Have we reached boiling point? – Why we need fundraising to change

Apparently if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it will jump out. Yet put a frog in a pot of water and gradually heat it up the frog will not jump out as it boils.

Over a year ago on 101 Fundraising I wrote that the rules of fundraising needed to change. My conclusion was “If we continue to do the old rules it will just get people’s backs up”. It is still amongst the top five blog posts. A year on, have I got your attention now?

The reason fundraising needs to change is not to do with headlines in the news.  That’s a symptom. Or the falling response rates, or rising acquisition costs – they are symptoms.

You need to understand the root cause. The all important Why.

It really is simple. Our donors are now connected. They are now channels. They have influence. So it’s no longer about the percentage who respond. It’s just as important to recognise those that don’t respond or worse still, those that have a bad experience. Because they will share that experience. Hence the stories in the UK news, misrepresented maybe, are just those that just happen to take it to the boiling point – but the pot has been warming up for some time.

The ‘old’, or rather ‘current’ model is: what can you get out of me. It’s done to me. Now it’s about my participation. It’s what can you do with me. Why? Because I am a channel.

Let me give you a simple illustration. If you were to buy a camera who do you trust? Chances are you don’t believe the marketing from Sony or Panasonic. You will ask a friend what camera do they have and would they recommend it or you will go online and look at customer reviews.

And here is the opportunity.

Turn it around. Think of your donors as channels. They are connected. They have ‘social capital’ with their network of contacts, which is far greater than the social capital you will have with their network of contacts.

Set it loose! When you stop to think and approach fundraising this way it becomes clear what it is you need to do.

Here is what I believe we need to do. All of this is something we already do. It just needs to go to the top of the priority list.

#1 Find your story – One the whole organisation tells. Because you need the same story reaching people from all your different supporter channels – not lots of different stories that are chosen to get the best response.

And the passion with which you tell it really matters. So you won’t find your story by briefing some external agency – you’ll find it within your ranks – it’s the story that ignites passion amongst your programme staff, your trustees, and of course your supporters. It’s your purpose. Your Mission. Your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (Wikipedia BHAG). Ask “What’s it all about?”

#2 Map out all your supporters – Not just donors. Think of your all your supporters – trustees, staff, service providers, suppliers, partners and beneficiaries. Anyone and everyone who is involved and whose attention you have. They are a powerful channel.

#3 Equip them with your story – It’s got to be a story that sticks and spreads. So it needs to be a story well told (and don’t we have the best stories to tell?). So to pass on that story this means activities that really engage people vs those aimed at just getting a response. Real conversations on the phone not scripted one way requests for £10 a month, with drop asks along the way. Events that engage supporters. And of course just fantastic supporter care. It can make such an impression in the same way brilliant customer service does, and is a great opportunity to re-enforce your story. You need to empower supporters to be your advocates and that’s when the magic starts to happen.

This is where it can cut across your areas of fundraising – a volunteer who opens the door to a trust – hence the need to have consistent story.

#4 Create relevance – find moments to tell your story and reasons for others to spread you story. ‘When’ is now as important as what.

#5 Then be ready – because when people who hear your story are inspired to contact you with an offer of help they will be eager for a response. Most fundraising is now outbound with pre-determined responses. How do you handle something when it comes in out of the blue? An offer or an opportunity you didn’t expect? Do you have staff ready to respond immediately or are they all busy getting stuff out?

This approach isn’t all about instant direct response – it’s like sending out a ripple that bounces back. So if you use old direct response measures then you’ll be measuring the wrong thing.

Overall you will raise more money for the mission – the very purpose you set out to achieve from the outset. Being clear on your story will attract corporate partnerships, leveraging your supporters social capita

l will bring new donors, even new major donors, and invitations to apply for grants from foundations. And it will be sustainable because it builds on loyalty.

And the great thing about this approach? It’s non-intrusive. It’s not about how to get around regulations to target people. It’s about engaging people who want to spread your story.

Something has profoundly changed in the last twenty years. Look at how we seek information – do you use Yellow Pages or Google? Or how we make buying decisions – think Amazon reviews and Trip Advisor.

So there is all this change around us. And yet has fundraising really changed even though the rules have?  If anything I would say its been more of the same. Sticking to highly measurable techniques as the fear of global recession surrounded us. And it isn’t working. Rising costs, falling response rates. So we shouted louder to get a response, like a Brit abroad trying to be understood by someone who doesn’t speak English, and surprise surprise we are now in trouble.

But you can jump out of the boiling pot. Anytime. The choice is yours.

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