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Street fundraisers deserve our professional respect

The past four or five years have seen the emergence of a new generation of charity fundraiser, as the alumni of various face-to-face fundraising agencies assume positions in charity fundraising departments as direct marketing, corporate, community and individual fundraisers.

While this infiltration by former street fundraisers has gone almost unnoticed, it has a number of implications for the way fundraising views itself as a profession.

This cohort of charity fundraisers are bringing the skills and experience they learned on the street into charity fundraising departments, often with brilliant results. One fundraiser who arrived in his first fundraising department via the street described to me his surprise at how much knowledge about general charity fundraising he already possessed; others have told me how the skills they learned on the street have underpinned their subsequent fundraising careers.

That was their route into charity fundraising, which goes to show that street fundraising has become a bona fide entry point for a career in the voluntary sector. People once labelled as ‘chuggers’ now occupy a host of jobs across a range of fundraising types.

I don’t think street fundraising is seen in a positive way by a lot of the charity sector. Sometimes this manifests itself in the experiences of street fundraisers being dismissed at job interviews; sometimes it’s a reluctance to speak in defence of face-to-face fundraising. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that some people in fundraising secretly buy in to the myths that street fundraisers are students who need to get a real job, or actors who have already failed at their first-choice career. Yet, the adherence to these outdated stereotypes is at odds with the influx of former street fundraisers into fundraising departments.

All these street-turned-charity fundraisers are of course valid members of the fundraising profession. No one would doubt that. But did they only become true members of the profession when they got a ‘real’ job in a charity fundraising department, or were they already fully-fledged members when they were working on the street?

The truth is that they were always part of the fundraising profession. So are all their colleagues who continue to practise their trade on the street rather than in an office; and so are all the young people who will follow in their footsteps by starting their voluntary sector career with a street fundraising agency or charity in-house team in the coming months and years.

If the fundraising profession doesn’t accept them as equals, it won’t be able to support the progression of their fundraising careers by offering them any structured career advice or professional development. And if the sector doesn’t view them as an equal part of the profession, then this is perhaps why not enough is being done to encourage their professional development. Some fundraisers are bound to fall short of the required standards without the support and training that should be offered to them.

We are trying to improve this through a research project we are undertaking at Flow Caritas in the UK. The project seeks to map the career progression from street to office-based charity fundraising, so that we can provide support and guidance for new entrants to the profession.

On the way we hope we can draw attention to the fact that street fundraisers are a brilliant resource for the sector and deserving of our professional respect.

Rory White is managing director of charity recruitment agency Flow Caritas. The survey is open to any charity fundraisers who began their careers as a street fundraiser. To participate, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FlowStreetsAhead.