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Bean Counters 1, Development nil

Bean Counters 1, Development nil

June 2015

Following a Mail on Sunday investigation, Oxfam has had to freeze its contract with Listen in addition to suspending involvement with Street Academy (a subsidiary of Shelter, one of my former employers). 

This news is depressing.  Some of us have staunchly defended charity fundraising from cheap political and media attacks but if bean counters continue to be in the ascendant, more of these horror stories will become headlines. 

Who are the bean counters?  They are usually charity Finance Directors.  Once upon a time, they were the equal of Development/Fundraising Directors on the organisational chart but trustees are increasingly asking them to take charge of our departments in the belief that what we do is no different from any other money-making arm of charity.  Furthermore, it is vaguely disgusting, mysterious, and probably best kept at arm’s length.  

A contributing factor is that British development professionals call themselves fundraisers.  This is not a mere matter of semantics:  we may very well be fundraisers at times, but it is only a fraction of what we do, day in and day out, to generate voluntary income. 

Finance Directors keep their organisations’ books in order.  They are responsible for HR, payroll, taxes, IT, equipment and furniture, supplier contracts, filing annual reports with the Charity Commission, the office lease, insurance, risk assessment and mitigation, utilities, expending endowments and grants, supporting their finance & audit committee, managing departmental budgets, and much more.  They have a job to do that is not our job.  Without each other our charities cannot function.  

True bean counters cannot understand or be persuaded that sometimes two or three or ten years are optimal for particular kinds of development activity.  They demand purely financial outcomes from particular campaigns.  They are not equipped to look at donor behaviour as just one of many indicators of progress in organisational development.

The result?  Deep misery, expressed by many of my colleagues at Institute of Fundraising meetings and in online chat groups.  Even worse is evidence of increasing donor dissatisfaction.  I am assured that this organisational model works but then why do development officers complain about ‘crying outside the Finance Director’s door’?  Why do these awful fundraising scandals hit the headlines days after day? 

We need to defend our departments from the bean counters so that accusations of insensitivity and of harassing, lying to, and manipulating people for the sake of meeting the ‘ambitious fundraising targets’ for which we too often, rashly, have signed up – i.e., bottom-line behaviour – can become a thing of the past. 

Fundraising – not development – needs fundamentally to be ‘owned’ by trustees, supported by trained professionals who work with them and with other volunteers, staff members, donors, and beneficiaries to meet both annual and multi-year fundraising goals.  Development – not fundraising – needs to be managed by the executive director, who is the charity’s chief fundraiser. 

Shaking money out of Joe Public isn’t why I’m in this profession: creating ever deepening relationships between donors and their chosen charities in order to address urgent social needs is. 


Blog image is a graphic from the June 7, 2015 Mail on Sunday exposé



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