Sustainable Fundraising

I’ve often used the garden as a great metaphor for fundraising (see links at the end of this blog). Recently it was a bit more direct!

This summer I had a knock at the door and a speculative ask if I would like any trees cutting, as they were in the neighbourhood. As it happens I did need a large tree cutting back.

We agreed a price and they soon set to work. I suppose they did the job. But they left a mess, and surprise surprise didn’t come back as promised to clear up the next day. Muggins here had paid up too. I should have smelt there would be an issue when chatting with them – the lead guy talked about “its all about getting the money in“. So lesson learnt.

Speculation or Reputation?

Although the job was done it was a bad experience. I won’t use them again. Not that he was seeking repeat business. That’s not his model. His is a speculative model. He even shared his approach to marketing with me. He pays for someone to blitz an area with leaflets to generate leads, picks up work, and then knocks on a few doors to see if there is any more work to pick up, and then moves on.

So to finish the job the next week I got in touch with someone we had used before who had been initially recommended by a neighbour. Unlike the others they left the area clear. They did a great job. I also gave them some extra work that they were able to help with.

The first business was pushing for a sale. He hit it lucky. I happened to be in the market at that time. The second wasn’t even seeking one. But I sought him out based on his reputation and my past experience of using him. And he got some additional business too when we had a good chat about what I needed. I suppose you could argue both got my business. But only the second is going to get repeat business from me. Only one will be sustainable.

In the same vein, fundraising faces the same choice. You can push people to sign up and donate and they may do so. But unless the experience from then on is a really good one it will be something they will ultimately regret.

Sustainable fundraising

So how can you adopt the second, more sustainable, approach? How can you be the charity someone thinks of in response to a situation, when they are ready or moved to give? How can you be one that is recommended by peers, neighbours, friends?

My top three tips (and follow links for more thoughts):

  1. Give a great donor experience that is so good people will talk about it.
  2. Be ready to react when someone approaches you – thats’ when they are most engaged – the moment they contact you.
  3. And build your reputation for being the best at what you do (and your reputation is what other people say about you) – which means focusing on what you do best.

Both approaches work and perhaps in the short term they get a similar result but in the long term only one will be sustainable.


For some thoughts on gardening as a metaphor for fundraising (instead of military terminology) that will help you think about approaching fundraising differently see:

How does your fundraising garden grow?

Nuture your supporters

Fundraising growth

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