The solution is simple – why fundraisers need to get a grip

I recall standing in a reception foyer watching the news screen when the BBC broadcast the story that was to reverberate around fundraising as the National Fundraising Convention was taking place in London. My jaw dropped. I recall the shock but I wasn’t surprised.


Over the last few weeks I have listened to the views of peers and read with interest the opinions of sector bloggers about the crisis in fundraising. Some are in denial. Some play the blame game (“not us”). Some rise to what I call the defence of the dark arts. Sure, The Daily Mail have got it in for fundraisers – but we created the fuel for this fire. Then there are those that offer tactical suggestions. That won’t really change anything. What’s needed is a new approach altogether.

Actually it’s so simple.

It’s like taking the batteries out of a smoke detector instead of trying to find the fire

The problem is fundraisers are looking at the symptoms not diagnosing the root cause. It’s like taking the batteries out of a smoke detector instead of trying to find the fire.  When you understand the root cause the answer becomes so clear. We need to step back and see the bigger picture.

The root cause is that rules of marketing changed some years ago. This is written in books such as The New Rules of Marketing by David Meerman-Scott and Sticky Marketing by Grant Leboff.  These were published in 2008 and 2011 respectively! Although of course you will find they have been regularly updated. They tell you why sales and marketing has profoundly changed. Have you read them? They have mind blowing implications. At the very least check them out when you are next browsing in a book shop or get a preview sample on Amazon. Let me give you an example of what we all do differently. If you were going to buy a camera this weekend what would you do? Do you believe the marketing by Sony or Panasonic? Chances are you will do one of two things – ask a friend “What camera do you have and would you recommend it?”, or go online and look at the customer reviews. The fun bit is translating the thinking in their pages for our sector.

The solution? Well it just drops out. There are three important interlinked changes that you need to think about:

First : We increasingly ‘buy’ from sources we trust. Hmm someone stopping me on the street? Or a stranger calling me on the phone? Remember the camera example – it’s not what your company says about your cause/product – it’s what others say that counts. How can you get all your different supporters to advocate on your behalf?

Second : The social capital your supporters have with their contacts is greater than the social capital you will ever have with their contacts. By supporters I don’t just mean individual donors on your database. I mean everyone who is a supporter. Non-donors. Volunteers. Campaigners, Service users. Corporates too, especially those that share your values. So we need to value social capital as much as financial capital.

Homework jpgAnd finally: Everyone is now a channel. We are now connected in ways we never were. You don’t know who I know in this connected world. This is where fundraising comes into its own. In fundraising, a supporter is not recommending someone to buy another camera at a similar price. They are championing a cause where the price of the product varies. They may have given a few hundred quid, or done a sponsored event, or just be involved in some way, but the person they are engaging on behalf of the cause they feel so passionately about could open the door to a major gift, or a grant, or a corporate partnership, of a hundred thousand £. Or more. Believe me it happens.

Which all means : You need to inspire me to tell my network!

Inspire me

So the switch is from ‘how to get money out of me’ to ‘how to inspire me to tell my network’. That’s it. No really, that’s it. Just stop and think. If that’s the approach – inspire me so I will tell others – what would you do? What would you stop doing? It’s simple.

roadshowFirst : you would invest in supporter care and offer a great donor experience. Duh. You need people to talk about you and give you that Amazon five star rating. Now you have a strategic imperative for why you have to give a great donor experience. Many talk about it – but it’s just dressed up in the current way of how to squeeze as much money out of me as possible. The picture on the right is taken from the supporter roadshows we ran at ActionAid some years ago. ROI negligible. Engagement priceless.

Second : you would need to think how can we tell our story in a memorable way ? In a way people will pass on. Great storytelling that sticks in the mind is different to communications designed to get a response. This is the land of BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) where the struggle is part of the story. I don’t just mean a case study for an appeal – I mean the overarching story or narrative your cause is aiming to convey every day. Make it stick.

Think Holistic Fundraising

So you need great story telling. Great supporter care. We already know how to do that! We just need to put it to the top of the list. Not relegate it to the : nice to have. It’s why amongst your copy of Sticky Marketing you need to buy and reread Ken Burnett’s Relationship Fundraising. And check out his latest series of posts on why fundraising has to change.The principles are all there.

And finally you start to take a holistic view. It means dropping this obsession with ROI by all the separate areas we slice and dice fundraising : such as community fundraising, trusts, corporate, individual giving and legacies. It’s all joined up!! So you need to look at the overall ROI and see how it all connects. Thats what a Director of Fundraising now needs to do. We need to be willing to accept lower ROI for a particular activity to create that ripple effect that leverages social capital and impacts on the bottom line elsewhere. The overall ROI will be greater – which is what really matters! Measure engagement if you measure anything. Maybe our new lexicon needs to be “Return on Engagement”, ROE.

Tulips from Amsterdam

How does your fundraising garden connect?

If you want an analogy to help you think, switch from military terminology, such as “targeting”, to gardening.  A great garden is how it all connects and complements (and it needs constant work all year round).

I work at small but growing charity called SolarAid. We don’t have access to the resources available to the big charities – yet we bring in the funds at an overall ROI, or ROE, that’s pretty good.  It’s not easy but it is simple. Our partners, who share our values, help amplify our message to their networks. We aim to empower supporters to engage others and act as ambassadors on our behalf. We focus on the impact of our donors support as thats what matters to them. We sweat the story. And above all we have an ambitious goal, which, and I don’t kid, drives us every day. These are basic building blocks. It’s not easy. But it is simple.

Imagine what bigger charities could do! Having worked in several big charities, including leading a fundraising department, I know what resources exist : agencies, professional staff, budget! So get a grip sector. Open your eyes. This is such an opportunity.

For some years I have been saying this. It’s not a new view point I have recently dreamt up to jump on the opinion band wagon. It is the reason I began this blog in 2011. It’s the basis for my inaugural 101 Fundraising blog almost a year ago  Wake up to the New Rules of Fundraising. It’s time for a change. It won’t be easy. It is, however, so so simple. And it works.

If you agree and what to understand more then please check out my blog roll. I recommend the following:

2 thoughts on “The solution is simple – why fundraisers need to get a grip

  1. Pingback: Confessions of a fundraiser | ifundraiser

  2. Pingback: Are you using that Olympic emotion? | ifundraiser

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