Fundraising should be about building networks, not playing the numbers game

15 Sep 2015 Voices

After an unprecedented summer of media and public scrutiny, the sector needs to change, says Richard Turner. Fundraisers can win the public and increase the amounts they raise at the same time.

After an unprecedented summer of media and public scrutiny, the fundraising sector needs to change, says Richard Turner. Fundraisers can win the public and increase the amounts they raise at the same time.

Fundraising needs to change. Now is not the time to defend our practices or point the blame. It’s time to recognise that we should change. I’ve been saying this for years - it’s not a kick back reaction to the headlines in the Daily Mail.

I truly believe change in the right direction will raise more not less.

First let me tell you why we need to change. Without understanding why the danger is we are reacting to the symptoms without understanding the root cause. That’s like changing the batteries in your fire alarm when the fire is ranging.

As far back as 2008 I recall how response rates started to decline and fundraising costs rise. And then the recession started - note in that order. What did that cause many charities to do? Stick to highly measurable means of fundraising. But response rates continued to fall and the costs went up, and the pressure to deliver increased. And so charities ramped up the volume. Leading to the situation we have today.

The recession was a red herring. It disguised the real reason why performance in direct marketing techniques was in decline. Sales and marketing outside of the sector has profoundly changed. There are a stack of best-selling books that explain why. My personal favourite is Sticky Marketing by Grant Leboff. The voluntary sector needs to catch up.

In essence how we make purchasing decisions has changed. If you wanted to buy a camera, you no longer rely on the marketing from the likes of Sony or Panasonic. You ask a friend what camera would they recommend or look at customer reviews on Amazon.

Don’t think this applies to fundraising? Over two years ago New Philanthropy Capital released a report which found the top two reasons someone chose a charity to give to, other than being an existing supporter, was they had been recommend by a family, friend or colleague or had been asked by a family, friend or colleague.

We need to recognise that individuals are now connected in ways they never were before. Each of us has ‘social capital’ with our networks of friends, family and contacts. That volunteer or regular giver could be the door to a major trust grant. Individuals are now a channel.

It’s no longer about how to get money out of me - clearly the focus on so much now under the spotlight. It’s how can you inspire me to talk about your mission? It will raise more!
So how do go about that? Once you see this the solution becomes obvious.

  1. You sweat your story. Something that sticks like a BHAG (a Big Hairy Audacious Goal) and can easily be passed from person to person. And come on: we are the best storytellers.
  2. You figure out who will spread your story. This is not just you. This is not just donors. It’s staff, trustees, volunteers, campaigners, service users, service providers, beneficiaries - all telling the same story so it connects to all the different part of your fundraising programme.
  3. You find the means to engage and empower them to tell your story. Events, conversations, great communications. In fact investing in many of the areas that have had the greatest cuts over the years. This includes fabulous supporter care. If you can make me feel good about giving, chances are I will talk about it.

And then the magic begins. Your story spreads through trustees networks. A trust grant comes from a supporter advocating on your behalf. New donors are recruited by existing ones. A major gift comes through a recommendation. It’s sticky stuff - harder to measure as it cross pollinates. Yet overall your return on investment will be greater by making your fundraising programme connect.

All of the above are not made up - they are real instances of what has happened at SolarAid during my time learning and doing as a fundraiser there over the last four years. And if a charity/social enterprise with limited resources can make this work then so can others. Of course it is a learning curve. Change always is. So please join me. Learn and share with me. What an opportunity.

Then we will have fundraising headlines on the front pages for the right reasons - inspiring people to change the world for the better.

Richard Turner (@ifundraiser) is the chief fundraiser for SolarAid

  • This blog comes from a presentaion Richard Turner gave at the September Fundraising First Thing. The next FFT will be held on November 12 - details here

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