Welcome to the party! How to apply the new rules of fundraising

These thoughts came over a coffee when someone asked me “Richard, if you had a blank sheet of paper how would you restructure a large fundraising department?” Isn’t it great that meeting someone for a coffee and being asked a simple question can help you learn from yourself!

I’ve recently done a couple of guests blogs : one on the new rules of fundraising (i.e. what you should do), and one about acknowledging the paradigm shift that has happened (i.e. why you should do it). This blog is the how.

Well it’s my take. I’m feeling a bit like Russell Brand – having highlighted the problem and then being asked to say what would you do to replace it. So it’s a start. This is a new world. I don’t claim to have the answers – but I’m giving it a try.

First let’s recap what it is we are seeking to do (or read my blog on the new rules of fundraising). The rules have changed. broadcast style marketing is no longer working. How we make purchasing decisions has changed. We are all now a channel and have social capital with our networks. What we are seeking to do is leverage the new rules. So how do we do this?

Funnel jpgTraditional (old style) marketing is a big funnel that gets smaller – you target a large number of people and get a percentage response. It’s all about numbers and scale – how many people can we target, mail shot, or stop in the street.

Door JpgAn engagement approach as advocated by the new rules is the opposite. It’s a funnel with a small opening that gets wider. Think of it like a door which says “Welcome to the party!” Having got your attention you go through the door. That’s where the engagement starts. And like all good parties if you are having a good time – you might call your friends to join you. And word spreads so more people join the party – hence the funnel widens.

It’s obvious when you stop and think why the first costs a lot more than the second – due to the sheer scale of numbers you need to target to get the response you need. Most charities are modelled for the former. Everything is geared around this – the structure – the measures – the activities that are driven to get a response. And because this machine is not working as well as it used to the only viable way of raising more money is to spend more.

A new model army

So how would it look if you modelled your fundraising department around the engagement approach?

To begin with the focus is no longer the outcome, the response. Now every piece of marketing should have some value – it is no longer a means to an ends, it is a means to itself. That’s why all your communications need to tell the story you want people to remember. That’s its value – telling the story – not getting a response.

There are now three key stages to focus on: 1. Attention 2. Engagement, and  3. Conversion.

Here is how I would organise my department.

content-creators-logo11. Content creators

I’d have a team creating content for attracting attention : video, blogs, reports, proposals, news releases, think pieces, podcasts etc. You need great content to get the attention of the audiences you are trying to reach. This isn’t just Comms staff. It’s all your staff especially the leadership as they hold the key to the authentic story you should be telling. The content team needs to be helping as many staff as possible generate content. At SolarAid any member of staff can have their own blog. The magic of this approach is they produce their own self edited genuine content that SolarAid can repost. Some of the most powerful content is produced by our Impact Research team.

This also applies your supporters. How can they create or share content to attract the attention of their network? This is critical. It’s a great way of engaging supporters and most importantly it leverages their social capital.

To knit all this together you need to be clear on what your story is that you want everyone to tell. You need a Master Story Teller that joins your story with the organisation purpose.

imgres2. The Engagers 

To engage is to keep busy.  So we need to think two way.  Now digital clearly has a massive strategic part  – for example when someone tweets about you they are engaged. You need to engage back (and not just by the ‘digital team’). Think of all the touch points on how people engage you and make it easy for them to do so. In fact you want to encourage it! From phone calls to online forums and of course events. This is why your Supporter Care function is now so critical as they have the opportunity (if you let them) to engage your supporters every day, including digital of course, and give them a great experience.

images3. The Convertors 

To convert those that are engaged you need to create a “reason to buy” – a moment, an excuse if you like, a reason to act, to give. A great example of this is setting up match fund when all donations are doubled by a funder during a limited window (SolarAid have one right now with a match from the UK government and a donor in the US). Or it could be genuine programme need, an emergency appeal, or an organisational goal, or a BHAG! The staff working on this are in effect your sales team. They provide the reason for people to donate or fundraise, they follow through with potential partners who can get your story out. This team need to be watching all those that are engaged, thinking how to convert them to give or support in other ways.

So “form follows function” : we need content creators, staff that are primed to engage, and a sales team that converts what we want people to do at the time we need them to do it.

This suggests a much more integrated structure than a classic Comms and Fundraising set up. Previously one was typically doing above the line and the other below the line. Comms and Fundraising are now joined at the hip – they are part of the process that leads to that gift. There is also a very clear purpose for digital, often hived out to Comms. Digital provides a great basis for engagement. And the supporter care function is fundamental – it’s not a process it’s a key part of the experience.

Your measures change too. In fact they must – otherwise you will just do what you’ve always done.You’ll need to determine : How many people are you getting the attention of, how many people are you engaging, and what percentage of those engaged are you converting. As it’s no longer about direct response the only ROI that makes sense is the overall ROI as the income will come from all sorts of unexpected directions (but as a direct result of supporters engaging their networks on your behalf).

What other implications are there for structure?

I’d consider separating out management as a function so you put some of your most experienced people at the front – engaging supporters, spotting opportunities, or engaging partners. Management is important but it needs head space and it will take the edge away from someone with experience who can see how to maximise attention or close an opportunity. In addition some of your communication maybe via partners who share your beliefs and are willing to engage their customers – so it may be you don’t own the data when it comes to getting your message out. That’s ok!

So in summary to make the most of the new rules:

  1. Be the best story tellers
  2. Set up digital so everyone can engage with content oozing from staff
  3. Invest in supporter care to give your donors a great ‘party’ experience and engage them
  4. Equip your supporters and partners to use their social capital with their audiences
  5. Create and find timely reasons to give

Holistic Fundraising

Isn’t this relationship fundraising or donor-centered fundraising? Sort of but not quite. It draws on many of the common sense principles of relationship fundraising. Here is how it is different.

This is holistic fundraising i.e. how it all connects  – so a “cash donor” could be the route to a major grant i.e. from a completely different area of fundraising. In this new world referral is key – it’s not just about the relationship you have with them it’s how they talk about you to others. This is not transactional (it’s not how much I get out of a donor or even their progress up the ladder to that legacy) – it’s about engagement. So you need to ask how do we engage or involve someone? The effort is in engagement. It’s counter intuitive for fundraisers because you don’t land the gift at this stage and when it comes it might be from left stage via someone a supporter has advocated your cause to instead of a direct response. But have faith – build it and the money will come.

It will need courage. After all who would dismantle their direct marketing department, stop broadcast marketing that interrupts, and then reinvest in supporter care, integrate digital, and set up a holistic team that together takes people through the supporter journey we have all been striving for – from getting their attention, through to engagement, and giving their time, money or ‘social capital’.

Old style charity is give us the money and we will solve the problem. In this new world, where everyone is a channel, the way forward is to say “Here is the social problem we are trying to solve – want to be involved?” What an opportunity!


9 thoughts on “Welcome to the party! How to apply the new rules of fundraising

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  4. I love this, Richard!

    There will be obstacles, of course. People have a hard time with that trust thing. Can we trust staff who have blogs not to say something we don’t want them to say? Can we trust that engagement is working? How will we know?

    We need new measurements and a bunch of persuasive case studies, I think, to bring organizations around to this. And you’re right – it’s got to be the whole organization that buys in!

    Thanks for a really good piece.


    • Thanks Mary!

      Great points too. I think having the mission right from the outset helps ensure staff are on message and should get that organisation buy in. And I’ve never known anyone to use their blog to diss the organisation (although of course thats a risk).

      As for how will you know? – as I was finishing at SolarAid every week we had examples of sticky fundraising : inbound leads, new donors coming to us, or just something surprising (but as a result of the engagement that had taken place some time back). It takes time but it starts to build and build.

      As for a case study I’m working on the SolarAid one to help show it works but I’m so keen to hear of others!


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