The Profession of Fundraising


The Profession Of Fundraising

In this wide-ranging chapter we mapped the historical development of the fundraising profession in the United States and introduced key players such as Charles Sumner Ward. We have also looked in some detail at our claims as fundraisers to call ourselves professionals, highlighting the requirements for a profession to specialize, develop its own body of knowledge, initiate a code of professional ethics, form professional associations that distinguish the profession from others and ultimately to require that all new entrants are in some way qualified to enter the field. We have also distinguished training in fundraising skills from the knowledge based education that we believe will be essential in increasing the quality of professional practice over the next decade and beyond.


Early American Fundraising  

Historian Scott M. Cutlip’s excellent book ‘Fundraising in the United States: Its Role in America’s Philanthropy’ provides the most extensive account of the history of fundraising in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century in the United States. Accordingly to Cutlip, organized philanthropy supported by systematic fundraising is very much a twentieth-century phenomena. Before then, philanthropy was conducted on a much smaller scale, largely financed by a very few very wealthy individuals in response to personal appeals. Most individual giving was directed to the churches, to the pitifully poor, and to found schools and colleges. No organized or formal fundraising efforts were recorded for the giving of these gifts.

That said, a number of key figures in the new American colonies did play a valuable role in instilling the culture of giving so prevalent in American society today. John Winthrop (1588-1649), William Penn (1644-1718) and Cotton Mather (1663-1728) were among early philanthropic leaders who saw giving as an integral part of their religious practice. Their contribution lay in persuading the wealthier elements of society to regard giving as an obligation associated with their wealth and over time this sense of obligation morphed to embrace not only the wealthy but all of American society. Quite a legacy – but it is important to recognize that this was a process that took many years to accomplish.


Additional materials on the History of Philanthropy and Fundraising:

National Philanthropic Trust: 

National Philanthropic Trust (NPT) is an independent public charity that focuses on raising awareness and encouraging the effective practice of philanthropy. It is involved in mapping the history of philanthropy in the United States and beyond. Details of that work can be found at :


The History of Philanthropy:

The Great Philanthropists and Key Historical Figures

A key development of great historical interest was the emergence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries of a number of truly great philanthropists, whose influence, through the institutions they created, can still be felt today. Multimillionaires such as Andrew Carnegie and J.D. Rockefeller sought innovative ways of disposing of their surplus wealth. This was no easy task, since a way had to be found of diverting resources to those that were most in need and not squandered on those who would not draw benefit from the gift. To quote Carnegie, ‘the worst thing a millionaire could do would be to give all his money to the unreclaimably poor’. A mechanism was thus sought to distribute private wealth with ‘greater intelligence and vision than the individual donors themselves could have hoped to possess’ (Gurin and Van Til 1990, p15). It is thus in this period that a number of extraordinarily wealthy Charitable Trusts or Foundations were established for the purpose of distributing the wealth of these great philanthropists. These organizations differed from those established in earlier centuries because:

a) their objectives were primarily to achieve some public purpose defined in the deed that established the organization. Such objectives were usually drafted so as to be broad and multiple in nature. The goal of a re-organized Rockefeller Foundation in 1929, for example, became simply ‘the advancement of knowledge throughout the world’.

b) they departed from giving to individuals as a means to alleviate suffering, to address the more fundamental and controlling processes(Karl and Katz 1981). Joseph Rowntree wrote into his original trust deeds that much current philanthropic effort was ‘directed to remedying the more superficial manifestations of weakness or evil, while little thought is directed to search out their underlying causes’(Rowntree 1904). He criticized the alleviation of Indian famines without examining their causes and directed that none of this three trusts should support hospitals, almshouses or similar institutions.

c) They were legally incorporated bodies whose charitable and public purposes were duly recognized.


Ten Great Philanthropists

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)

Made his fortune in steel. Funded public libraries, swimming baths, music halls, universities and schools across Scotland and America, giving away £190m.

Joseph Rowntree (1836-1925)

Quaker chocolate magnate. Set up a model village for the poor, a library, free schools, a doctor, dentist and pension fund. Trusts in his name fund poverty studies today.

John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937)

Founder of Standard Oil, now Exxon Mobil. Gave away half his fortune, about £270m. Legacy includes Rockefeller University, New York, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Henry Ford (1863-1947)

Inventor of the Model T. Set up the Ford Foundation and left the bulk of his $500-$700m to it. It is now the second-largest private foundation.

W K Kellogg (1860-1951)

Founder of Kellogg’s cereal. Set up the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and transferred $66m of company stock to it. Believed his children should not inherit his wealth.

David Packard (1912-2002)

Founder of Hewlett Packard. Set up David and Lucile Packard Foundation to support community projects including hospitals. Left foundation $7bn, it now has over $17bn in assets.

Gordon Moore (1929- )

Started Intel. Gave to conservation groups and universities. Has donated and pledged $3.9bn. World’s most generous philanthropist in 2005.

William H. Gates (1955- )

Microsoft founder. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on health and population control. Has given away many $billions in philanthropy

George Soros (1930- )

International investor. Chairman of the Open Society Institute. Has contributed more than $5bn towards creating an open society.

Warren Buffett (1930- )

CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Supports a wide range of different causes including education, medical research, and family planning.


Great Fundraisers

Sadly while great philanthropists are routinely celebrated, great fundraisers are not. In the text we pay homage to Charles Sumner Ward who is credited with revolutionizing the practice of fundraising in the US. Indeed he is regarded by many as the father of modern fundraising.

