Why are we fundraising and how can we do it better?

Another year, another IFC. Another round of presentations ranging from the transformative (none more so than this masterclass, ‘Reinventing the Donor Experience’ by Kevin Schulman and Adrian Sargeant) to the tawdry (tempting but unfair to name but, like any conference, always plenty of choice).

And of course another jaunty slogan. So what is it this year? ‘Asking the right questions’. 

So, what questions are you asking? Well, if you’re tired of running just to stand still; of investing time, money and effort into ‘new’ fundraising programmes that yield the same, predictably underwhelming, results, you’re probably asking:

‘What needs to change before my results do?’

There’s a very clear answer, one that’s already been adopted by a growing number of forward thinking charities. And it’s what I’m looking forward to co-presenting with two good friends and great fundraisers Rachel Hunnybun and Richard Turner in our session ‘How to be a fundraising changemaker’.

Is there any sector more resistant to change than ours? Medicine, science, technology, in fact just about any field you care to mention, are constantly changing their point of view. It’s fundamental to their evolution and growth.

When was the last time our sector changed its mind? 

When was the last time we took a good look at our mindset, our ironically labelled ‘best practice’, and asked ‘Is this as good as it gets?’ Given that our results have stayed flat for many, many years, you’d think it was a question worth asking. Yet very few do.

The sad fact is that, for all their great intentions and noble ambitions, far too many charities don’t truly know why they are fundraising or how to do it any better than they’ve always done it.

In our session, Richard Turner will look at the ‘why are we fundraising part’. So let me briefly touch on the ‘how to do it better’.

Imagine for a moment you were starting a new charity, or business, and you needed to go to the bank for a start-up loan. And imagine your business plan was the same business plan that just about every charity currently operates on. You’d be laughed out the room! Why? Well, how would the conversation go?

Bank manager: So, tell me a little about your new venture.  

Applicant: Well, we plan to systematically email, mail and call people about whom we know absolutely nothing and regularly ask them for money on an irritatingly frequent basis.

Bank manager: Hmmmm, I think I might be missing something here. Can you run over that bit about your audience again?

Applicant: Well, of course we plan to capture and store transactional and demographic information. And while it’s been conclusively shown that these give us zero insight into why people do what they do, we’ve decided to skip over that bit and just presume for them. We think they’ll find that more engaging.

Bank manager: Eh?

Applicant: You look a bit bemused. Let me explain. Instead of simply and scientifically capturing and acting on audience identity, preference and experience, we’d rather keep things simple and just guess. But don’t worry, we have every intention of increasing the volume of irritating stuff we send by sending them plenty of engagement pieces.

Bank manager: And what would they find engaging?

Applicant: We have absolutely no idea, but…

Bank manager: Security!

Farcical? Sadly not. Far too many charities are content to carry on with a volume based business model, that’s been proven to cause irritation. Their justification? That sending more stuff didn’t negatively impact giving (in the very short term of the study period).  And that it actually garnered incrementally more donations.

What could be wrong with that (aside from the screamingly obvious that knowingly causing irritation can hardly be sustainable!)? The bit where it actually isn’t raising more money at all. Just shifting donations. There’s no net increase in giving if you include the next period of time (i.e. where the money was shifted from).

In other words, squeeze a little more out of this year, piss off those who aren’t going to stick around next year, and do it over and over and over just to hit the same groundhog day number.

So, if you’re tired of nothing changing, the only question to ask yourself is ‘Which do I think will perform better; a journey where I don’t know my donors or where I do?’ 

This blog post is part of the IFC series. 101fundraising is proud to be the official blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress for the 5th year!

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