The future of fundraising

Published by Colin Habberton on

Despite humanity’s best efforts, through technology or divination, we are yet to master the art of forecasting the future. This article has no ambition to improve on that record. The commentary to follow is a reflection on the changes taking place around us today – social, environmental and ethical. Its aim is to show how these shifts in human thinking and activity offer indications and inspiration to organisations and individuals tasked with the challenge of raising funds for causes and creations focused on delivering purposeful impact.


In the present state of our planet and its people, it is hard not be discouraged, perhaps even scared or angry, with what we see around us. NASA recorded the hottest summer in recorded history in 2016, precipitating increases in extreme weather activity and the ravages of floods and drought, sometimes in exactly the same locations. The ratio of inequality has recently reached the same level as the time leading to the French Revolution and the brink of the Great Depression. A wave of populist politics has fomented the rise of fundamentalist demagogues in the Asia, Europe and the US, and with that what seems to be steps back from progressive enlightenment toward the stewardship of our environment and harmony in our society.


Although humanity cannot predict the future, we have been industrious in dealing with the problems that we encounter. In the early 18th century, Thomas Malthus suggested that the world was headed toward a global catastrophe where population growth would exceed food production, leading to widespread death and pestilence. At that time, there were less than a billion people in the world.

Centuries later we have not only managed to sustain the majority of our 7 billion brothers and sisters, but the population growth rate is currently decreasing. It is not decreasing due to either death or pestilence; we have managed to address parts of those problems with products like antibiotics, sanitation and soap.  Economists suggest that populations are decreasing because of birth control, women in the formal workforce and, surprisingly, an increasing desire for families to have fewer children so they can give them more time and attention. Ironically, in our digital world, we spend more time working, less time sleeping, and using our money on entertainment and toys to attend to our children. Instead of the catastrophe of overpopulation, we are increasingly contributing to our ultimate extinction.


So, are we heading to our oblivion? I doubt it. People are not only the cause of many of the problems we face, we are most certainly the likely candidates to provide the solutions for our continued survival. Our ability to discover ways to address the challenges we face are matched with our ingenuity to package those products and distribute them into the hands and minds of others. We have harnessed the sun, visited the moon, measured the stars, brought (electric) light into our darkness, and transcended time and space through inventions like the Internet and virtual reality. We are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made”. The one tool we all have in common is the brain we have been blessed with and the intellect and ability it provides for us to overcome our limitations, bridge our boundaries and bind us all together.


One of the recent inventions of our civilization is the non-profit organizations – institutions separate from church and state, formed for the purpose of social and/or environmental change. But why, I wonder, have we become comfortable with referring to a sector by what it is not instead of what its aims to accomplish? Non-profit, or more appropriately “for purpose”, organisations need to shift their paradigm from being a charity to becoming a platform to deliver relevant and measurable social and/or environmental return to its beneficiaries and its supporters.


Recent neurological research on giving suggests that the wealthier we get the less empathetic we become and the less we give as we try to protect what we have accumulated. Seeking a “donor” is not enough anymore. Fundraisers need to become comfortable with the details and demands of metrics to present and promote the opportunity for supporters to invest in their cause and become partners in their process of change.

Investment is more than just a gift, it’s a contract, and it’s an expectation that the promise of change has an opportunity to be brought into reality. Investment is not a linear process, it’s a relationship, it’s a collaboration of resources and skills toward a common purpose. To build and maintain support, organisations and fundraisers will need to discover innovative ways to connect with their supporters and bring them into their story, creating dialogue and a trusted relationship. The principles haven’t changed, but the tools and the language have. It’s time for us to learn again.

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Colin Habberton

Colin Habberton is founder of the Relativ Group, a South Africa-based company focused on the discovery, development and deployment of capital. Formerly, he was director of global partnerships at the GivenGain Foundation, Switzerland, and he currently sits on the advisory panel for the International Fundraising Congress.


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