Why fundraising is so hard, and how ‘why’ can make it easier

Published by Charlie Hulme on

May 2015 was a watershed month for our sector. The tragic death of Olive Cooke, and the subsequent media mauling, forced us (or at least some of us) to re-examine our “best” practise.

In the midst of the chaos, conscientious fundraisers gathered to try and make sense of what was going on. They asked, “How did we get here?” and “How do we get away from here?” All kinds of groups, formal and informal, sprang up. Surely the most prestigious of these is the Commission on the Donor Experience.

The Commission’s expressed purpose (wonderfully illustrated recently by one of its founders, the legendary Giles Pegram) is, “Donors should be at the heart of fundraising”. From this unifying theme sprang numerous voluntary working groups, each examining aspects of the donor experience: what it is, and what it could and should be. The beta-phase of this considerable effort is to be announced in just over a week.

So, as a fundraiser, what do I want to see from the Commission on the Donor Experience? Something our sector’s never seen before: solid evidence of a better way to fundraise.

Let’s face facts, fundraising was hard long before May 2015. If anyone had empirical evidence of a better, easy to apply and scale practise than the “best” we run on, all of this could have been avoided. Instead fundraisers have been undermined, for decades, by two diametrically opposed schools of thought:

  1. Failing to ask why people give, and why they stop, and instead incessantly “rattling a tin” in supporters’ faces
  2. Presuming to know why people give, i.e. “donor-centric”, “donor love”, “engagement,” etc. Still tin rattling, only now increasing the volume and supporter irritation. And, worse, randomly risking staggering insensitivity (e.g. the health charity that doesn’t know if the person it’s sending its “emotional story” to has the disease).

Both claim “best practice” status. Yet neither has had the slightest effect on the corrosive trend of unsustainable donor attrition.

Post May 2015, there’s been a growing recognition in the sector that why someone supports, and why they stop, matters. Many big organizations have tried to put supporters “at the heart of fundraising”. They’ve invested a fortune re-segmenting to reveal what they believed to be motivational groupings. They analysed not just giving history, but all interactions, demographics, satisfaction, loyalty scores, you name it.

But not one of them has anything to show for it in terms of improving performance, value and retention.

So, does that mean the philosophy is wrong? Well, either the pathway to success is simply spamming, or spamming and patronising, supporters — or the intention was right, but the execution was wrong.

I know for certain it’s the latter as I’ve had the privilege to work with a growing number who have not only scientifically answered the question “why”, but applied it with extraordinary success:

  • Acquisition conversion up 15%
  • Average gift up £10
  • Attrition cut by 50%

Very clearly, uncovering and delivering on “why” is the key to putting the donor “at the heart of fundraising”.  At the moment, these are exceptions. If our sector is to deliver on its mission, they must become the new rule. How close we are to a better “best” will be revealed by the Commission on the Donor Experience in just a few days’ time.

If you have any solid evidence of significant change that’s in line with, or better than, what’s been shared, please get in touch with the Commission on the Donor Experience and share how you did it.

Fundraising may never be easy, but it really doesn’t have to be this hard!








Categories: Latest posts

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

heardle · July 24, 2024 at 10:10

Let’s go

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *