Stephen Cotterill: Failure in fundraising is underrated

10 Feb 2022 Voices

It’s the duty of big charities to test new trends in fundraising and tell the rest of us about it, even when they fail.

Failure in fundraising is underrated. There are many reasons for this: Pressure from senior management teams and trustees to hit targets. A fear of letting donors down by wasting their money. Reputational risk of making high-profile, costly mistakes in the public eye. Personal damage to career prospects. But if we don’t fail, we don’t learn, and when it comes to the wider sector, nor does anyone else.

Trial and error takes time and money, and big charities have a duty to test new technologies, and alternative techniques and practices so that those organisations less fortunate than themselves can benefit from their learnings. Not only are they able to fail fast, discard those failures quickly and move on to try something else, but they will be ahead of the curve if something turns out to be a big money spinner.

A case in point is this month’s cover feature. Now is a time of accelerated digital growth in fundraising fuelled by the pandemic restrictions and changes in the ways that people want to give. Knowing what to adopt and what to ignore is difficult and likely to get even more so as technology becomes increasingly complex and abstract. Larger charities are experimenting and they should feel compelled to share those findings with the sector. Yes fundraisers share, but a lot of it is about the successes. It is just as valuable, if not more so, to share the failures. There have been some good initiatives in this area – Pizza for Losers from Charity Nikki springs to mind, where fundraisers get together and share learnings from past mistakes – but there could be more declarations of what hasn’t worked.

Many of our readers work in small charities and lack the resources to trial some of the techniques and tools that we look at each month in this magazine. But that is precisely why we do it. Hopefully, by highlighting what works and what doesn’t, we can help limit the waste of resources and stop less well-heeled organisations stumbling down blind alleys.

@stevejcotterill is the editor of Fundraising Magazine

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