We cannot fundraise alone

For our fundraising teams 2013 has already been a year of tremendous learning.  But the biggest, conclusive, insight so far is this:

We cannot fundraise alone.

The outcomes of the Great Fundraising report we commissioned earlier this year from Professors Sargeant and Shang are backed up by the experiences we have gained with clients over the last year.  From these it’s crystal clear that for fundraising to grow rapidly and perform as it should, fundraising needs to be accepted, encouraged and owned by the entire organisation.  Great fundraising organisations have staff and volunteers throughout all departments that are proud of their fundraising programme. So they should be.

Many organisations consistently fail to achieve this, in three distinct ways:

Lack of understanding

We showed a very senior board of trustees a graph that showed that investment in fundraising produces up to five times the return their reserves were gaining in equity funds.  They were astonished.  They very quickly released reserves for fundraising investment.  Until that moment, they simply didn’t know just how much money fundraising could generate when invested in regular giving.  They, like many CEOs, trustees or directors had just assumed fundraising was of the old fashioned tin-rattling variety and would never really amount to much.

Delegation of responsibility

When an organisation recognises the need for voluntary funding but finds it a little distasteful or to be of secondary importance, a reluctant necessity, fundraising is often delegated and isolated.  In some organisations it is literally shoved into a basement or a separate building.  The organisation is effectively saying ‘Just give us the money and stay quiet.’

Deliberate obfuscation

This comes from two sources:  (1) Those with a political agenda which means they don’t like the fact that charities have to raise voluntary funds and (2) The brand police who seek to control everything the fundraising function does, weaken their messaging, then expect fundraisers to raise money and hit their targets anyway.

There are, of course, solutions to all of these:

(1)   Organisational recognition that fundraising is a crucial part of the mission.

(2)   Trustee, CEO and senior management engagement.

(3)   Organisational culture change.

(4)   Leadership development of senior fundraisers.

(5)   An education and charm offensive.

(6)   (and Whisper this …) We become better at playing ‘politics’ than our detractors.

The detail of these solutions will be presented and discussed at Clayton Burnett’s annual lectures at the Royal Institution on the 5th December. But before any of them can happen fundraisers need to prepare themselves.

With some notable exceptions, I am surprised by how defensive and apologetic many fundraisers are when criticised or challenged by colleagues. I can see no reason to apologise for our profession and we should be proud to have a political agenda that involves representing the person so often ignored in these debates – the donor.

Before we can expect our organisations to be proud of us, we need to be proud of ourselves – at all times and without compromise.  Once our organisations are proud of us, then we can expect the public to be proud of us, too.

Instead of reacting to insidious criticism of the detail of our techniques, we need to be proactive within ourselves, within our organisations and in the media about the great achievements and potential of the fundraising profession.  For example, it’s estimated that over two million young people in the UK have become engaged in philanthropy through the much maligned medium of face to face fundraising.  That is undeniably a good thing.

There is much to be proud of, yet we continue to react defensively when rightly challenged or investigated.  We have many bodies with a role in regulating, controlling or defending fundraising – The Institute, the FRSB, the PFRA, the NCVO, the Charity Commission and others.

But who is representing us?  Who is allocating budget to communicating to trustees, CEOs and our other colleagues just how brilliant our profession is?  Who is encouraging them to pass this message onto the public?

Perhaps the Institute of Fundraising, with or without some of our other trade bodies, could instigate a ‘Proud to be fundraisers’ campaign that will convince our colleagues, trustees, executive teams, the media and other audiences that allowing good people to help other people is not a necessary evil, but absolutely critical to every charity’s mission.

It is the duty of trustees to spend as much money as possible on their charity’s mission.  It is therefore their duty to raise as much as possible to spend.  Responsibility for organisational ownership of fundraising starts at the top, with the trustees.  We need to give them back the pride in our profession.

The theme of National Convention 2014 should be ‘Proud to be fundraisers.’ The best form of defence is attack, after all.

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