What is fundraising success?

The theme of this year’s IFC is asking the right questions.

So here is my question: What is fundraising success?

The answer is obvious surely? It’s how much money we raise.

Success is based on getting from £X to £Y where Y is greater than X. Look at any fundraising award citation in the UK and it’s about the increase in money. A campaign is deemed more successful if it raises more than last time. So success is more money raised.

Yet is that really success?

First there is the type of money. Raising unrestricted funds that gives an organisation flexibility to deliver on its mission and helps cover running costs (that in turn if invested in fundraising raises more money) is usually far better than securing highly restricted funds, which are usually easier to raise. Or even the difference in raising restricted funds that lead to an organisation implementing work they otherwise did not plan to do, or worse still falls outside their core mission, versus restricted funds that help you deliver your plan and also helps contribute to running costs. If the former is greater than the latter is it more successful? Or if you raised more unrestricted income but less restricted income and less overall income would that still be success?

Then there is the starting point – raising funds from scratch with little upfront investment versus raising funds that builds on an existing and established programme. Can you compare the two?

There is journey to achieve success – the fundraiser who had to fight for resources and investment versus one who had an approved budget from day one. Or the fundraiser who had to align the organisation first behind a clear mission.

And then there is the nature of how and when you receive the money that helps your organisation plan its finances and operations. As an accountant will tell you money received is not the same as money raised.

All these elements help put any fundraising success in context.

And even then it’s not just about the money.

During my time at SolarAid as part of our fundraising efforts we succeeded in attracting a corporate that didn’t give us money but decided to help use their expertise to help us develop a new low cost quality solar light together – one that was more affordable to families in Africa living below the poverty line. So money received that shows up on the bottom line – negligible. ‘Value’ to the mission? A possible game changer – could even be priceless in helping achieve SolarAid’s goal of eradicating the kerosene lamp. It’s trialing in Africa right now.

So money isn’t everything. Someone recently told me an anecdote of how a group of environmental charities in the US had more members and donors than ever before, had raised more money than ever before, but felt they that had not made the difference they were seeking. For them it was “the Earth that matters”.

Last week the Guardian published an article in their Voluntary Sector Network by Kathy Evans, CEO of Children England, calling for a new relationship with money. One sentence particularly resonated with me: “How did our sector come to be so defined, and yet so poorly described by money instead of feelings?”.

Most important of all is what we create and what is achieved with the funds that are raised. That’s our success. So fundraisers can’t simply draw the line and say “I have done my bit. There’s the money”. We need to be agents of change too. We need to hold the organisations we fundraise for accountable to the delivery of the mission and the impact we have. And we need to raise the right sort of funds that enable us to deliver the mission and make a difference.

So fundraising isn’t just about the money. It’s about the change it helps make happen. In fact doing ourselves out of business could be (should be) the ultimate goal. That our cause is no longer needed.

Er … less money!

Wouldn’t that be refreshing? A fundraising award for an organisation that raised less because it had achieved it’s mission!

Perhaps that’s the answer? Fundraising success is when it delivers on the mission. Which leads to an obvious next question you should ask – “What’s our mission?” i.e. What does all our work add up to? Why do we exist? The answer is not “to raise money”. In my first week at SolarAid I asked this question. It transformed my ability to fundraise over the subsequent five year, bring about change, and feel I had truly made a difference. To hear my story join me at IFC 2016.

And bizarrely focusing on your true mission – not on raising more money – will probably lead to raising more money (!) and almost certainly more of the right money.

So even if we ask the right question we need to be ready to question the answers – especially the obvious ones – and find the next question we really need to ask.

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! More information about Richard’s session at the IFC 2016 can be found here.

PS. 101 is on summer break until 22 August! Enjoy the summer!

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