Decisions leadership must make for fundraising to grow

It’s been three years now since we released the Great Fundraising research carried out by professors Sargeant and Shang.  In that time, we have had the privilege of observing many organisations put the findings into practice.

One of the key recommendations was ‘whole organisation fundraising’:  those that succeeded in multiplying their income were the ones where the whole organisation was proud of fundraising; and all departments contributed to making the organisation ‘fundraisable.’

Encouraging such unity requires particular behaviours from senior leadership: board, executive team and, pivotally, the CEO or general secretary.  Amongst behaviours such as emotional leadership, fundraising education and development of the learning culture, we have isolated one more essential behaviour: decision making.

There are two precise decisions which must be made by senior leadership for fundraising to flourish:

  • A decision to prioritise investment in fundraising to drive growth.
  • A decision on the messaging the whole organisation uses to drive growth.

In organisations which procrastinated or were too timid, we noticed that decisions about these two critical issue were delegated to middle management in an attempt to achieve consensus.  Because these decisions involve potential conflict between departments, usually opinion based, discussions could only ever lead to disharmony and compromise.

One of the behaviours of great leaders is to be able to see, state and deal with things exactly as they are, not as ‘they should be’ or ‘we wish they were’.  So, in great fundraising organisations, the leadership:

  • Made a clear decision to prioritise investment in fundraising growth for a period of time, either from reserves or through reinvestment. They clearly explained this decision to the whole organisation and gave the timescale as to when other departments could expect increased spend based on fundraising success, even if it was several years.
  • Taught themselves why fundraising needs to use powerful, simple emotional messages and gave clear decisions and guidelines on what the organisation would talk about and, just as important, what it would not talk about. They cut through the taste and opinions of departments and authorised messaging which worked while maintaining integrity.

Their process was simple:  they taught the board and executive teams what works, then they taught the rest of the organisation, then they consulted.  Critically, they then made the decision on these two vital issues and communicated the decision to the whole organisation.  The leaders did not act dictatorially.  Consultation was wide and input from everyone was considered, but in the end the best decision was made.  Those few who continued to rant and rave against the decisions were encouraged to consider their options.

In summary, it is internal conflict about investment and messaging which leads to the compromises which stop great fundraising.  In the successful organisations, the leadership make the critical decisions to resolve this conflict, without compromise.




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