The fundraising team need to spend more to raise less.

If you are a fundraising director, and the below hasn’t been on a trustee meeting agenda already. It needs to be:

Trustee meeting agenda point 1.

  • The fundraising team need to spend more to raise less. (For discussion, led by the Fundraising and Communications Director)

It may just sound like a provocative headline for a blog, but this is precisely the Trustee/SMT discussion that many charities still need to have but haven’t.
It’s understandable why this discussion is being is being put off/delayed, I certainly put it off in charity side roles. It sounds like failure. It sounds like you’re not very good at your job. But it’s not your fault, and the sooner Trustees and SMT have this talk, agree and put a plan together for the medium term, the sooner you can start building the foundations for the long term. Avoiding it, masking it, diluting it, delaying it, will only stop you from getting on with the task in hand. So embrace it. Make it the mantra for your team. Own it.

“The fundraising team need to spend more to raise less.”

I’ve been a trustee myself, for 2 brilliant charities, and what I’ve wanted more than anything in both those roles is for SMT to tell it straight, and for us all to work together to be the best we can be. So let’s have a think about the possible responses from trustees after putting the above as an agenda point and see how it could pan out.

 “Why do we need to do this? What’s happened?

  • The marketplace has shifted
  • Collectively, we were far too focussed on short term metrics like CPA and 1-year ROI
  • When we saw that things were starting to do awry, we dug our heels in and tried to just make the existing programme work harder. Cut cost, increase frequency of asks, that sort of thing
  • We took a lot of our activity inhouse to save agency costs. Looking back, our output became a bit sloppy, repetitive and short-sighted
  • We took our donors for granted, and when acquisition got harder, asked existing donors for more donations, at a higher value, more frequently
  • We had all of our eggs in one basket when it came to acquisition, and didn’t have a Plan B
  • Instead of looking forward, when things got harder we looked back.
  • Our short-term focus on delivery overshadowed our need to innovate
  • We didn’t look outside our sector enough
  • We couldn’t justify any fundraising communications that didn’t have an ask. We didn’t focus on engagement enough
  • We were really late to market with digital
  • When things were going well(ish) we didn’t feel the need to invest in research and insight, and then when things went downhill, we collectively felt we couldn’t justify the investment
  • Individual Giving in particular is really complicated, and there isn’t enough fundraising experience on the board. All board discussions were about year one net income and ROI. Or randomly, long winded conversations about what famous people live in their village. (Controversial one this)

“How long do we need to do this for? What’s the plan in the short/medium term?”

  • We honestly don’t know how long we will need to do this for. It might just be like this forever. This might just be how it is from now on
  • But what we can tell you is that we are going to strip out every aspect of the current fundraising plan that isn’t working
  • We are still going to be generating as much income as we can, but at the same time we need to invest for the future
  • We are also going to need to spend on some foundational stuff to give us the best possible chance for fundraising/engaging in a very different landscape
  • We are going to understand what our DNA is, and why people should support
  • We are going to understand what our competitors are doing, and even who our real competitors actually are. They may not even be charities
  • We are going to understand our current donors better
  • We are going to focus on engagement and inspiring people. Not every communication will lead to an ask
  • We are going to design new metrics and KPI’s for monitoring success, ones that aren’t so short term focussed. Ones that focus more on engagement and satisfaction, and how many touch points people have with our work
  • We will commit to the fact that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to fundraising, and that we need to find our own way
  • We will commit to innovation. It’s the only way we’ll survive
  • We will provide a range of ways in which people can engage and get involved, we’ll not just crow bar people into our cash and regular giving programmes. We’ll try to enable supporters to help in other ways, so its all a bit more of a 2-way relationship. People want to do, as well as donate after all
  • We are going to spend money on embedding digital. Sort out our website, digital health checks, payment processes etc. We’re going to commit to digital for the long term and use the data and insight we generate to inform our decisions going forward
  • Importantly, we are going to look at our skillset and departmental structures. Innovation isn’t just about new channels and new approaches. Its about making sure we have the right talent, and the structure to make the step change we need
  • We will test, and we will learn. We’re not going to copy other charities, as we may have before. We are going to understand who we are, who our potential donors are, what they want and how and if we can build relationships with them

“What does the future look like?”

  • We don’t know for sure. But the foundational work that we do know will give us the best possible chance of survival
  • The one thing we know for sure is that we will continually need to adapt, so we need to build a fundraising team and a strategy that embraces that
  • We are going to build a team that has strategy and innovation in everyone’s job description. We’re not just going to talk about it. We’re going to do it
  • We are going to find our niche and we are going to own it. We are not going to follow others, we are going to lead based on our own learnings, our own insight and our own experiences
  • Collectively, we are going to commit to a different future. If we are relevant, engaging, tell powerful stories and want to work in partnership with people who are interested in our work, and offer them a range of ways to get involved, we will succeed.

There is no denying that these are tough conversations, but you can’t not have them. For how many more years can you try to make the current model work before it breaks completely? 2? 3 at a push? You can’t be expected to spin gold from straw forever.

The sooner you get everyone on board, and pointing in the same direction, the sooner you can fix fundraising for your charity, and it all starts with…

“The fundraising team need to spend more to raise less.”

Wayne Murray

Development Director

Audience Fundraising and Communications