To change fundraising you need courage

Change is hard. So it helps to have a bit of courage to make it happen.

Where does courage come from? In the Wizard of Oz I remember how the cowardly lion is given a magic medal that gives him the belief he has courage. The Wizard is a bit of fraud so it really came from self belief that the medal enacted in the lion.

Increasingly I hear recognition that fundraising needs to change. But change is hard. So where is the medal to give us that courage? As the lion found courage comes from belief. Belief is so so powerful. Belief gives you the courage to push through. To fail and try again, to resist against the detractors, and the “drains”. Without belief I think many will give up even if in their hearts they know fundraising needs to change. Perhaps they will move to somewhere else or maybe abandon a career in fundraising altogether (which is our loss).

And where can you get that belief? Through understanding. Understanding will give you belief.

Understand first and the courage will come

Hence my top tip is simply this … understand first. Understand WHY fundraising needs to change. And don’t confuse understanding with just stating the symptoms. If something doesn’t work as well any more that’s just a symptom. The media back lash against fundraising is just a symptom. Declining response rates is just a symptom. And whilst you might gauge what you need to do more of (such as “engage donors”), until you understand the courage to really change will be lacking.

Real understanding comes from identifying the root cause. The beauty is by understanding the root cause of the problem shows the way to the solution. This only strengthens your belief further as not only do you believe fundraising has to change you can see the direction to head off in.

So what is the root cause for why fundraising needs to change? Why do I believe the pervading model is fundamentaly broken?I feel I have said this so many times, but I’ll summarise it below as it probably helps in the telling. See this blog and this one for a more detailed explanation.

Why fundraising needs to change

In summary the rules of communication have changed. Many-to-many means of communication is now possible. In effect everyone is now a channel – you, me, your charity, your supporters, and the people you are trying to ‘target’. Everyone being a channel means we are all drowning in the noise. We feel overwhelmed. As a result interrupt style fundraising won’t work as effectively as attention is now scarce. And the cost to get my attention will just rise. So it’s unsustainable. Whether it’s sending out stacks of applications to trusts, stopping people on the street, or calling donors up to upgrade them. Push this and you’ll continue to get people’s backs up and to get the same result you will need to do more. Push it harder to get the response you need and you’ll get the sort of media headlines we have become accustomed to. Because in a world where everyone is a channel a bad experience is easily shared. Before it didn’t matter. You just targeted the next prospect.

Everyone is a channel is the problem – the root cause for why interrupt based fundraising is in decline. But it is also the opportunity! In a world full of noise we filter. One way we do this is from sources we trust. People like us or better still people we know and trust. So now your story is stronger coming from others to their networks. And it get’s better because you don’t know who people are connected to. In our world that can transcend to other areas of fundraising – an individual can open the door to a company or a foundation.

That changes the fundraising model. It is no longer about how to get money out of me. It is now about how do you get me to spread your mission story.

This in turn changes what you now need to prioritise and invest resources in:

  1. If you want others to spread your narrative story you need to be crystal clear what it is? You’ll find it rooted in your purpose or mission (or your WHY).
  2. You’ll need to find those who believe in what you believe (which is the above). Define your WHO and it’s easier to attract them.
  3. You’ll need to encourage me to spread your story and make me feel part of it so I become a willing advocate for your mission.
  4. You need a supporter experience that is so good I will talk about it.
  5. You need to genuinely engage me to keep my attention.
  6. And when you get my attention you are ready to respond.

Does your supporter base feel like a solid stone wall or do you use the leaky bucket analogy?

Adopting this mindset is when the magic will happen – inbound leads, a supporter base that builds like a stone wall rather than leaks like a bucket, and mission offers of help that go beyond the money.

With understanding comes courage and then belief

How do I know this?  Having understood the root cause I adopted a different mindset for fundraising. But what started me on that path was understanding the root cause first. Before that I knew something wasn’t working but I didn’t know why. My attempts at change failed and I got into trouble (and went through a huge amount of stress).

Then I sought to understand. Seeking out and reading books by the likes of David Meerman Scott (The New Rules of Marketing & PR), Beth Kanter (the Network Non-Profit), and Grant Leboff (Sticky Marketing).

Once I understood the root cause I could see the direction to head in. The great thing about heading in the right direction is even if you stumble at least you are on the right path. And yes you will fail at times – but that will give you valuable learning that sets you back on course, and determination to carry on.

What now gives me the belief? With a bit of courage and the freedom to experiment during the time I spent at SolarAid now I know this approach works! I can see a new model emerging and more bright spots of charities adopting a different approach. WaterAid’s Untapped campaign (see Wayne Murray’s 7 minute presentation at this years IWITOT), the Sick Kids vs campaign (Paul de Gregorio can tell you why), and the likes of Anthony Nolan (if you have heard them speak on their approach you’ll know what I mean) all spring to mind. But there needs to be more as we will be better for it, with more learning, and less adverse headlines dragging us down.

With belief, and the courage that goes with it, you can begin to make that change. Maybe its just within the area of fundraising you are responsible for. But it starts with you. Do you have the courage to change fundraising for better? Please – join the revolution.


3 thoughts on “To change fundraising you need courage

  1. Pingback: Do the words we use to describe fundraising matter? | ifundraiser blog

    • So right. You have to fight against the attitude of ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ and ‘we tried that it didn’t work’. But if you can find that belief then it fuels the courage to do things differently and learn as you go.


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