Mike Adamson: Fundraising has to change but the future is bright

10 Feb 2017 Voices

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, writes that in uncertain times the future of charity fundraising is bright and exciting.

We are in uniquely uncertain times. A series of unprecedented political events – from the financial crash to Brexit and events in America - make the future suddenly very unpredictable.

At the same time, there are ongoing societal changes that are creating unprecedented demand on charities. At the British Red Cross we are responding to the worst global refugee crisis since records began and last year we helped more than 800,000 people in the UK. Meanwhile the combination of an aging population, new medical advancements and budget constraints are putting more pressure on health and social care and the need for our services is increasing.

These are external forces and global changes well out of our control adding up to very real challenges for the sector. 

New regulatory framework

These pressures make our mission to help people in crisis ever more crucial. But declining trust in charities, intense public scrutiny and negative media coverage have made our jobs harder. In addition, a new regulatory framework is being developed to backstop the rights of donors, which, on the face of it, will make fundraising harder.
However, I believe that we need to do the right thing and that in such uncertain times there is also opportunity. We learn things about ourselves, find new motivations and recognise the mistakes of the past, which in turn can all help us identify new solutions.

The NCVO Working Group on Consent, which I chaired, recommended a new and rigorous set of principles and practice for fundraising that would give the donor, or potential donor, more control over the relationship that they have with charities. 

These recommendations were endorsed by the NCVO board and commended to our new fundraising regulator. I understand the challenge we have set for the sector, but we have to change with the times. The NCVO working group heard loud and clear from the public that they wanted control over their personal data and how it was used. There was mistrust in how charities were using data and we urgently needed to address it. 
So, we have to change - we need to reinvent the way we interact with our supporters establishing deeper, more enduring relationships based on a real understanding of our cause. 

Encouragingly, our research also showed that two thirds of respondents said their trust would increase if charities were transparent and gave control over how personal data was stored and shared. So we came up with proposals which balanced the needs of charities to communicate with supporters with the public’s right to have control over contact. I see this as the foundation stone for a trusting relationship between charities and their donors. 
It is currently up to charities whether they choose to accept the recommendations and up to the new Fundraising Regulator what they choose to include in the new Code of Fundraising Practice. 

Deeper relationship with supporters

But at the Red Cross we see this is the way forward, which we hope will lead to much deeper engagement with our supporters. Our desire is that it may spur them on to support us in other ways.  A report by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) last October found that 18 per cent of those polled felt more inclined to volunteer now than before Brexit. 

The present climate offers a huge opportunity for fundraisers to engage with a new audience of compassionate people. How exciting to think we can help create the world we want to see? 

At Civil Society’s Fundraising Live conference yesterday (Thursday 9 February) I set out how I see this as our moment. How we can capitalise on a more open and direct relationship with our supporters. How charities can bring communities together and how fundraisers will have a huge role to play here. 

Shifting the balance from aquisition to retention

Fundraising roles in the future will be about much more than just the money – they will also be measured on their success as champions, campaigners and ambassadors for their cause. 

For too long, fundraising has sat in a ‘silo’ in organisations but it should be an integral part of what we do, not a means to an end. We need to work together to mobilise people, engage them and of course, hold onto them.

You won’t be surprised that we are anticipating a shift in the balance between acquisition and retention. We know at the Red Cross, for example, that donors who have been with us over 10 years are five more times less likely to leave us than new donors. Of course that doesn’t mean we won’t need to top up the numbers. 

But we won’t be relying on individual giving growth, instead we will look to legacies, high value restricted giving and new innovative fundraising products to make up the difference.
Digital channels are only going to become more important. We receive around 40 per cent of our emergency income this way. Every contact is an opportunity to build a relationship. 
The challenge for fundraisers is how to engage with them. Charities are competing for space in a crowded marketplace. Supporters have high expectations and want to interact with their favourite brands on the move. They expect a response and personalised experience across a number of channels. Different individuals will want different intensities of interaction and we need to deliver a tailored experience.  
We need to understand our audiences like never before and charities must build a brand that is seen as relevant and trusted in every area. 

It is time for us to accept that the status quo has changed and take responsibility. We have a huge and exciting opportunity now to nurture deep and long-lasting relationships with our supporters. This will ensure we can continue to help the millions of people who desperately need our help.  

This blog is in support of a speech made by Mike Adamson at the Fundraising Live conference in London yesterday. A report on his speech can be read here


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