Do you have a fundraising strategy? Have you made a cake, or just a cherry?

Interesting times at the moment, and a very choice time to be working back agency side.

Previous blogs have highlighted the shifting fundraising landscape. Guess what? It’s still shifting, and it’s been very interesting speaking to a range of fundraising directors about how they are strategically looking at fundraising in the medium term. Broad brush strokes, but there seems to be 3 approaches right now:

  • CARRY ON REGARDLESS! We know that the old model isn’t working anymore, but we’ll keep plugging away at it. It’s what we’ve always done! We’ll do the same old, same old, but we’ll be tighter on cost control. Maybe take some stuff inhouse as those agencies are really expensive these days, aren’t they? Get rid of the innovation budget while we’re at it, we can’t afford luxuries like that at the moment, and rarely spend it anyway. Gross income will continue to go down but we’ll offset this loss with savings across the board. We’ll have a look again next year. It’ll probably all blow over by then.

I wonder if these charities have modelled out how the next 5 years look on this trajectory

  • STOP ACQUISITION AND PRAY FOR A BIG LEGACY! Goodness knows what’s going on with fundraising at the moment, particularly IG? Fingers crossed a big legacy lands soon to hide all this like it did last year, and the year before. Best thing is to halt all acquisition, it’s our biggest expenditure after all. Save the money and wait for the big charities to decide what the NEXT BIG THING is, and then we’ll just do that. And guess what? Because most acquisition doesn’t bring in a positive year 1 ROI, our year end net income will look better than ever. Trustees will love us.

Pretty short-term view in our opinion, how will your trustees feel in 5 years when you have no donors and your legacy income is in decline? What’s the plan then?

  •  OPTIMISE AND BUILD FOR THE FUTURE. There is a lot that isn’t working, but we’ve got a fairly good idea of what the future looks like. So we need to build the foundations now to help us get to where we need to be, it’s also going to cost a bob or two, but we REALLY need to do it. We’ll drop a load of activity that isn’t working for us, but for the activities that still work or have potential to if we do them properly, we’ll optimise them as much as we can. We also acknowledge and everyone has bought into the fact that in the short term we will probably have to spend more to raise less. We’ve had those difficult conversations at board level and we have a plan going forward, kind of.

Yep. This one. Whether you are a large or small charity. This is the clearest way forward you are going to get at the moment.

So, let’s say you fall into the third camp. This is where many of the charities that come to see us are. Next step is to create an overarching fundraising and communications proposition. Pulling everything together and giving clear vision and direction to your fundraising and comms going forward, balancing existing channels that are still working for you and testing new channels to build on for the future. Fantastic!

This is the time when great things can happen. Becoming more than the sum of your parts etc. You can get all the foundational stuff in place to inform the proposition. Sector analysis, competitor analysis, audience research, proposition development, channel mix, media balance, test and learn strategy. All the fun stuff. Some charities have none of this, some have most, the majority are in between.

We help fill in the few or many gaps so we can have a clear picture of where we are going and ultimately what that proposition is going to be, and how it will deliver your fundraising strategy.

But this is also where we usually find the biggest hole. Many charities just don’t have a fundraising strategy.

I’m not talking about a budget. Proudly putting together lots of neatly interlinked excel sheets that show performance over 3 years is all well and good and necessary, but its only part of it, and if it isn’t built on the base of a solid strategy, it’s just numbers. Too many fundraising directors think that the budget IS the strategy.

Also, especially as everything is in flux at the moment, if you’re just replicating old results (or even worse, an arbitrary percentage increase in income on previous years figures, AAARRRGGGGHHH) you are probably going to get a few nasty surprises in 3 years’ time. You’ll also wonder why your staff turnover in fundraising is so high, especially just before the end of the financial year.

So, what do I mean by fundraising strategy?

A fundraising strategy is a road map of how you are going to deliver the money to achieve your organisational strategy. (You’ve got an organisational strategy, right? Good.) It outlines what’s going on in the sector, an honest critique of current and historic fundraising, where you aim to get to and how. It also offers contingencies and balances reactive and proactive work. It’s the fundraising departments collective vison, and a detailed plan of how to deliver it.

It’s what focusses and drives your fundraising team. It helps you decide what you will and won’t do. Is this in the strategy? Will it help achieve our organisational strategy? If not, then you don’t do it.

It more often than not needs external input too, to challenge your thinking and give a different, broader perspective. Time and money, very well spent.

It’s not a document that’s written by the fundraising director that tells the story behind the excel budget figures and is forgotten about come the start of the financial year. After trustees have been convinced your sums add up and that you can be trusted with a pot of money. Remember all that stuff about ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast?’ It’s true. Strategy has to be owned by everyone and ensuring key stakeholders are involved and championing the approach.

It’s a living and breathing commitment that the whole team are working towards, that they have all input into and is driven by someone with real vision. Someone who will fight tooth and nail to keep things on track, clear bottlenecks, remove obstacles and let the team have a fighting chance of delivering success. It also needs to be reviewed regularly as things continue to change externally, not just measured against quarterly. It’s not static. The world turns.

The swanky, award winning, joined up 2-year, multi-channel fundraising and communications proposition that you then develop is the cherry on the top. Without the strategy supporting it, you’ve just made a tasty little cherry.

Make a cake, not a cherry.

Wayne Murray

Development Director


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