Ward’s ‘intensive’ or ‘whirlwind’ campaigns were based on four general principles:

1) Concentration of Time

2) Organization

3) Sacrifice

4) Education

Thankfully there remains a good historical record of his work. The records of Ward, Dreshman and Reinhardt, Inc are available in the archives of the Philanthropic Studies Library at Indiana University

There are many fundraisers we greatly admire and to whom the profession owes a considerable debt. There are too many to name them all, but as we listed ten great philanthropists, ten great fundraisers are listed below.

Tom Ahern a communications specialist and copywriter. The president of Ahern Communications, he is an authority on donor loyalty and communication strategy. His books on the Case for Support and Donor Loyalty (with Simone Joyaux) are required reading for any serious fundraising professional.

Ken Burnett who coined the term Relationship Fundraising and is the author of an excellent text by the same name. Ken has also done the profession a great service by establishing the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation.

James Greenfield is one of the truly great American fundraisers. A thought leader in  fundraising strategy and the management and a benchmarking of fundraising costs. Jim has written a number of seminal texts and is referenced many times in our book.

Maurice G. Gurin, (1908-1987) was one of America’s most successful fundraisers of the 20th Century and regarded as an authority on capital campaigns. Heavily involved in developing our profession he was commissioned by the Ford Foundation to develop a program to train fund-raising officers for predominantly black colleges.

Harvey McKinnon a Canadian fundraising guru and a world authority on the topic of regular (monthly) giving. As a consequence of his work many nonprofits are now reaping the economic benefits that a focus on monthly giving can bring.

Judith Nichols, has long been widely recognized as one of the foremost trend analysts working in the nonprofit sector. Her work has greatly increased our understanding  of demographic and psychographic trends in donor markets across the globe.

Richard Radcliffe has spoken to more potential bequest (legacy) donors than anyone else on the planet. His qualitative work with supporters on both sides of the Atlantic has inspired a more creative and thoughtful approach to legacy fundraising. He is also a first rate speaker.

Henry A ‘Hank’ Rosso (1917-1999) was a founding Director of The Fund Raising School and an individual who cared passionately about fundraising education. Critically he envisioned a profession of people who were not only expert fundraisers, but who uphold the moral and ethical standards of philanthropy.

George Smith is the author of Asking Properly and a truly great fundraising copywriter and wordsmith. George writes with great humor, passion and humanity. Asking Properly is one of the few texts that every fundraiser should own and use to reflect regularly on their own professional practice.

Mal Warwick is a prolific author and a leading authority in the domain of direct response fundraising. His Revolution in the Mailbox was the first really serious look by anyone at the use of direct mail for fundraising and is now rightly considered a classic. His contributions on the topic of online fundraising are equally insightful.

Users in the UK might like to read George Smith’s tribute to the individuals he regards as the UK’s greatest fundraisers. To avoid duplication we haven’t mentioned them here.


The Great War

The advent of the First World War had a dramatic impact on the practice of fundraising. There was a rapid growth in the number of nonprofits created to address the needs of victims but the conflict also served to accelerate greater prosperity throughout society, further broadening the potential giving constituency to include all but the poorest elements of society. Mass fundraising became possible for the first time and as Fowler (1999) notes, by the end of the Great War, most of the techniques we are familiar with today had been invented and had reached peaks of varying efficiency.

The other significant development during war time was that federated fundraising was used on a national, instead of a local level. All seven major war relief organizations joined forces as the United War Fund Committee. The highly efficient, highly effective and unprecedentedly large-scaled fundraising required by the First World War facilitated the professionalization of fundraising. By war’s end fundraising had become an accepted full-time occupation.

Some fundraising organizations established during the Great War are still around today:


92_1Towards a Profession

Professional bodies have been created to represent fundraisers working in a variety of roles.

In much of the world the Association of Fundraising Professionals is the dominant professional body, representing the needs and aspirations of fundraisers working in many different categories of organization.

There is also CASE which represents development professionals working in educational institutions around the world and the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy which as its name suggests supports fundraisers working in the domain of healthcare.

In the UK the professional body is the Institute of Fundraising while in Australia is the Fundraising Institute of Australia (FIA).

As we note in our book there are many other professional associations focused on the needs of very specific groups of fundraisers.


Looking To The Future

If increasing specialization has been the hallmark of professional fundraising over the past fifty years, knowledge generation, knowledge dissemination and formal education will mark the future. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, electricians or any profession one might name have carefully delineated the knowledge that they would expect every competent practitioner to have, but the profession of fundraising is only now taking the first tentative steps toward defining its own distinctive body of knowledge.

One of the first steps in this regard was the creation of the National Occupational Standards for Fundraising in the United Kingdom which map out the skills required of fundraisers in a variety of different roles. In that country the Institute of Fundraising has also created a Certificate in Fundraising qualification which is designed to teach the knowledge and understanding required of individuals to be able to evidence those skills.

In the United States the CFRE program assesses knowledge across six elements of the fundraising role. Their work is underpinned by a regular survey of professional practice.  Individuals who satisfactorily pass an assessment of this knowledge and who meet certain experience requirements can qualify as Certified Fund Raising Executives. At the time of writing the organization claims that in the U.S. qualified CFRE’s earn some 17% more (on average) than their non-qualified counterparts. CFRE’s must regularly re-certify, evidencing that they continue to take their professional development seriously.


Recommended Reading


Test your knowledge with our Quiz: The Profession of Fundraising

Fundraisers should use pride, not apology, when asking for a gift for a charity that is doing good work. 

Henry Rosso