Raising more to do more is fundamentally broken

pexels-photo-14303A guest blog by Iain McAndrew.

In my last blog, I expressed my view that raising more to do more is fundamentally broken.

If trustees (and I am one) are going to be made ever-more accountable for the fundraising practices undertaken by their organisations, they and their executives need to be crystal clear on what impact their program teams must deliver. Donors are now demanding this greater level of transparency and this will only continue to grow.

As fundraisers, we know only too well that great fundraising is based on having a clear organisational vision, specific activities and clear outcomes on which to base an ask to supporters. We call this our ‘case for support’. Every charity should have one. Yet, many organisations don’t, despite it being the most important document any organisation wishing to raise money should have.

How many of us have heard that age-old question posed at the outset of the annual budget bun-fight of ‘How much money do you think you can raise’? How many of us have responded to bemused faces with ‘So what do you want the money for?’ And therein is the magic moment for the all-round annual dance of mutually assured frustration.

In order for us as trustees to challenge our fundraisers and executives on what best practice is in fundraising, we must first start supporting them by answering the question about how much money the organisation needs to achieve its mission. Then we must ensure that we have a real understanding of the dynamics that drive the raising of voluntary income, as well as the internal (and external) interdependencies that underpin the ability of fundraising teams to raise money.

Trustees, everywhere, I call on you to learn to love your fundraisers, listen to their expertise, recruit experienced fundraisers onto your boards and work in partnership to develop operational and fundraising strategies that are truly aligned. This is how fundraising and, most importantly, the supporter take centre stage at the heart of an organisation. Boards and chief executives must make this vital connection. Ensuring complete alignment between organisational strategy and fundraising strategy (and its mix), the recognition of the time required to return on investment, as well as organisational capability to deliver are essential ingredients of fundraising success.

As the fundraising regulation debate rages, we seem to be missing a fundamental point. We currently work on the principle that if we have more money, we can reach more people and have greater impact. In many instances, the concept of scale is a simple equation of more available resources equals more services that equals more impact. In acknowledging that raising more does indeed give us the power to do more, it is the act of doing more that should always be our aspiration. However, rarely would it seem a step back is taken to critically evaluate whether we are as a sector doing what we do in the most effective way possible. Whose organisation takes time out and questions the ‘Why?’ of the core mission and asks ‘What if?’

For example: Any charity could pose this question. By 2030 our beneficiary population will, due to population change and/or as a consequence of current progress may double/triple. How do we continue to address that? Can we assume that requires a similar doubling or tripling of resources? Do we ever question that resources might not automatically be available at the same sliding scale?

Have we created and now bound ourselves to a fundraising model which assumes the starting point to doing more is to simply ask our donors to give more (because we need them to) every year? Do we ask and challenge ourselves as to what will inspire them to want to give more? Do we always assume they are able to? How many of our strategies are to double or triple income over a set period? Is this realistic, given current attitudes to charity, present giving and economic trends?

I believe in the short-term, until such time as public confidence in the sector returns, we need to plan for a period of frugality where donors are going to be ever-more discriminating and resources less abundant. Is it time therefore, that we let go of the notion that our donors don’t have an ever-expanding and infinite wallet?

I believe that we are at a moment in time where, if as a sector, we don’t act to disrupt we will ourselves be disrupted. Arguably, we just have been. In the last 12 months our donors have said they want a different approach from us in order that they continue to lend us support. Innovate or die rings out across the commercial world and the battlefield is littered with the corpses the likes of Kodak, Blockbuster and HMV who thought they were unassailable institutions with unquestionable business models. Consider how we now capture and print images, watch films or buy and listen to music.

Have you recently reviewed your business model? Have you asked ‘What if?’ Is the way you currently deliver your services still the best solution that addresses the problems of your beneficiaries; today, in five years and in 20 years from now? Is there an alternative, more frugal model? Have you considered ways that finite resources and the ever-advancing revolution in technology could make for greater impact?

If you have, please share in the comments below. I believe that there are solutions to this conundrum and that we can continue to inspire giving. I will reflect my own thoughts in a future post.

Iain McAndrew is an instigator and change catalyst who challenges organisations to think big and strategically to transform their fundraising and the impact they make.

If this blog chimes with you and you need some help thinking differently about your fundraising or business strategy, come on over and see us at www.lucidity.org.uk or drop us a line at lucy@lucidity.org.uk.

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