particular channels or methods of fundraising. So, best use of direct mail or best use of face to face. By an astonishing coincidence they are sponsored by companies who make money from these channels. There are awards for some channels and methods and not others, again surely related to who is prepared to sponsor.

But if we are trying to encourage good fundraising why is the particular channel or method relevant? Surely we should looking at the objective of the fundraising. Not who can produce the coolest mail pack or the best results from a telephone upgrade campaign. But what has had the greatest impact in improving fundraising performance.

We have awards for innovation, which is fair enough although our profession is pretty focussed on what is shiny and new already I feel. But do we have awards which really reward quality of fundraising? Getting organisations to properly buy in to fundraising, keeping supporters engaged, building great fundraising teams.

But enough carping from me. It is incumbent on the critic on the sidelines to propose solutions I feel. So here are my suggestions for new fundraising awards

Best supporter engagement strategy. We know we have a problem with keeping supporters engaged and giving so who has the best, long term strategy to motivate supporters to stay?

Most transformational fundraising strategy. Who really changed an organisation’s culture about fundraising and got all parts of the charity behind raising funds

Most courageous piece of fundraising. Who really had the balls to try something really different, which didn’t work. Not a kind of fundraising Darwin award for stupidity (avoid any of the obvious Fundraising Myths for example). But something that really seemed worth trying, that really didn’t.

Best use of common sense. Who stopped the vanity brand campaign or killed the absolute dog that had been dragging down the charity’s fundraising for years?

And finally

Best short fundraising director. (Over 40, living in Sussex).

All totally unbiased suggestions of course

One thought on “Why Fundraising Awards Are Evil

  1. Hi Tobin

    Thanks for a really thought-provoking post.

    The IoF National Awards are a celebration of the best of the best in the fundraising sector and are designed to do nothing more than congratulate fundraisers and fundraising teams on their sterling efforts.

    We would like to clarify that National Award categories are driven by member demand and we are always open to suggestions for new categories to introduce each year, so will certainly take your suggestions on board. We must stress that categories are not sponsor driven and sponsors are always sourced for a category after that category is confirmed. Never vice-versa.

    We’d like to congratulate you on your shortlisting for this year’s event and wish you the best of luck on the night.

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