What are we going to do?
Much has been written about the challenge facing fundraising: about regulation, permission, respect, putting the supporter at the heart of fundraising strategies, building a new kind of supporter relationship.
As if it was not already hard enough to raise funds to support charities’ programmes, fundraisers can expect a new regulator, new regulations, increased scrutiny, more empowered supporters. But the question that remains unanswered, despite all the words that have been written on the subject, is: how can charities respond to the challenge of the new fundraising world? In real, practical terms, what are we going to do?
The problem is that we’ve grown accustomed to chasing numbers. We’re driven by volumes, ROI, retention rates and average value. The vision of a better world, and the mantra that our causes are best served by putting the supporter at the heart of our strategies, can become obscured by the stark figures on the monthly report. We have to chase the numbers, don’t we?
“Visionary companies pursue a cluster of objectives, of which money is only one – and not necessarily the primary one. Yes, they seek profits, but they’re equally guided by a core ideology – core values and sense of purpose beyond just making money. Yet paradoxically, the visionary companies make more money than the purely profit driven companies”
Built to last: successful habits of visionary companies: Collins & Porras
In his book: ‘Obliquity: why our goals are best achieved indirectly’, economist John Kay quotes many examples of companies that succeeded because they focused on their core purpose – making the best aeroplanes, medicines, computers – and of companies that failed because they chased the numbers: profit, shareholder value.
Of course, our ‘making money’ is ‘raising money’. So does this suggest that we should no longer focus on raising money? And if that were to be the case, what should we focus on?
The vision and the mechanics
Of course no-one would deny that fundraisers’ ultimate purpose is to raise money. But perhaps raising money – sustainably increasing supporter value in the long term – is best achieved indirectly.
Ask anyone who works for a charity to describe the organisation’s purpose, its values and why it is important, and there’s a good chance they would give a compelling, passionate and authentic account. But put them in front of the tools of their trade and the transaction takes over: processing a donation, writing a campaign brief, signing off a script.
As fundraisers, our equivalent of ‘the best aeroplanes and medicines’ is ‘the best supporter relationships’. To define that in a way that differentiates one charity from another, we have to look behind the mechanics of targeting, contact strategy and supporter care, important though they are, and explore how each organisation’s values are reflected in the supporter experiences that it creates.
What’s the point of values?
At the recent Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs parliamentary select committee hearing, fundraising chief executives acknowledged that their organisations’ values had not always been reflected in their fundraising practices.
The question that all fundraising leaders must answer is: how can we address this challenge in a way that will be meaningful for supporters?
You can take tactical steps such as reviewing communications and equipping people to tell stories in supporter care encounters, but you need to go further, creating a strategy and structure that drives behaviours that reflect your values.
So what can we do?
There are two priorities:
Authenticity: find ways of expressing your charity’s values through every contact with your supporters, in a way that feels natural to the organisation and the supporter. And ensure that you do this consistently, through every proactive communication and every responsive encounter.
The best supporter relationships:make a long term commitment to creating the best supporter relationships as the first priority, above every other demand that the organisation makes of its fundraisers.
How can you achieve this? There are a number of things you can do. You can define how your charity’s brand values should be reflected in fundraising communications and contacts.You can review all of your communications and touchpoints, to question how well they tell your compelling story.You can redefine supporter journeys in the context of the ‘best supporter relationship’ priority. You can revise your KPIs, so that you measure authenticity, brand consistency and relationship quality, and not just financial targets.
There is no single solution to the challenge: there are many steps you must take. It is a major commitment: to change the way you define success; to believe that this will lead to better outcomes for the supporter, the organisation and its beneficiaries; to devise and implement practical changes.
But today the need for action, not just words, has never been greater.