Fundraising in 5 years, and what you need to do NOW.

So, the dust is starting to settle in the fundraising world. We’re acutely aware of what isn’t working any more, and also what we shouldn’t be doing. There’s no direct and clear path to the future, but we’ve got a pretty good idea of what the future is going to look like. Multi-channel, engagement first, digitally mature, engaging with wider demographics, getting beyond cash and regular giving, trustees that champion fundraising. It all sounds brilliant. I’m in.
But how do we get there?

Nearly every meeting I’m having at the moment has the same question from a Fundraising Director:

“I can see where we need to get to, but how do we get there whilst still balancing the books in the meantime?”.

Good question, and the answer is probably terrifying. So we thought we’d lay down some pointers as to what you need to do now, to get to where you need to be

  1. You are probably going to raise less money in the short term. Approach this head on and don’t shy away from it. The old IG model is broken. Trying to do what you did before isn’t going to work anymore. Have frank conversations with your FD, your CEO and your board. This isn’t admitting failure, its accepting reality. It’s not your fault, and IG has probably been propping up other income streams for years anyway.
  2. Take a machete to your current IG programme. Be brutal. Break the cycle. Optimise the hell out of things that are working and hack back activity that isn’t working. You’ll need that investment money, as well as the capacity it frees up.
  3. Do you have a fundraising strategy? I’m still amazed by how many charities don’t. I don’t mean a budget, I mean an actual strategy. A vision for how you get from where you are, to where you need to be. When did you last undertake a marketplace review? What about competitor reviews? When did you last commission an external person to review your fundraising activity?
  4. Digital isn’t cheap. To do digital properly, you need to make sure that all the foundational work is in place for it to work and for it to scale. Audit your website, is it fit for task? Accessibility? Content? SEO? Analytics? Do you have the internal skills to do it properly? How easy is it to donate? Can you track who has and where they came from? Get the foundational stuff in place ASAP, and then test digital properly. Don’t let the cost of the foundational work stop you from undertaking digital work completely either, you’re already late to market. Do you think those insert response rates are going to back up in 5 years’ time?
  5. Digital is long term. You need to commit. You need to work out how digital will work for you, and you will probably need some external help. Test and learn but be persistent. It’s important. Whoever you are.
  6. Focus on campaigns, not appeals. This will help you become multi-channel quicker. Develop your overarching proposition. Pick a 3-6 month period and work out how you are going to tell that story in the best possible way across all those channels. Think in advance about what you are going to do when people do engage. Guess what, not every person will donate on first engagement. Why should they? What are the next steps?
  7. Tell peoples stories properly. Or even better, let them tell their stories themselves. There is no such thing as too much investment in content and storytelling. At the end of the day, it’s all you have. Think multi-channel. Think video. Think real time. Think short form versus editorial. Think differently, and whatever you do don’t think it’s a written interview transcript and a few quotes.
  8. Find your niche and own it. The next 5 years will see a lot of charities merging, and potentially a lot more folding. If you can’t find a clear USP in the work that you do, why would anyone support you?
  9. The corporate world is not just somewhere for you to take inspiration from. They are now your direct competitors. Think about that next time you buy something online, especially in terms of UX. This is not just an aspiration, this is now the base level for engagement, and what everyone expects.
  10. Your charity is not on a pedestal any more. None are. People don’t care about your heritage, your brand or how worthy charities are. People don’t necessarily feel that they need to support a charity at all. What people may care about is the work you do, the impact that has, and how they can be part of that. Move your brand to the side and connect people to the work. Stop getting in the way of the story. Three is a crowd.

So, to get to the long-term fundraising utopia, you need to balance short term optimisation with medium term foundational work and testing. Your fundraising income is probably going to take a short-term dip. Unfortunately, this will be at exactly the same time that you need to invest time and money into getting your house in order to enable you to fundraise effectively in the future. Fundraisers love a formula, right? How about:

Short term optimisation + (Medium term investment in foundational work + testing) = Long term sustainability

It’s a tough thing to square with Finance Directors, CEO’s and the board, but what’s the alternative? I don’t think there is one. Then again haven’t fundraisers always prided themselves on being strong negotiators and being able to sell the big picture? Now’s your chance.

Wayne Murray

Development Director

Audience Fundraising and Communications

wayne@audiencefc.com