Quality not Quantity is the Key to Future Growth

Published by Tony Elischer on

part3 - tony elischerThe New Lexicon of Fundraising: Part 3

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”

So having looked at the very core of our profession, fundraising, and the centre of our world, the donor, we now move down the slippery slope of the words we use to describe the different stages of a journey or a relationship.

In the 2013 AFP Fundraising Effectiveness study the big story was the fact that in North America we only manage to retain 23% of new donors and 61% of our existing donors, possibly two of the most shameful statistics of our profession, but why? Is it our approach to care, stewardship and engagement once someone is with us or does the problem start earlier in the way we attract people in the first place? I know that there has been a lot of thinking shared around this challenge, but I believe it all starts with the way we think about gaining supporters in the first place.

The standard ‘industry’ starting point for attracting support is through ‘recruitment’, a pretty inadequate and dated word that, in itself, is always referred to as a ‘process’; in other words something mechanical with little feeling or human touch. If you shorten the word to ’recruit’ it is even worse as the first definition that you will find is “a recently enlisted member of a military or paramilitary corps, still in training” ….. nice!

Today we have all the tools available to us for targeting, profiling and analytics plus an endless stream of channels to consider, but this is where we put our energy rather than into the actual proposition and the way we reach out to seek support. Modern marketing thinks that in ‘recruitment’ the balance is 40% targeting, 40% proposition and 20% creative. Not sure I agree with this, but even if we go with it that means 60% is focused on what we present to people and how we present it. For sometime now I have been saying that we have to stop recruiting donors and start ‘inspiring’ them. What is the difference? Recruiting sounds like a sales process, pushing the donor to make a decision and a donation, whereas inspiration is about concentrating on creating stories, opportunities and emotional propositions that draw people towards a charity brand and its cause; ’pulling power, not pushing power’. This is so much more difficult and demanding and will probably produce fewer donors in the first instance as it will be designed to target people who really have a connection or shared value with a cause and what it is doing to change the world.

In a world where people are bombarded with messages, brands and propositions, too much of our communication is simply blending in and getting lost. We know only too well that many ‘recruitment channels’ are no longer viable and the options we do have are so often hit and miss. When I started fundraising this really wasn’t a problem as you simply just kept pushing out and we often knew little better than what we called ‘churn and burn’, just keep going and hope that every ‘push out’ would compensate for the people lost from the last push. Now we know that we must seek as large a share as possible of the 5% of the population who are the true givers, the ones who want to engage fully in charities and feel that they are making a difference in their lifetime and beyond. The future is and will be about quality not quantity, so the way we attract supporters has to change. The digital world now means we have so many options to try different things in small-targeted pockets, approaches that are quite simply inspirational.

For me the most important ‘school of marketing’ for our sector in the future will be emotional marketing; marketing that touches people’s hearts, heads and spirits in unique combinations. We need to focus on our key audiences, understand their needs and lives and create a true relevance for why they should come along side us, support us and believe that things can change.

I realise this is a fine line and that we have to be realistic with the task in hand but the whole point of this series is to ask you to stop and at least try to think about some of our key regular activities in a different way. You may not change the whole process but you may just begin to approach some aspects of it differently.



Everyone has a unique gift to initiate change and truly achieve great things in fundraising through the power of their words and mindset. This eight part blog series will challenge and inspire you by outlining new words, new language and new ways not only to think about fundraising but to transform your strategy and day-to-day actions.
Earlier published blogs are:

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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