Close Search
News  |  Fundraising

Fundraisers Smash Sector Myths

7 March 2017 at 2:40 pm
Wendy Williams
Fundraisers are on a mission to dispel some commonly held “myths” about the sector.

Wendy Williams | 7 March 2017 at 2:40 pm


Fundraisers Smash Sector Myths
7 March 2017 at 2:40 pm

Fundraisers are on a mission to dispel some commonly held “myths” about the sector.

In what marked a world first, the Fundraising Institute of Australia, in conjunction with More Strategic, Pareto Fundraising and SOFII, presented the inaugural Myth Smashers plenary session at the annual conference.

A group of five speakers, poised to be the “future plenary speakers around the world”, took to the stage in a bid to “smash” commonly held myths that are holding the sector back.

Sean Triner, co-founder of Pareto Fundraising and Pareto Phone, said they hoped Myth Smashers would become a global franchise that all conferences have “as a kind of standard”.

“The idea is to look at myths, because there are so many myths in fundraising, like we all prefer short letters not long letters and all those sorts of things, so we wanted to take a look at smashing some of these myths,” Triner said.

“What we want [the audience] to do is think about that myth, think about the truth behind that myth and how it has had an impact on your organisation.”

The first myth to be “smashed” was the idea that fundraisers should “spend less to raise more”.

Ruth Wicks from More Strategic took to the stage to explain why the idea was “balderdash”.

“Seventeen years ago I started as a professional fundraiser and I thought that the best way to raise lots of money was to spend as little as possible, and over the last 17 years, what I’ve realised is number one, that is complete balderdash, number two it is actually very dangerous to think like that, and number three that it is self-perpetuating,” Wicks said.

“I am not saying that we should just spend money willy-nilly and not be held accountable for every single cent that we spend, I am not saying that we shouldn’t make every effort possible to be lenient and be efficient in what we do, I am not saying that pro bono is always bad or that we should look a gift horse in the mouth and I am not saying we shouldn’t be held to account and exercise due diligence in every single investment we make to make sure it is going to be the best use of our donors money.

“What I am saying is that this blanket notion that somehow spending money in our sector is somehow wrong.”

She highlighted five “mini-myths” to break down the argument, including; a “DIY approach is always best”, “they just do it because they care”, “investment is generally a bad thing”, “pro bono is always great” and “if it doesn’t break even within 12 months then you shouldn’t do it”.

“We have got to get over the embarrassment that somehow it is wrong to get paid for what we do,” Wicks said.

She spoke of “the sector-wide fixation” that 100 per cent of donations must go to support people in need and that investment generally was a bad thing.

“As if investing in social good is something to be ashamed of,” she said.

She cautioned this approach was doing harm to the sector and undermining the ability to be sustainable.

She was followed on stage by Janie Alcock, from Global Interaction, who set out to disprove the myth that “fundraisers fundraise”.

“After 10 years in the industry I’ve come to realise it’s pretty simple; effective fundraisers get somebody else to do the job for them,”Alcock said.

“I have found there is three key ways of doing this, we all harness the power of stories, we all leverage the power of connections and we all unlock the power of the resources that we have.”

She explained that fundraisers needed to be “story listeners” as well as storytellers, and she stressed the importance of coaching and mentoring individuals to use their own networks to connect with potential donors.

She said people were more willing to give to those they trusted and cited that within her network she might have 10 friends who would believe in what she believed in and be willing to share their money or time.

“If I can get 10 people on board I’m unlocking a network of 1,000 people,” she said.

She concluded by saying: “In 2016 my organisation raised $6 million and I never asked one person for a cent.”

Meanwhile Alice Anwar, from CARE Australia, spoke to the audience about the myth of the “rational donor” that states donors give because of what they think rather than what they feel.

“Thinking and feeling are two very different things and I believe making our donors feel is much more important than making them think,” Anwar said.

She used a Star Trek analogy to highlight different kinds of people and in particular focused on the influence of rational data-driven people she called “Spocks”.

“They are the people who say: ‘What this direct mail pack really needs is some more facts,’ ‘Some more impact statements to show what we’re doing about the problem.’… I don’t like to generalise but normally they are not fundraisers,” she said.

