Fundraising problems are organisational problems: It’s big and it needs a new approach

So, it’s been an encouraging year. Charities are now on the whole in agreeance that the old fundraising model is broken, and a new approach is needed. That took longer than it needed to, didn’t it?

Things are looking up

I’ve said before that 2016 was about individuals within charities realising that there was a problem (on the whole not Directors of Fundraising, mind) 2017 was about charities themselves understanding there was a problem, and 2018 was about the sector as a whole agreeing collectively that things desperately needed to change. 2019 needed to be about actually fixing things, but let’s park that for a moment.

There has been loads of encouraging signs that this is the trajectory we are on. It’s been the overarching theme for most of the conferences. Fundraising leaders are publicly speaking about it and acknowledging that a new, unknown, but exciting model is needed. Trustees are even getting involved. Blimey. We still can’t predict, or project how this will all pan out, but we know it’s the only game in town. All good so far.

So, what’s the problem now?

The problem that we all have now, is that by unpicking the old model, and all the moving parts attached, is that it is a much, much bigger issue that we first imagined. I’ll give an example…

My agency received a brief recently, not dissimilar to the many briefs we receive currently, along the lines of:

“Our fundraising is in decline. We need to ditch the old model. Make a drastic step change. We need to engage in a different way. We need to be agile. We need to embrace product development and innovation. We need a culture where change is the only constant, we need to grow and we need to embrace the future, whatever it holds.”

Brilliant. What an opportunity.

Our response, after a 360-degree review of what was going on was this:

  • Your organisational strategy is vague
  • You have no fundraising strategy
  • You have no fundraising vision
  • You have no idea who your current or potential audiences are
  • Your website doesn’t work
  • Your CRM is not fit for task
  • You don’t have the internal structure you need to deliver for the future
  • You don’t have the internal skills you need to deliver for the future
  • You don’t have the internal culture needed to deliver for the future

And only after that did we start talking about more business as usual jazz, like…

  • You don’t have an overarching proposition
  • You don’t have a channel strategy
  • You don’t have a clear handle on budgeting
  • You don’t have a test and learn strategy

This was obviously not the response the Head of Individual Giving commissioning the work wanted to hear. This is completely out of their remit, and their bosses’ remit. But it’s the truth. It’s what needs to be addressed to genuinely transform. Another new proposition isn’t going to cut it. Almost all fundraising problems are in fact, at their core organisational problems.

The solutions we need are beyond the fundraising and comms team

Fixing the issues we have requires a completely new approach, and its not just down to fundraising teams within charities, and fundraising agencies to sort out. Its about every aspect of how charities run.

Look at the above bullet points. Every one of them is a major, cross organisational piece of work. CRM? Internal structures?  Culture? This isn’t the remit of little old me and my agency, or a charity head of department that just needs to increase net income from last year.

This needs a bigger, broader group of people.

Internally, within charities, this needs to be an SLT and board led, cross organisational project. It requires equal input from HR, from Service Delivery, Finance, I.T and every other directorate.

Externally, this requires agency skillsets coming together in a way they never have before. Outside the comfy confines of what fundraising and comms agencies have historically done. It needs broader skillsets. It needs partnerships that may not have ever happened before. It needs recruitment agencies, business transformation specialists, digital, tech, product developers. I could go on forever.

Where’s the Special Interest Group to drive this?

Also, as a sector, we don’t necessarily have the governing bodies to support this either. We have groups for Fundraisers, for Campaigning, for HR, for Insight, for Strategy, for PR. For all aspects of charity governance. But they aren’t joined up enough, they are not working cross sector, including the right stakeholders, and addressing the massive problem we have. Which is transforming charities, at an organisational level, to deliver financially going forward. Where is the Special Interest Group for Charity Transformation?

We have to move forward. Radically.

So, what the hell do we do now? When we know charities aren’t addressing the issue properly? When we know that agency support for this issue is fragmented, siloed and not offering or including the full skillsets required? When we know that governing bodies aren’t geared up and unified enough to help support us to do it at a sector level?

Time to pick a side.

My take on it is quite positive. We are still at the ‘forming’ stage of addressing this issue. What we can do at the moment is to take a stand and declare which side of the fence we are on. State that as a charity, or an agency, or a governing body, that our main focus in on transforming charities for the future. That we are in agreeance that we can’t do this alone, and need to do this collaboratively, and in a much more radical, and more far reaching and holistic way than we’ve ever addressed an issue before.

After that, we can work the rest out. Who does what. Where the cross over is. What other skills we need to pull in. But we need to genuinely stand shoulder to shoulder and tackle this head on. We don’t need charities saying that they want radical change when they really don’t. Equally we don’t need agencies saying that they are about transformation, when really it’s just shiny bait and business as usual. We need to actually sort this shit out.

We need to mobilise ourselves around a shared problem

We talk a lot about mobilising people to support charities. About sharing a vision, taking people on a journey and giving them a clear role to play. We need to use this model as a way of mobilising ourselves. Thank God we now know there is a problem. That’s a good start, and a unifying one.

Now we need to realise that we don’t have the answer, but we know who the full range of players are in the sector to turn it around. It’s like the Rebel Alliance. We’re not yet sure how we are going to win, but we know what we stand for and we know what we are fighting against. Importantly we know how big our challenge is, and we know who our allies are.

At Audience we’ve changing our approach to partnerships. Rather than just working with people we respect and who we get along with, we are strategically building alliances with charities, agencies and people who want to transform charities for the future.

Which side of the fence are you on? Stand up and be counted. Let’s actually see who our tribe is. 2020 must be the year that we get together, work out the solution, and then worry about divvying up who does what.

So, let’s get to it, and make blogs like this a thing of the past.

Wayne Murray

Strategy Director

@WayneTheMurray