The essence of fundrais­ing prac­tice from the world’s most famous fundrais­ing academic

Written by
Adrian Sargeant
June 03, 2013

Book review

Fundraising principles and practice by Adrian Sargeant, Jen Shang and Associates.

Reviewed for SOFII by Roewen Wishart.

This large book contains 22 chapters written by academics and consultant practitioners. It is written both for those studying fundraising and active fundraisers; and aims to complement the many excellent books written by professionals, as well as to ‘…draw together…the knowledge base which we expect every competent practitioner to know’. The book clearly succeeds and provides a ready reference tool. It is a comprehensive selection of knowledge that is both readable and well structured.

As the book is split into four parts, I shall critique each part separately.

Part one.

The first section, introduction to fundraising and donor behaviour, is worth careful attention. It contains some material that we are most likely to miss when we learn fundraising ‘on the job’. The short chapter on the history of the profession is illuminating and should provoke all readers, outside the US, to reflect upon the history of fundraising in their own countries.

Particularly worthwhile is the chapter on individual giving behaviour, which summarises a range of motivations for giving, the role of emotions and values in stimulating giving and models of donor behaviour. These models provide information on a range of questions such as what can attract a potential donor; how an individual can perceive different types of communications; how they can form an opinion towards a particular charity and the process of their decision to take action (i.e. to make a donation).

This model of individual giving behaviour enables us to stand back from the particulars of each specific communication or message, and from the pre-conceptions that we hold when we plan or appraise our fundraising communications. Undoubtedly, all of us would be guilty of making generalisations or assumptions when debating the concepts, words, or images of direct marketing communications. While these can sometimes be helpful, this book demonstrates that a systematic approach to individual giving behaviour will widen our understanding and appraisal of such materials.

Part two.

Part two of the book focuses on fundraising planning. In this section, there are chapters on fundraising audits, cases for support and assessing fundraising performance. A refreshing realism runs through this part of the book and the authors make many useful observations. These chapters also provide information for smaller charities with limited resources as they highlight what are ‘must do’ actions and what can be omitted.

Chapter seven focuses on fundraising planning and has a particularly good discussion on branding. The authors note that there has been a tendency to support uncritically the notion that every charity needs a ‘unique selling point’. They write that there are many qualities that all nonprofit organisations will have which will motivate potential donors into giving and that they have no impact on the size of the gift or donor loyalty. The authors claim that charities must look to other factors to create something unique, such as their emotional response to situations, their ‘voice’, their philosophy of service and (for some) tradition.

Chapter nine on assessing fundraising performance would be particularly useful for non-fundraisers. You might want to consider showing this chapter to your finance or human resources director, CEO or board to answer the questions on performance measures or benchmarking.

Part three.

Part three of Fundraising Principles and Practice covers fundraising methods such direct response, online, major gifts, bequests, planned giving, corporate giving and trust fundraising.

I would recommend reading all of these chapters. Chapter ten on direct response fundraising attempts the difficult task of summarising the principles of planning, executing and evaluating direct fundraising (with emphasis on mail) and also summarises specific findings. This is the one chapter in the book in which I think the balance is not quite right. There is a little too much on the specifics and not quite enough on evaluating a direct response.

The chapter on planned giving is a very readable summary of the many tax-effective ways for donors to give a large amount both during and after their lifetime. More than any other chapter, the content of this one is particular to the US and it would be useful to have a brief commentary on whether similar practices are available in other parts of the world.

Sandwiched in the middle of part three of the book is an excellent chapter on donor retention and development, which the authors boldly state is ‘the single biggest challenge facing the non-profit sector today’. After reading this chapter, I am inclined to agree. Many of us naturally tend to concentrate on the parts of fundraising which excite us - donor acquisition, major gifts, bequests, events, online fundraising – depending on our personal motivations and interests. Donor renewal is often treated like a ‘poor cousin’.

The authors summarise the reasons for donor lapses, the value of donor satisfaction measures, factors that correlate with donor commitment and how to plan for donor retention. There is an excellent discussion of how these factors can be used in a practical way, even with limited resources. The authors also point out that it would be a mistake to believe that we should do everything we can to reactive every lapsed donor. They argue that we must try to assess highest projected lifetime value vs. cost of re-activation, then concentrate resources on re-activating those donors where this ratio is most favourable.

Part four.

The final section of the book concentrates on fundraising and civil society. This interesting collection of chapters appears, on initial inspection, to be only loosely connected. Included within it, are subjects such as fundraising volunteers, fundraising events, women and philanthropy, public trust, and the social role of fundraising (how generosity helps the generous individual, and society, to flourish). However, after more detailed reading, it becomes clear that the underlying theme is the wider role that fundraisers and fundraising play in our civil society, that is, a society where not everything is appraised solely for its financial value. For example, there is a value in volunteering for the meaning and connection it can give to volunteers; there is a value in building women’s participation and contribution to philanthropy for the new perspective this may bring and the potential to make a distinctive contribution to ending oppression of women; and there is a value in building the public trust in charities because that contributes to social capital.

While this underlying theme does adequately connect most of the chapters in part four, the inclusion of a section on event fundraising in this part does seem to be an anomaly. However, it is a well-written description of fundraising events and their purposes and evaluation, but unlike the other chapters it doesn’t include any substantial discussion of a contribution to civil society. I think it would have belonged naturally in part three, as a valuable fundraising method.

It is certainly worth a read, not least because the author addresses some of the more difficult questions about fundraising programmes in organisations. For example, what seasoned fundraiser hasn’t dealt with the problem of how to find a role for a particular volunteer within the organisation, without judging how much money he or she might have raised? The author points out that fundraising activity has a social purpose that goes beyond raising money for a particular cause. There do not seem to be any easy solutions to the choice that needs to be made when cost-effective considerations seem to be in conflict with wider considerations of contribution to civil society. These chapters help to draw out some of the ideas that can lie beneath the debate on these issues.

In conclusion, this is a long and satisfying book, with an excellent presentation of analysis that will work very well as a reference tool.

One small disappointment is that there is less discussion of organisational values than I would have hoped, particularly given how deeply the authors have obviously thought about the context of fundraising. I would have preferred more detail surrounding the importance of explicit organisational values to effective organisations.

Finally, make a point of looking also at the associated web-based resource material at It is arranged in the same way as the chapters and contains useful links to additional material and is a useful accompaniment to the book.

© Roewen Wishart's book review was first published on SOFII in 2010.

Book details:

Fundraising Principles and Practice by Adrian Sargeant, Jen Shang and Associates.

Jossey-Bass 2010.

About Roewen Wishart

Roewen Wishart joined Bush Heritage Australia, a nature conservation not-for-profit, in 2001. Until 2007 he was national fundraising manager and now specialises in major gifts. He is a member of the Fundraising Institute of Australia National Ethics Committee and a board member of Diplomacy Training Program, which provides human rights training for activists.

About the author: Adrian Sargeant

Adrian Sargeant is the Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy. He was formerly the first Hartsook Chair in Fundraising at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Adrian is a Visiting Professor of Fundraising at Avila University and the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. In 2010 in the United States he was named to the prestigious Nonprofit Times, Power and Influence list and in the same year received a Civil Society award in the UK for his services to the profession of fundraising. In 2016 he received a lifetime achievement award from the Institute of Fundraising. Adrian designed the UK’s system of professional education for fundraisers and is currently working on the European qualification framework for the European Fundraising Association.

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