Chief Encounters: Ian MacQuillin on why fundraising isn’t fixed


Ian MacQuillin on a near death experience and the crucial mistakes made by fundraisers

4th October 2016 by TFN 0 Comments

What is the first thing you do when you arrive at work?

Make a cup of tea. I've been doing that religiously since 1988.

What makes a good day at work? 

Ticking off more than 50 per cent of the things on my to do list (and feeling like I've changed the world, obviously).

Ian MacQuillin

Ian MacQuillin

If you were your boss would you like you? 

Judging by the good relationships and friendships I've had with all the people I've managed in the past, then yes. However, if I were my own colleague, that might be a different story.

Should the third sector uphold high ethical standards?

Absolutely. But then, so should everyone in every sector.

What was the last thing you did that scared you?

I honestly can't remember the last time I was properly scared (I don't base jump or other nonsense like that). So I'll tell you about the time I was most terrified. I used to be a special constable in London in the early 90s and I once thought a man was going to pull a gun on me (the context of the situation made this seem a possibility). Turned out he wanted directions and was pulling an A-Z out of his zippered black leather jacket, not a pistol, while he looked directly at me from behind the black visor on his black motorcycle helmet. But it was a millisecond of total, unadulterated terror nonetheless.

What’s your favourite book?           

Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Dan Dennett. The nonprofit sector doesn't look to evolutionary theory nearly as much as it should.

What’s the best thing about the third sector in the UK?

That we stand up for what we believe in and we don't give in.

Would your 16-year-old self be impressed with where you are now?

Yes, but my 11-year old self wouldn't be. He was pretty convinced I was going to open the batting for England.

Did fundraising need to be fixed?

Yes, but not because of what happened last year. Fundraising's approach to how it tackles professional challenges needs a radical and deep overhaul so that fundraisers make better use of the theory and evidence that's already available, ask the right questions to find better theory and better evidence, and think critically about what the best solutions are. We probably could have gone some way to preventing what happened last year if fundraisers had been better equipped to critically evaluate the way their profession functions.

Is it now fixed?

No it's not. We value a just get it done, heart-over-head approach that is going to either repeat past mistakes or lead to a whole bunch of new ones, because we just haven't thought enough not only about what went wrong in fundraising, but more importantly why it went wrong. 

Is Facebook your friend or your enemy?

More like someone I know by sight and imperceptibly nod to as we pass in the street.

What does your perfect weekend look like?

It starts on Friday morning and ends on Monday night.

Is the third sector a calling or an accident?

An accident. While there are so few formal entry routes to the sector, particularly fundraising, it can't really be anything else.

What’s your top tip for young fundraisers?

Challenge the status quo in fundraising; don't be indoctrinated by it (cf questions about whether fundraising needed fixing). Hat tip to Joe Jenkins at the Children's for coming up with this fantastic quote.

Which Brian Cox? 

Actor. But if the scientist had the actor's voice…

Ian MacQuillin is Director of Rogare: the fundraising think tank