The language of marketing often draws on war as a metaphor – we use terms likes tactics and strategy. We “target” customers and donors. Yet it has its limitations and it creates a mindset that I’m not sure is helpful. Already you can see we are striving for new words and phrases to help explain how things are changing.
I would like to propose gardening as a metaphor for the future.
Gardening has no end. There is no finish line. It is about a journey not a destination.
What if you were to think of your supporters as seeds and plants?! You start to think how you would nurture and encourage them rather than target them. Its not about what you can get out of them – its how you can make them grow.
Anyone who is dabbled into gardening knows you need to prepare the ground, compost, mulch etc. Likewise fundraising needs a good foundation – a good database, supporter care in place. On their own these won’t transform your fundraising but without them you will struggle.
A great looking garden isn’t about any one plant – it’s the combination and how everything complements each other. And so it is with fundraising – we need to stop looking at different areas of fundraising in isolation and see how they complement each other – for example its well know how volunteering and community fundraising can help build legacies. In fact more and more I find everything is connected.
There is a great deal of satisfaction with gardening. One of my favourite moments of the year is unearthing home grown potatoes. It really does remind me of that feeling of sitting down and opening the post and finding a cheque (and if you are a fundraiser you absolutely must sit down and open the post at least once a year).
And gardens are full of surprises. Plants that self seed and colours occurring you never imagined. And these aren’t by chance – you have created the conditions to make these surprises happen. You will find if you approach your fundraising in a hybrid way, surprises will happen. By all means predictable fundraising as epitomised by direct marketing has its place but its rather boring and, well, predictable!
These welcome surprises only seem to happen when you nurture those supporters rather than target them. It could be in the shape of a volunteer who helps you access a major grant from a family trust they have contact with, or a donor who introduces you to a philanthropist.
And what words do you associate with gardens? Inspiring and beauty spring to mind. Certainly not words you associate with war. And I think a fundraising programme can have a beauty to it too. Like in a garden, if you step back and see the shape you should see how your fundraising all fits and how all the parts work together to provide something even better.
Perhaps it helps that I fundraise for SolarAid and the sun is clearly a major factor in our work! Maybe I should change my job title to Head Gardener?
Fundraising has also helped shaped my garden. On the two occasions I have been to the International Fundraising Congress in Holland I have brought back some tulip bulbs. They are starting to come up now. A range of fantastic colours from deep purple to blush red. And my garden has helped my fundraising. When I garden my mind gets lost – there are so many things to do – and its in that sort of place that ideas germinate.
So think gardening not war. And if you haven’t started gardening I recommend it. It might just give you that gem of an idea or at the very least some potatoes.