Leadership in Fundraising Innovation

Published by Ellen Janssens on

For more than a decade there have been no radical changes to our fundraising strategies and techniques. Recent developments, in and outside our sector, will force us to develop new ways to engage with our supporters and innovations that go beyond the fundraising departments.

Next to the impact of regulatory changes (such as taking place in the UK), we will have to be ready for a new type of donor, one that is demanding a totally different relationship with the charity of his/her choice.

But there is more. We have to look outside of our own sector too, and see what the future has in store for us. Digital technology is disrupting every industry: radical changes in the value-chain are taking place in all sectors, as is already clearly visible in retail and in the financial sector. New roles and new players are emerging, thus forcing ‘the middle man’ to find new and better ways to keep adding real value.thumbnail_magic

At the IFC 2015 Usha Menon already articulated: “If charities do not add sufficient value, they will be cut out as the middle man.” Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as our primary goal is accomplished.

However, I strongly believe that charities can add more than sufficient value, and that the opportunities are growing with the help of new technologies. Big Data, sharing of goods/knowledge, and new donation models resulting e.g. from the Blockchain technology, can surely be threats, but they also present interesting new opportunities for charities. However, this will require leadership: real creative and strategic thinking followed by bold decisions.

I absolutely agree with Kyla Shawyer’s statement in her blog on the need for a new kind of non-profit leadership: “We need big, transformational change in the sector, and that relies on leaders who are fearless enough and innovative enough to make decisions to ensure the long-term success of their organizations and the achievement of their mission.”

The blog focuses on Fundraising Leadership as the one role uniting the entire organization.
However, in my opinion we have to look at non-profit leadership from a wider perspective. Yes, the silos will have to be broken down. But non-profit leadership and, to be more specific, non-profit innovation, should not have fundraising as its only focus.

Let me explain.

The Future Donor: from fundraising to enabling supporters

First of all, we have to look at our supporters from a wider perspective than just considering them as ‘people delivering cash’. Social media are becoming one of our most important channels of communication. In the profit sector, Influencer Marketing is gaining momentum. Person-to-person fundraising has become a continuously growing part of our fundraising revenues. Therefore, the time and network that supporters are willing to share to accomplish our goals, may be of a much higher value than the mere donation they are able to make.

Furthermore, in an era where knowledge is more often shared (and more valuable) than ever before, the expertise that our supporters can share with us might very well have more impact. For example in crowdsourcing our fundraising innovation, or – even broader – in new ways to contribute to our core mission.

Even if we would only focus on Relationship or Donor Centric Fundraising: to increase the loyalty of our donors in their Customer Journey, we have to give them the opportunity to support our mission in the way they would like to. In the way THEY feel they can make a difference. Therefore, when we talk about the Future Donor, he or she should be able to donate cash, but also time, network, expertise and ideas.

From Fundraising Innovation to Non-profit Innovation

As stated before, an important part of non-profit leadership is creating transformational change. It is however my strong belief that (radical) non-profit innovation goes beyond innovation in fundraising alone. Of course there are some interesting new fundraising techniques, such as:

• Swipe to donate (see a/o ‘Tap to give is a trend charities can’t ignore’ )
• Experience Marketing: The use of Virtual Reality for fundraising (see Unicef, charity: water and Amnesty’s Virtual reality Aleppo)
• Social Media/online campaigns/virals, such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
• Chatbots, like e.g. the charity: water virtual journey.

Yet, they are not much more than that: fundraising techniques. Their success largely depends on highlighting the most relevant and most inspiring examples of your core activities. Activities for which people are still willing to donate, even though people seem to become increasingly weary about donating to charities.

More and more, I’m arriving at the conclusion that there simply will not be a next ‘Big Fundraising Thing’, such as DM, TM or face-to-face fundraising have been. Just more fundraising techniques that, in the end, are easily duplicated by any charity. They will sooner and sooner lead to saturation, if not irritation, with our audiences.

True innovation will only come from combining fundraising innovation with inspiring new innovative concepts in our core activities. The ‘Next Big Thing’ will be something unique to your organization.

Transformational change will only be created by innovation that is truly organization-wide. Innovations that inspire our supporters to contribute to the next step, to a breakthrough in reaching our mission. Combined with providing the cutting edge in donating to supporting our organization, in ways that are convenient and fulfilling to our supporters.

To accomplish this, we need innovation leadership that combines the optimal ways to engage with our supporters with inspiring new ways to support our beneficiaries.

As an Innovation Manager I often get surprised reactions when I explain that my responsibilities go beyond fundraising innovation, and are also focused on achieving new ways of trying to accomplish our core mission: fighting cardiovascular diseases. I strongly believe this is the only way to innovate successfully. The only way to be a part of the necessary transformational changes.


This blog post is part of the IFC series. 101fundraising is proud to be the official blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress for the 5th year!

At the IFC 2016 Ellen will host a workshop (‘Lessons learned as a non-profit innovation manager’), where she will be sharing some insights in successes and failures, and discuss current strategy and view on the needs of the future donor. The workshop also identifies some strategic and day-to-day challenges in the process of becoming a more innovative non-profit organization.

Ellen Janssens

Ellen is a Freelance Fundraising Strategist & (Open) Innovation Specialist with several years of experience in Innovation Management. She is a strong advocate for attracting supporters instead of donors, giving people the opportunity to support their charity of choice with other means like time, expertise, network or e.g. data. Or their creativity, making innovation a truly joined effort. Within and outside of the organization. For the last two years, she has been involved in the organization of the IFC Innovation Camp. Ellen's website is www.collective-innovation.nl, you can follow her on twitter at @ellenjanssens, and connect with her on LinkedIn here.

1 Comment

Brice · September 26, 2016 at 16:35

I have used more and more email to engage with donors, prospects and followers. This medium has allowed me to interact more frequently with a dialogue as opposed to the classic mail marketing platform. Yearly results: 200% increase in prospects, 100% more bookings to events, 150% in more funds, and 100% increase in funds.

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