Who really influences fundraisers?

It’s that time of the year again. When Civil Society Fundraising magazine has its poll of the most influential people in UK fundraising.

Now it’s not true that my scepticism about this poll as a true measure of worth is due to my less than stellar performance in it. On a 5 year average, I think I am something like the 982nd most influential person in fundraising. In East Sussex. Possibly.

No, my objections are principled and based on sound analysis. Honestly. Firstly, of course the idea of a making an exercise to determine really who has influence into some kind of quasi-popularity contest is of course ridiculous. You are influential or you are not and your friends voting for you in an online poll won’t change that (how I wish I had friends who would do that).

But, more substantively, I think the idea that people like me, or even my more genuinely influential colleagues, have all that much say over how how the tens of thousands of UK charities do their fundraising is well, risible. I mean, of course I enjoy all this pontificating but I don’t seriously expect any of it to have any actual impact on what people do.

Who actually influences the people doing fundraising every day is, I think,  a more interesting question.  Good fundraisers are magpies, they will take information and inspiration from all kinds of places.  A good idea is spotted and copied at light speed in our sector.

But which individuals are influential? There are some people who have achieved widespread influence and they are not I think (mostly) today’s fundraising directors or consultants.

The authors of the key books that fundraisers read definitely have influence. So Dan Brown Ken Burnett I think remains a key influence of direct marketing fundraisers because of Relationship Fundraising, a book that must be 30 years old now but which is still relevant. The sadly missed George Smith  is perhaps less well known now but his ability to cut through the bullshit to get to the essence of a cause had a great influence on many of today’s most successful fundraisers. The frequency with which Charity:Water gets name checked speaks to Scott Harrison’s influence on digital fundraising (although that charity is definitely not a  one man band).

But who really influences us all? I think that’s much more personal. It’s the formative experience that makes us do what we do. Maybe it’s the inspirational teacher. Maybe it’s a Nelson Mandela or other public figure. Or someone from history, an Emmeline Pankhurst perhaps.

Or maybe, like me, it’s the person you meet on a field trip who makes you stop and realise, yes people in an Ethiopian village are just me.  Who have kids who are just like my kids. Who aren’t statistics, just humans.

And that’s what makes you a fundraiser.

That’s influence.

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