Where are we going in 2012? A possible and promising new direction for fundraisers.

Published by Ken Burnett on

A direct marketing eminence recently described fundraising as, ‘the important art of cajoling money from people for good causes.’

Though rather obvious it’s nevertheless a fairly apt description, if perhaps more useful in summarising how others see us than in illustrating how we aspire to be. Although the phrase may hint at disapproval it’s neither negative, nor critical. Fundraising is undeniably important, for it fuels good works. ‘Art’ in this context simply means the creation of beautiful or thought-provoking works. ‘Cajoling’ implies effort, persuasiveness and determined persistence. But art can suggest artfulness and cajoling can also mean to elicit or obtain by pleading, flattery or insincere language. And it’s limited. The art of cajoling implies the mendicant mode. It includes no sense of sincerity, respect, rapport or accountability.

That’s why it’s a good phrase for describing what we fundraisers do. For we and we alone must decide how we will apply it. That’s the reality for fundraisers. As the song goes, it’s not what we do, it’s the way that we do it. That’s what really counts.

Last week in London I was Christmas shopping (This article was written some months ago, [ed.]) with a young friend from France when we stumbled across a collection of street fundraisers. ‘I hate these people,’ my friend said as he fended them off (they weren’t interested in me – too old). ‘They’re so pushy. They make me feel bad because I can’t support them all.’

You will have a similar tale or two I’m sure, evidence that, in our clumsy, often artless interpretation of this word cajole, we fundraisers are failing to inspire large swathes of potential new donors like my friend Pierre. And we’re irritating, disappointing and ultimately letting down many of those donors who remain, who merely tolerate us for now but are ready to drift away at the first opportunity. This prompted me to pen some observations on the 21st century donor, second decade variety.

He or she,

  • Knows the world’s a mess but has minimal confidence that anyone’s going to do anything about it.
  • Thinks life’s tough now and sure to get tougher. Would welcome anything meaningful, fulfilling and worth doing as a positive distraction.
  • Gets far too much promotional bumph that’s of limited or no interest, via leaflets, direct mail, email and so on. Is surrounded by insincerity, triviality and the shallowness of today’s ‘celebrity’ culture.
  • Is increasingly suspicious of big brands, authority figures and being told what to do and think.
  • Won’t tolerate the irrelevant. If it isn’t appropriate, interesting or a pleasure, he or she won’t give it much time or thought.
  • Like all donors before and since, is moved to respond emotionally far more than logically.
  • Needs to see clearly and constantly the difference his/her gift is making, if she/he is to stay a donor.

It’s against this backdrop that we fundraisers must win hearts, minds and direct debits. So what actions will help fundraisers to succeed in 2012?

  • Fundraisers must invest not just bravely but sufficiently and stick around long enough not just to plan but to see the plan through. See here for the twin ingredients of fundraising success.
  • Their case for support should have less of ‘us’ and ‘I’, more of ‘you’. And more ‘yes’, less ‘no’.
  • Fundraisers should consistently offer world-class donor service.
  • There’s real opportunity now for brilliant emotional presentation and communication of the case.

So what’s new? All this has been said before.

Well, what fundraisers could aspire to do in 2012 is to go beyond the building of mutually respectful and beneficial relationships (I know most never quite got there, at least not yet) to create a new kind of partnership with their supporters. They could have the kind of conversations that real relationships are made of, conversations that take them, the fundraisers, under the skins of their supporters and offer supporters the chance to do likewise, to get really ‘inside’ their organisation. Fundraisers could create a new understanding where supporters themselves define and drive a relationship that’s capable of moving beyond the mere giving and taking of money into a real partnership of mutual benefit.

Of course fundraising success in 2012 will come to those able to breed strong commitment in their donors, ensuring that come what may those donors will stay loyal. So this could be quite important. Offers of practical partnerships with supporters will do more to cement that loyalty and commitment than anything else. See here and here for new initiatives in measuring and encouraging donor commitment.

Be nice to hope some more of this might become reality in 2012. So that whenever we bump into fundraisers next Christmas they’ll have something impressive, inspirational and attractive to say to us. Shouldn’t be difficult. After all, fundraisers have the best stories of all to tell and the best of reasons for telling them.

All we have to do is to get this across to our waiting publics in ways that suit them, not us.


This blog post is part of a series where Ken Burnett takes us back into his own blog archive to share his best timeless posts. These gems are hand-picked by Ken himself.

Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett is an author, lecturer and consultant on fundraising, marketing and communications for nonprofit organisations worldwide.


J Mukiri · July 23, 2012 at 12:50

Great information

Paul Nazareth ( twitter @UinvitedU ) · July 23, 2012 at 15:56

Amen, Amen and Amen!

Valuable points from Ken to start but I truly appreciate his question, ‘so what’s new’? I truly appreciate accepting a donor-driven model that moves “beyond the mere giving and taking of money” which is what so many identify as the sole definition of fundraising.

I was just speaking to a peer in for-profit business today who said “your previous fundraising skills in cold-calling and relentless-asking must come in handy in the business world”. What followed was a fascinating conversation where I helped them understand that for-profit sales and social-profit fundraising is done worst when the transaction is the goal and not the impact and relationship.

Thank you Ken for giving us more fodder to help our peers, board members, leadership and communities move forward with our evolving profession.


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