Steven Covey in his habits of highly successful people talked about spheres of influence. To paraphrase, his point was, to focus your energy on the things you can change in your sphere of influence and don’t sweat the things you can’t.
Let’s apply Coveys principle to fundraising. In the UK there will be new legislation around fundraising regulation this year. Amongst other things, it’s likely that a fundraising preference service will be introduced, meaning the public can opt out of all charity communications. No one quite knows exactly what this will look like or exactly what it will mean for charities. I’ve heard on more than one occasion, much to the annoyance of the people asking the questions that ‘the devil is in the detail.’ Once charities know what the new rules are they can respond to them – and in the meantime what we do know, is that our ability to contact anyone to support our cause is going to change.
If you are reading this form outside the UK, and think that this situation is isolated to the British Isles you are mistaken. Everything in this world is interconnected and there will be a ripple effect of the impact of fundraising under scrutiny in the UK in other parts of the world in due course.
The devil in the detail of the legislation is not within most of our spheres of influence to change, but how we respond to it is.
I’ve heard what feels like a lot of complaining about, big charities running agencies into the ground and spoiling it for everyone else, as well as criticism of agencies selling their services too cheap. I’ve heard, ‘how dare other charities sell supporter data or spend too much on ‘overheads’’. The list goes on. I’ve read about what charities, supporters, the general public and politicians ‘should’ do. Yet not so many stories of what charities, which is where the core of this debate lies, are doing.
Is that because charities are like fearful rabbits paralyzed by the headlights of the tabloid press and not doing anything, or because their positive actions are not being reported on in the press?
Either way, whether its rabbits in headlights or lack of positive press coverage I’m not experiencing any desire or urgency to adapt.
Einstein said the definition of madness is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. Right now I feel that this applies to fundraising in the UK. Despite the events of 2015, charities continue to focus on short-term measures and are obsessed with acquiring new donors regardless of whether they are they the right donors who want to be partners in driving change. Many charities don’t look after donors well enough to keep them for any length of time to even break even on what it costs to recruit them in the first place and then spend time moaning about how the negative press is not fair. No it’s not bloody fair. Life isn’t fair otherwise charities wouldn’t need to exist in the first place.
It reminds me of going to a foreign country where we don’t speak the language. Instead of trying to communicate in a different way that both parties might have a hope of understanding we just repeat the same sentences at a higher volume.
That is exactly what charities in the UK appear to be doing. Shouting louder, doing the same things rather than thinking about how they can fundraise differently, seeing the change in circumstances that will happen regardless of whether charities welcome it or not, as an opportunity to innovate.
Because that is what it is. An opportunity to respond to, and change the things in our sphere of influence. And if we don’t, if we don’t stand together and change our approach to grow the marketplace for philanthropy and inspire our supporters and the public to understand the positive impact that together we can make to our world, then this boring story about charities spending money on Chief Executives pay, preying on vulnerable people and not being fit for purpose will continue to rumble on and take centre stage, serving only to negate the good work charities do. Is that what we want?
It is what it is. What are you going to do about it?