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

By Richard Turner
On November 26, 2015 At 2:00 pm

Category : acquisition, Best posts Q4 2015, communication, corporate, donors, human resources, Latest posts, strategy

Responses : 12 Comments

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.

frog-potOver 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 Connecting-Teamhave ‘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.

frog-boiling-potSo 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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Richard Turner (7 blogs on 101fundraising)

Richard has been a fundraiser for 25 years with Oxfam, and, as Director of Fundraising, for FARM-Africa, FFI, and ActionAid UK and also worked agency side as a consultant and fundraising entrepreneur at Alan Clayton's Cascaid agency. He was awarded Fundraiser of the Year in 2001 by the UK Institute of Fundraising. An associate with Alan Clayton Associates, Richard now advocates a new way to fundraise, particularly based on his learning during the last five years as Chief Fundraiser at SolarAid, by spreading your story through your supporters to leverage their social, as well as financial, capital. Regularly blogs as @ifundraiser as he passionately believes that fundraisers themselves can make a difference to inspire others.

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  1. Love this post Richard. The way people experience things has changed, and if we don’t change with it we’re going to be in BIG trouble. This thinking has been the driving force behind the work I’ve been doing with colleagues at our org to provide amazing supporter experiences. I hope we can share the outcomes…and teh process we used to get there…soon!

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    • Sounds like a future 101 Fundraising post Lesley! I think it’s going to be a steep learning curve for us all. So the more we can share the quicker we will learn. I look forward to hearing more

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  2. Hi Richard – I like your blogs regarding ‘The Story’ I believe also in Story. I wonder it there are some mutual area’s we may in common and and cooperate?

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    • I believe the story is the starting point. And as you rightly observe ‘we are all connected’. Someone I spoke to recently also said how important peer to peer story telling (and recommendation) is for generation X and Y – so the future.

      Would love to explore how to get better at telling stories.

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  3. A pillar your argument relies heavily on Richard is that the employees of our charities need to be well trained. They are the ‘nodes’ that connect the charity to the channels or donors. Specifically they need to be able to think on their feet, have good personality skills and be able to respond in a way that isn’t a rote response. This is possible, the charity sector just needs to attract the best quality and what’s more important it needs to train them well!

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    • Great point. Skills that I’m sure any business would value (and any person would like to better at). After all people inspire people. And it’s that authenticity of a having a meaningful and genuine conversation that we value (not a scripted one way approach). It will need people who can set up effective systems and processes too that make the experience even better. I’ve no doubt the people with the skills and the passion are there. My point is we need to focus our priorities, energy, time, and resources in a different way. It’s no longer about how can I get money out of you – it’s how can I inspire you to tell our story?

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  4. MDG

    If donors are channels and we want to finally address the “cause” (not the symptoms) then organisations have to be brave – or plain smart – and allow communication to flow organically. Until a message / story / idea is filtered through the “do’s and dont’s” of comms departments, no donor or supporter will find the voice authentic any longer. Try to post something personal / authentic / direct about your work in the NGO and you may get in trouble with the executives!
    May I add, this is also the challenge with Millennials: they use their social capital but it is THEIR capital and the organisation cannot force them to use it to their advantage – they will just leave and eventually it will backfire.

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    • Absolutely. And its not just donors – we are all channels now. Its a paradigm shift which affects all marketing. And yes comms need to be authentic not spun. At SolarAid we allow all staff to do blog posts. It has led to great authentic content that they self edit. We even have a Chairman who writes openly about our struggles (so it is within our culture). But yes you may get into trouble with some organisations not willing to embrace that – as I have learnt from my past!

      Whilst its a challenge with Millennials it is also an opportunity. If causes can truly engage people about their purpose (so in our case to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by the end of the decade) then you unleash THEIR social capital. And thats when the magic starts to happen.

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  5. Pingback: Understand Why | ifundraiser

  6. I just want to humbly thank you for this post!
    I am trying to enter the fundraising world and your words have opened my eyes. Fundraising gets more challenging, but also more interesting.
    I would love to hear more suggestions from you.

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    • Thanks Assunta, If you want to to hear more suggestions from me then check out my blog https://ifundraiser.wordpress.com/ which I started with the purpose to share my thinking as it evolved by practising a new approach to fundraising.

      Of course I’ll continue to contribute to 101 Fundraising when I have something that could be of particular interest!

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  7. Thanks Richard for sharing is interesting article. As donors are connected fundraising need to change. I also believe in story.

    I came across an online fundraising platform Givey.com. As per Money Saving Expert, it is #1 fundraising platform in UK. It is free to join as a donor or fundraiser. Even we can add charity or to upload a fundraising projects for free. 100% of the donation amount goes to charity.

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