What we do know about fundraisers? It turns out not so much. How many professional fundraisers are there? We do not know. The most recent studies estimate somewhere between 138,000 to 296,000. That is quite a discrepancy, and we know that the numbers are probably much higher if we count those that engage in fundraising as one aspect of a diverse portfolio of job responsibilities. In 2016, however, Drs. Sarah Nathan and Gene Tempel updated the most in depth study of professional fundraisers to date in a new study, “Fundraisers in the 21st Century.” Surveying members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), they received responses from over 1,800 fundraisers.
This national study demonstrates that the fundraising profession is changing, albeit slowly. Over the past twenty years, the average age of a fundraiser dropped from 33.5 years in 1996 to 30.5 in 2015. As a result, fundraisers are now entering the profession earlier—at an average age of 27. The profession remains overwhelmingly female (73 percent) even while a glass ceiling still exists with that leaves the top positions dominated by men. Most fundraisers still enter the profession from another field. Only 25 percent hold academic credentials in fundraising or philanthropy while a majority gain skills through professional certification and on the job training.1
However, an underexplored aspect from the national study by Drs. Nathan and Tempel was an in-depth look at faith-based fundraisers. Is there anything distinctive about faith-based fundraisers? Lake Institute set out to investigate this question with our colleagues from the Association of Lutheran Development Executives (ALDE). While Lutheran in heritage, ALDE is a broad Christian network of fundraisers with an annual membership over 600 strong and a mission to nurture the practice and purpose of fundraising in faith-based organizations. By surveying ALDE’s membership and conducting in-depth interviews with a broad range of ALDE fundraisers, our study investigates who faith-based fundraisers are, why they are motivated to work in this field, and how their faith informs their fundraising practice.
With our study’s results released this past week, we have been receiving feedback on our initial conclusions. We find that faith-based fundraisers are both similar to and distinct from fundraisers overall. While probably not surprising, faith-based fundraisers make less than the national average for fundraisers ($79,890 to $92,218); they work on smaller development teams; and they work for organizations generating lower annual incomes than fundraisers overall. ALDE members also skew less female than the national average.
Beyond the demographic makeup of faith-based fundraisers, we found the motivations of faith-based fundraisers particularly interesting. Why do faith-based fundraisers engage in this work? We found that 90 percent of ALDE fundraisers see their work “as an expression of a calling or vocation rooted in faith,” and 88 percent connect fundraising to their faith. Finding significance in the ethos of their organizations, 91 percent of ALDE members believe that working for a religious organization is important, and 72 percent respond that working alongside individuals with shared values is a significant factor in their professional identity.
Faith-based fundraisers find the language of vocation, calling, and ministry significant in describing their work. At a basic level, faith-based fundraisers understand calling as work that aligns with a life of faith. Many ALDE members report a specific calling to fundraising, sensing that they are gifted by God to fulfill a particular purpose. Often, faith-based fundraisers discover this calling over time after sustained periods of work in development. Possibly for these reasons, we find an inverse relationship between the importance of salary, benefits, and job location when comparing faith-based fundraisers to fundraisers overall. Salary, benefits, and job location are significantly less important to ALDE members when compared to fundraisers more broadly.
The language used by the majority of the faith-based fundraisers we interviewed went beyond general calling and vocation. Instead, they embrace descriptions of their work in fundraising as ministry. But ministry had a variety of meanings. ALDE members express their work as supporting the “real ministry” in the field (missions, social justice, teachers, or students) as well as serving as a form of ministry to donors. In fact, many of our respondents describe the process of working with donors as “pastoral” and speak of their service as a public witness for the mission of God.
Finally, many faith-based fundraisers see their calling as a ministry perhaps in contrast to the larger profession itself. ALDE members highlight that fundraising is always more than the money raised. Faith-based fundraising necessitates celebrating and nurturing the joy of giving within donors. Some ALDE members note the added layers of ethics that this form of relational fundraising necessitates. Others point to the tensions present while nurturing donor relations: relating to donors as spiritual advisors and asking for financial gifts.
In our recent survey of hundreds of faith-based fundraisers, we were left asking how faith can inform and motivate the practices of fundraisers. While the practices of fundraising may not necessarily make faith-based fundraisers unique, our study demonstrates that there may be distinct motivations. We are looking forward to expanding this study among other faith-based fundraising associations in the future, and we welcome your thoughts. How do you see your role as a faith-based fundraiser? How does your organization cultivate or nurture fundraising as a practice? Let us know. We look forward to exploring these questions with you in the days ahead.
1. Nathan, S., and Tempel, E. R. (2016). Fundraisers in the 21st Century. Unpublished Research.