But she stressed that “even logical people are driven by emotions”.

She also highlighted that giving wasn’t “all sadness and guilt”.

“As a fundraiser I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come up to me and say things like: ‘Oh so you make people cry,’ or: ‘You’re the one who guilts people into given money,’” she said.

“We make people face some pretty horrible truths about the world, but we don’t just want them to feel bad, we want them to feel inspired enough to help change those truths and you can’t do that with just sadness and guilt.”

In a discussion on behavioural economics she said emotions led to action, “facts just lead to thinking”.

She finished by concluding with a quote from Captain Kirk saying: “Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on.”

She was followed by Audrey Hii, from Bush Heritage Australia, who broke down the myth that “donors give without being asked”, a topic she said was close to her heart.

“I don’t think I have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I’ve heard this response to when I tell people what I do for a living: ‘Fundraise, why do you need to do that? People will give to charities that they care about. Donors will give without being asked,’” Hii said.

She said studies had shown that 90 per cent of people donate because they were asked.

“They might be asked by a friend, they may be asked by a family member, but the ask is vital to encourage people to come forward and donate,” she said.

Hii said it was important for fundraisers to remember they connect donors to causes and help provide the opportunity for people to make an impact.

“When you connect with a donor with the right ask you enable amazing work to get done,” she said.

She quoted oil magnate and philanthropist John D Rockefeller saying: “Never think that you need to apologise for asking someone to give to a worthy objective, anymore than as though you were giving him an opportunity to participate in a high grade investment. The duty of giving is as much his as the duty of asking is yours. Whether or not he should give to that particular enterprise and if so, how much, is for him alone to decide.”

The final speaker, Nicola Norris from Greenpeace Australia Pacific, spoke to disprove the myth that “that cause is easier to fundraise for than mine”.

“It doesn’t feel good not to get good results, and it’s times like those that we tend to look at another organisation that is doing really well and we say: ‘That cause is so much easier than our cause,’” Norris said.

She said the sector was “not very good at failure”.

“If we put our donors funds into a program that doesn’t get a good return on investment, and is a failure, we feel terrible about that, we feel like we’ve wasted donor funds,” she said.

“Unfortunately this is an attitude that is stifling our creativity, it is stopping us being innovative.”

She stressed the need for a positive mindset.

“Your mindset, your perception of the world, leads to your way of being, whether that is positive or negative, leads to what you do, the action that you take, which ultimately leads to the results that you get,” she said.

“When you have a positive mindset you tend to have a much more open attitude towards failure.

“We call it fail fast, fail often and fail forward. The idea that we are going to fail and learn from it and move on quickly.”

She warned the sector about the dangers of confirmation bias.

“When we have a belief that a cause is difficult, and then we get bad results, that’s our evidence of that belief… his is called confirmation bias,” she said.

“Imagine if as a sector we could stop blaming our bad results on the cause, wouldn’t we focus in on the things that are actually causing our bad results, wouldn’t we be more evidence-based, wouldn’t we be looking in the right places to realise why we’re not getting good results? I think we would.”

To conclude the session the audience voted for their favourite speaker.

Alice Anwar was chosen for most conclusively smashing her myth about “rational donor” and was awarded a free ticket for the next FIA conference.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

PB Careers
Get your biweekly dose of news, opinion and analysis to keep you up to date with what’s happening and why it matters for you, sent every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Got a story to share?

Got a news tip or article idea for Pro Bono News? Or perhaps you would like to write an article and join a growing community of sector leaders sharing their thoughts and analysis with Pro Bono News readers? Get in touch at or download our contributor guidelines.


Create a Reconciliation Action Plan/></a></div></div>    </div>





    <div class=

Get more stories like this


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Wasting our time – marginal seat voters have their say

David Crosbie

Thursday, 5th May 2022 at 8:31 am

ALP will streamline tangled fundraising laws in government

Jonathan Alley

Wednesday, 13th April 2022 at 3:04 pm

pba inverse logo
Subscribe Twitter Facebook