Why can fundraising feel so lonely? Expert trainer Ruth Jarratt shares her thoughts

Why can fundraising feel so lonely? Expert trainer Ruth Jarratt shares her thoughts

Mar 13, 2020
| By

If you are reading this blog on the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy website, it is likely you have, to some level, worked as a fundraiser. You may, your whole career, have been surrounded by likeminded individuals, with nothing but an appreciation for how important fundraising is to an organisation, and a desire to help.  However, it is likely that at times you may have felt a slight resistance to or misunderstanding of your work: be that people not appreciating how important your goals were to the institution’s end goals, or just finding yourself working alone without much support from your organisation.

Ruth Jarratt is an expert trainer with over 20 years’ experience in the arts, health and social care sectors, working as everything from senior executive to internal consultant, external consultant as well as working with boards and development committees. One of her areas of expertise is in how you, as a fundraiser, can bring together your team to support your goals, and learn to build a culture of fundraising around you.

For fundraising leaders, you can learn from Ruth in person at her course Getting the Whole Team on Board with Fundraising in Leeds this 24 March. But for those of you who can’t join us, we had a chat to Ruth about why she thinks sometimes we still find fundraisers working slightly at odds with their organisations. Here are some of her thoughts and advice:


Sarah: Where do you think organisations go wrong when trying to bring their whole team together to support fundraising?

Ruth: I don’t think that organisations realise that they need to bring their whole team together to support fundraising, so mostly they don’t even try. Indeed I would go further and say that in most organisations I come across, the ‘toaster’ concept of fundraising still prevails – that is that you ‘buy’ a toaster in the form of a fundraiser, drop in some bread and expect toast, that is money, to pop out.

In addition to this, all too often each head of section is given ‘insular’ objectives to work to and no thought is given to where and how these objectives might be out of kilter, or indeed in direct conflict, with those of other colleagues.

Finally, and most depressingly, it is often the case that whoever has most kudos or shouts loudest in the organisation gets their issues prioritised. Then it is left to the other heads to slug it out in some sort of ‘test of character’ which is a pretty barmy way to run things when you think about it.


Sarah: How do you best manage individual agendas and priorities in arts organisations to ensure fundraising gets the focus it needs?

Ruth: There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this. The only way to manage individual/sectional agendas and priorities is to get the key players round the table to thrash out a common understanding. But this needs strong leadership and a learning culture in the organisation.


Sarah: Are there any ways you think fundraising departments should be changing to better accommodate other teams’ agendas and priorities?

Ruth: I think it is largely vice versa. Fundraising, being usually the last kid on the block and often seen as a ‘necessary evil’, is expected to fit around the other existing activities and priorities.


So, what fundraisers need to do is speak up, get the attention of other senior executives and call upon their collaboration and support. Educate them you might say. But it can be quite exhausting if you are operating in a ‘macho’ culture, or in a laissez-faire one and have to do this repeatedly and on a variety of fronts.


Sarah: Should fundraising be the top priority organisation-wide? How do we get the balance right?

Ruth: The top priority of an arts organisation has to be artistic excellence and artistic freedom. But money can, and often does, buy that excellence and freedom, so optimising income is usually of equal importance to the organisation. What is absolutely vital is that artistic planning and fundraising planning and implementation be conducted hand in hand. Done wrongly the monies raised will constrain the artistic voice; done well they will release the spirit of the organisation. This only happens if the artistic and fundraising parts of the organisation are in constant dialogue and have a high degree of mutual respect.


Sarah: What do you see organisations doing particularly well to ensure that the whole team and Trustees are engaged with fundraising?

Ruth: I would say that it is not so much what they do as how they are. For the whole team and trustees to be engaged with fundraising, all concerned have to genuinely listen to each other, take on board each other’s issues and be prepared to adjust their own plans and approaches to accommodate the needs of their colleagues. This requires generosity of spirit and often some degree of humility on everyone’s part as well as honesty and transparency. It is frustrated and endangered by egoism and power-plays and misapplied respect for position. The organisations that do this best are at their core ‘learning organisations’, they deal with stuff as it is, they listen to all available input and they reflect on their actions to inform their future performance. It is simple, but fundamental.


Thank you so much to Ruth for taking the time to speak with us. We hope we’re not waiting too long for that accommodating and supportive fundraising culture sector wide.

If you would like to learn more about the ways that you can make this a reality, there are still places left on Ruth’s course Getting the Whole Team on Board with Fundraising, 24 March Leeds.

What is your organisation’s fundraising culture like - are you proud of the open and supportive work you do? Or do you think you have a better idea? Let us know your thoughts @artsfundraising