Why nothing works, why it won’t and how it will (or at least could…)

Published by Charlie Hulme on

Put your hand on your heart. This time last year did you honestly think fundraising was doing well? If your answer is ‘yes’ stop reading. Come back in the 5-10 years it’ll take you to become a late adapter.

One year ago today the sector was in a terrible mess. The same as the year before that and the year before that.

Then the media crucified fundraising.

The fall out has been devastating. Fundraising directors are having to plan and budget for 2016 with no idea who they can contact.

Putting aside the why’s and wherefores of how the sector got itself into this mess, the result is a split down the middle.

One group is resolutely taking the ‘it’s not fair’ approach. Instead of holding hands up to bad practice they’re whinging that others can do it so why can’t we. A line of argument so unsophisticated my three-year-old would dismiss it. They focus on the headlines and ignore the trend lines of lousy retention and no growth. not fair

This group epitomize everything that’s been broken about our sector for such a long time. Whether driven by hard bitten cynicism or hopeless naivety, theirs is the mind set that’s clung to a set of ‘best practices’ that’s seen nothing get better for decades.

But the other group is just as bad.

They are the easy answer brigade that have come charging in with an ‘I told you so’ approach. For them it’s all about ‘engagement’, ‘inspiration’, ‘relationship’ and other equally catchy but unquantifiable soundbites. They talk about donors in a way we’d find offensive if used about any other group – “what (insert gender/race/religion/sexuality etc.) really want is…”   easy answers

The first group got us into this mess by making sweeping generalizations regarding donors, about whom they knew absolutely nothing. The other is trying to get out of it by doing exactly the same!

One group couldn’t care less what a donor needs. The other presumes to know for them. Neither will make fundraising work for their organization, much less the people they exist to serve.

Both take refuge in satisfaction surveys widely discredited in other sectors. They assume these are a proxy for specific donor experiences. The reality is they are not even close to being the same thing.

Unless you’re satisfied with catastrophic retention rates, it’s not a huge assumption donors aren’t satisfied either!

There is massive discontent with the fundraising churn and burn machine. This needn’t boil up into anger and public lynching’s (though if last summer’s anything to go by…) But it is the root cause of massive, silent attrition and an inability to grow net revenue.

No survey can make a molehill out of that mountain!

Nothings ever worked because we’re missing vital information. It won’t ever work because we’re not looking for it. It could if we did.

So what are we missing?

Thick data (or, in non-data speak, data that doesn’t tell us what happened, but why it did).

Your CRM’s already storing the big data; what they did, when they did it, how they did it, who they did it with, who they are etc. What it doesn’t have, because no one thinks to record it, is the thick data that can answer the most important question of all; ‘why did they do it?’

Transactional and hand raiser data is useless without being able to answer the ‘why’ question. As Googles digital evangelist said “It cannot, no matter how much you torture the data, tell you Why something happened.” torture data

Capturing, storing and acting on the ‘why’ is the silver bullet to retention and growth.

Innovative and early adapter charities who do this are transforming their fundraising results. The rest are either moaning it’s not fair or spouting catchphrases to nowhere.

Put your hand on your heart again. Which one will you be this time next year?

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Charlie Hulme

Charlie Hulme

Charlie is MD of Donor Voice. He helps charities uncover what, of all the things they do, cause relationship strength and what is harmful. Partners see a massive improvement in performance, value and retention. Voted top speaker at the Institute of Fundraising's National Convention in 2013, he writes frequently for SOFII, 101 Fundraising, the Institute of Fundraising and many others.

1 Comment

Michael Cuckson · December 14, 2015 at 15:37

I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that Thick Data is where it’s at. But I’ve been a lone voice howling in the wilderness. Great to finally see some one picking up on my ideas.

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