Sunday, January 27, 2013

Most fundraisers say they are Gandalf, most donors say fundraisers are goblins: new study

This is who we think we are

A new survey shows differing interpretations of how the fundraising sector views itself in comparison to English author J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The study, published in the journal Fundraising & Coffee Management, found that while fundraisers tend to think of themselves as more positive characters like Gandalf, most donors actually equate fundraisers with the books evil characters such as goblins.

Conducted by a science team from the Center for Mindless Fundraising Research at the University Southern West Virginia, the  study asked 2,000 fundraisers and 2,000 donors questions about which characters they identified with themselves and with others. Scientists say the results were surprising.

This is who donors think we are

“Most fundraisers said they were Gandalf – they associated themselves with that character’s wisdom, courage and magical powers. However, most donors associated fundraisers with all those icky things from the book – goblins, orcs, and even Gollum. They couldn’t be more different,” said Dr. Dibble Brewer, lead researcher on the project.

Nearly half of the fundraisers polled said they were Gandalf. The rest said they were elves, hobbits or one of less smelly dwarves. Different roles had different answers. Major gift officers tended to think of themselves as the grey wizard almost exclusively with a small minority associating themselves with the mysterious Necromancer who is seen to be the evil lord Sauron. Annual gift officers almost exclusively associated themselves with Bilbo Baggins, the small, courageous Hobbit who saves Thorin's Company and restores the Dwarf Kingdom after the Battle of the Five Armies at the climax of the book. Prospect research officers tended to think of themselves as J. R. R. Tolkien, the writer and creator of the book and the Lord of the Rings series that followed it. Even though Tolkien wasn’t a choice, most researchers simply scribbled his name in the margins of the survey and returned it with a few suggestions for improved wording on some questions.

Donors, on the other hand, associated fundraisers with the goblins, trolls and orcs in the book. Forty percent said fundraisers were goblins, the ugly, slimy and filthy fanged humanoids who are the books evil characters. Twenty percent said they were more the like the trolls, the dumb, huge evil creatures who try to eat Bilbo and Thorin’s Company. A minority said fundraisers were
Smaug, the great dragon who made the Lonely Mountain his lair, or Gollum, the degenerate hobbit whose name was originally Sméagol and who had a flare for gifts-in-kind.

Brewer says things were much more unclear when researchers asked what fundraisers thought about donors. While fundraisers had clear, positive ideas of the characters they were, they picked mostly vague secondary characters for donors. Nearly 68 percent of fundraisers answered “One of the 12 nameless dwarves in Thorin’s Company”.

In contrast, donors had a much clearer vision of themselves. The vast majority of donors associated themselves with the elf Elrond, master of Rivendell. Other choices were Gandalf. Several said they were “Peter Jackson”, the direct of The Hobbit movie series and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

“The use of The Hobbit has helped us better identify some of the more powerful qualities that each group has,” explained Brewer. “Fundraisers think of themselves as magical creatures for good and donors think of them as a mindless, stinky, relentless horde or evil-doers bent on destroying Middle Earth.  Fascinating!”

Brewer says future research will use characters from various Batman movies to explore roles in planned giving.