I’ve been in the voluntary sector quite a while now, long enough to have seen certain issues come around again and again. One of the hardy perennials that charities still seem to agonise over is whether, and how much , to invest in fundraising and marketing.
Each time I have joined a new organisation as Fundraising Director, I have discussed with my trustees the issue of investment. It has been interesting to see how much attitudes differ on this subject between boards. I have some responses which question the need to spend any money at all promoting the organisation. “Isn’t this money we should be spending on the work?” as one charity’s board member asked me.
Without investment in fundraising, in the long term there will be no work. Successful fundraising depends on investment, not only in today’s activities but in those which will generate income for years to come. It is very important that boards understand this.
A good way of showing the effectiveness of investing in fundraising over a protracted period of time is looking at a number of charities that have done this over a number of years. If you study the online accounts at the Charity Commission of organisations such as Dogs Trust, WaterAid, NDCS, British Red Cross or WWF, you will able to see strong growth over several years despite the woes of the overall economy. All of these charities have consistently invested in growing their fundraising income, particularly focussing on regular giving. NDCS is an interesting case study. When I worked for RNID (now Action for Hearing Loss) in the late 1990s, it had nearly ten times the voluntary income of the National Deaf Children’s Society. Today NDCS’ £20m voluntary is almost double that of the older deafness charity. The explanation for the dramatic reversal is simple, one charity invested, the other didn’t.
As fundraisers we need to do a much better job of explaining to boards the benefits of investing in developing income for the long term. Part of the way to do this is to show the many examples of charities in all sectors who have done this successfully.