Critical Fundraising and our Theory of Change

What is Critical Fundraising?

The fundraising sector is home to some extremely committed and passionate people. But passion and commitment aren’t always enough. To solve the problems and meet the challenges the fundraising sector faces, you also need critical and analytical thinking, consistent and coherent debate and argument, and a scientific approach to evaluating research.

We haven’t always approached some of the biggest challenges with this quality of enquiry. Problems like the criticism of face-to-face fundraising; the continued poor public perception of fundraising; debates and questions around self-regulation; or the introduction of new concepts such as ‘stewardship’ and ‘innovation’ into fundraising. The result has often been inertia or stagnation of the debate leading to little progress being made in successfully tackling the challenges.

Challenging the fundraising orthodoxy

Critical Fundraising is a concerted attempt to critically and constructively evaluate these issues and provide practical solutions to them. It is very loosely based on the idea of critical marketing, which is based on the concept of critical management studies which is informed by critical theory.

Critical theory is the school of thought that assesses and critiques society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and humanities.

Critical marketing is espoused by marketers and marketing academics who challenge the orthodox views that are often seen as central to the core discipline of marketing.

Bringing about a paradigm shift

So, while at Rogare we don’t claim a direct genealogical link with critical theory - as this is not our academic tradition - our overarching goal is to challenge, where appropriate and beneficial to the sustainability of fundraising, some of the assumptions at the heart of fundraising. We will do this by applying knowledge from areas outside fundraising/philanthropy research and practice. These include professional ethics, behavioural science, evolutionary psychology and moral philosophy.

The Critical Fundraising ethos will therefore underpin all our research projects and other outputs, such as blogs and seminars, as we investigate areas of fundraising that are under-researched or ‘under-thought’.

  • Under-researched – topics where you feel there is simply not enough reliable data to inform current practice. Our aim would then be to find out what research does exist and suggest how this could be used by practitioners.
  • 'Under-thought’ – subjects where you feel that the arguments, discussions and debates lack cohesion, substance and/or internal logic. These are likely to be characterised by the same rhetorical arguments being repeatedly used (from within the sector as well as without) without progress actually being made. Our aim is to develop new theory in order to ask better questions to get the evidence we need.

Our objective is to use the lens of Critical Fundraising to achieve nothing less than a paradigm shift in the way that fundraisers use theory and evidence to analyse, tackle and overcome the challenges faced by their profession

Critical thinking guidelines

Two members of our International Advisory Panel – Cherian Koshy from Des Moines Performing Arts, and Rhode Island Urban Defence League's Ashley Belanger – have written a guide to critical thinking in fundraising. These guidelines underpin Rogare's approach to our research, and we encourage fundraisers to take a similar approach when evaluating not just our work and arguments, but the ideas presented by everyone involved in knowledge development in fundraising, whether that's presenting a case study at a conference or a major piece of practitioner research.

Theory of Change

To bring about this paradigm shift, Rogare has developed the following theory of change:

  • By enabling fundraisers to Ask the right questions about
  • Theory and
  • Evidence
  • through Critical thinking,
  • in a mode of enquiry we call ‘Critical fundraising’,
  • we can establish a Critical fundraising movement
  • that will engender a Culture of questioning, in which we will explore
  • Under-researched issues (evidence), and
  • Under-thought issues (theory)
  • leading to Better theory and Better evidence
  • that will close Knowledge gaps,
  • and, by Influencing the influencers
  • Embed new knowledge and thinking in professional practice
  • resulting in a Paradigm shift in how fundraisers use Theory and Evidence to tackle Professional challenges.

Associate members - helping Rogare to change the way we think about fundraising: