The Holistic Fundraiser

I am a great fan of Douglas Adams. Better known for writing the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, my favourite series of books were about Dirk Gently and his detective agency. Dirk was a ‘holistic detective’ who believed in the interconnectedness of things. In the novels things just happened but all along there was a thread that linked them together.

So let me introduce you to the holistic fundraiser.

  • The holistic fundraiser also sees that everything is interconnected. That regular donor could be the door opener to a foundation. That award with no financial prize attached may help engage a corporate partner. That new donor could help attract others (which at today’s acquisition cost is gold dust). And in this connect world, more than ever before, you do not know who people know.
  • So the holistic fundraiser values the social capital people have as well as the financial capital someone gives. They understand that the social capital a person has with their network of contacts will always be greater than the social capital your cause will have with them.
  • They are grounded in the principles of relationship fundraising and that great customer service is the route to more support vs short term response based fundraising.

But being a holistic fundraiser is not easy. With intense budget scrutiny in the wake of a recession the focus is on the return on investment of individual activities. Cut backs tend to eat into areas like supporter care. With the pressure to deliver it becomes difficult to step back and see the overall picture.

Last week I did that – stepping back and reflecting on the last few years at SolarAid. In 2013/14 our fundraised income doubled. Yes doubled. Let me say that again in case you missed it. In 2013/14 our fundraised income doubled. Actually it increased by 107% with income from a variety of areas – major gifts, corporates, foundations, and individuals. And in 2014/15 whilst we didn’t repeat that feat we sustained that level of income. So it wasn’t a blip. I included this, not to boast, but from the comments on fundraising blogs I read where I see the skeptics often shoot down anything with a whiff of relationship fundraising as tosh and scream to ask for the results.

IMG_0750And one of the key reasons we achieved something so remarkable without huge amount investment in fundraising was how it all started to connect. How supporters were galvanised by our story and our mission focus that we set at the end of 2011 : to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020. How our ‘brand value’ has grown because others have told our story for us, epitomised for me by the lady who went down her street on her own initiative knocking on the doors or her neighbours and asking them to donate to SolarAid with a solar light in her hand to Sir Richard Branson tweeting about us.

So despite all of the obstacles, to take a holistic approach you need to hold the line and stick at it. To be a holistic fundraiser you need courage, belief and, be a bit of a rebel.

The ripple effect

How to be a holistic fundraiser is obvious once you see the light.

  • The story your whole organisation tells is critical – because that’s how it all starts to join up as someone spreads your story on your behalf (not lots of different ones from different parts of the organisation).
  • Everyone is a channel, so you need to stop thinking just how to get a response, and think more about how to communicate your story effectively.
  • You ask ‘how do I inspire supporters?’, not ‘how can I get the most money out of them?’.  The holistic fundraiser thinks ‘how do we make donors feel great about the impact of their gift?’. Check what the Guardian said last week about our simple but effective impact calculator.

And if your colleagues buy into the philosophy everyone starts to benefit – new donors from existing ones, trusts that ask if you would like to apply, major donors who open doors … Like in Douglas Adam’s novels with detective Dirk Gently, things, seemingly unconnected, just begin to happen. This is where each part of your fundraising programme has a ripple effect on another area, and as a result your overall performance is better.

2 thoughts on “The Holistic Fundraiser

  1. Pingback: Why I’m not a worried fundraiser | ifundraiser

  2. Pingback: Confessions of a fundraiser | ifundraiser

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