Updating Essential Frameworks for the Future

Published by Tony Elischer on

National ConventionAs the Institute of Fundraising, UK, celebrates thirty years of championing excellence in fundraising, I have created a new presentation with fresh thinking on what we have learnt in thirty years and which learning people should carry forward into the future.  This presentation is the opening plenary at the UK National Convention 2013 and by the time you read this it will have been delivered to the UK fundraising community in London.

When I reflect back on thirty plus years of successful fundraising, probably the most important piece of thinking I was ever given was from Redmond Mullin[1], who shared his view of fundraising through ‘the Fundraising Cycle’, which presented a clear logical view that all successful fundraising was built on four stages: Need, Audience, Technique and Evaluation.

Painfully logical but so powerful in showing that as you kept moving through this cycle all your fundraising programmes would become stronger. It was a cycle and therefore always pushed you back through the Need, searching for new stories and dimensions. By placing Audience second it emphasized the importance of thinking through who rather than how or what. Technique in third place was a great discipline.

So to celebrate thirty years of evolving fundraising thinking, here is a new eight-stage Cycle that has been tested, adapted and applied for the twenty first century and beyond:


1. Stories: the ‘buzz thing’ of the moment, but a great way to push fundraisers to think harder about the need, why the charity was formed, the many different dimensions and above all how to communicate creatively the need to reach out to people’s hearts, heads and spirits. At this level the organisational narrative is the true ‘high ground’ of great story telling; how the whole charity can tell stories and yet make sure they all reflect the same core values, approaches and beliefs.

2. Connection: every great story will appeal to many different people and other people will need different stories or different styles of stories. This is still about identifying the right audiences and thinking what their needs, life-stage, lifestyle and values are, thus making possible connections. Competing for mind or heart space gets more competitive on a monthly basis so precision in targeting is now more key than ever and making decisions on where to invest is critical, few causes truly get close simply to appealing to everyone.

3. Inspiration: modern fundraising is not about ‘recruitment’ or ‘technique’ it is about creating inspiring messages, campaigns, brands and propositions. Inspirations that reach out to people’s values and the way that they see the world or want to see it. We need to fill multiple channels with a range of inspiring communications that relate to the audiences to which we want to connect.

4. Engagement: the lower cycle is the ‘donor cycle’ and it is about keeping the focus on the donor and their needs. What do they want to engage further in finding out about your cause and needs? To what depth do they want to go? What are their communications/care preferences? Every group of donors (segment) should have options and a journey to engage further.

5. Conversation: a large percentage of donors will be happy simply to be engaged but the true tipping point has to be moving from monologue to dialogue, facilitating opportunities for the donor proactively to engage with the stories, the needs, the opportunities and the beliefs. So many of the available channels now make this the ‘expected norm’ – 21st Donor: my thoughts, my terms, my time, my style, my way.

6. Belonging: for a long time I used to feel that stage six should be ‘loyalty’, but as time goes on I feel that this is perhaps too much to ask and can only be there for a tiny number of core donors but for most donor files moving to a stage where people feel they are part of something, a family or a movement is enough and builds a core of ‘true supporters’ who want to engage and truly feel that their charity is a natural part of their lives, an expression of their values and, above all, something that is part of them and not simply transactional.

7. Inspiration: I love the fact that this word is at the centre of the cycle as there is no getting away from it! No supporter should ever be taken for granted or disappear into the ‘black-hole’ that can be the database. A fundraiser’s job is to attract, retain and grow donors, so inspiration should be a constant quest. Too much emphasis is placed on new donors; this Cycle puts the emphasis on continually inspiring all donors.


8. Appreciation: I am using the word in its widest sense, to remind us of great stewardship; to ensure we constantly look at data/developments/ moves /demographics and generally to evaluate what is happening in each supporter segment. This can be seen at the least glamorous stage of the Cycle, but it is just as important as the rest and critical in evolving the donor journey and ensuring EVERY supporter has options.

[1] Redmond Mullin: One of the founders of the Institute of Fundraising and a leading authority in major gift fundraising, who helped charities across Europe raise hundreds of millions of pounds.

Tony Elischer

Tony Elischer

Tony has over 30 years hands on experience in the not for profit sector. He has been a consultant for the last fourteen years working at the highest level across a wide range of causes and organisations and is the founder of the leading international consultancy THINK Consulting Solutions. He is an internationally regarded expert on fundraising and marketing, having extensive experience of helping charities worldwide with strategy, fundraising, management and troubleshooting. In the last 12 months he has worked in over 20 countries.


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