We’ve probably had enough analysis now. There’s been lots of really thoughtful comments and blog posts responding to the recent media assault on the practice of fundraising in the UK (and rest of the world, this is coming your way soon). Some of the best posts are here, here and here. And I’ve said plenty myself of course.
Broadly most of us are in agreement that overblown and even malicious as some of the coverage as been, there is a problem with fundraising in the UK which can be summed up by falling response rates, declining loyalty and increasing supporter dissatisfaction. The inevitable consequence is less effective fundraising, increased costs and a danger of further alienating supporters when they realise how little of their money is actually reaching the front line.
So what to do?
Here are some practical actions that every fundraising programme can take to ensure that your charity can continue to flourish.
1. Don’t panic. This is a long term problem, strident headlines notwithstanding. You need to resist knee-jerk responses such as dropping fundraising activities and approaches which are effective. But you do need to think critically about them.
2. Reflect. Look at your current fundraising mix and consider whether you have the right balance of activities. Are the assumptions behind your current programme still valid? Are there things you are doing that are no longer effective. Are there things you aren’t doing that you should be?
3. Review. Analyse, analyse, analyse.Do you properly understand your supporters and what they want from you? Do you know who your most valuable supporters are? Do you know how your supporters communicate and what methods and approaches will really work for them?
4. Think holistically. Bulldoze silos and bring together the people in your organisation interacting with supporters around a common strategy and approach. Get rid of anything which gets in the way of this.
5. Challenge. You need to demand the support of your senior leadership. Leaving fundraising to fundraisers won’t work. You need the engagement of the whole organisation and its leaders need to understand that failure to deliver that will lead inevitably to fundraising failure.
6. Reset. Many commentators have pointed out that we have a fundamental problem of short term thinking in charities. Effective fundraising is of course based on relationships which can only be developed over time. A third of donations by value come from legacies where the decision to give may have been made decades before the gift is realised. We know that word of mouth is the most powerful marketing mechanism and that what our supporters says about us to others has never been more important. But we measure none of this. We have organisations driven by annual budgets and fundraisers changing jobs every 18 months. This is madness. We need to reset our indicators to long term measures of value.
7. Refocus. Take the current programme apart and rebuild it around a focus on long term supporter engagement and value. Put the proper measurements and analysis in place. Then robustly and vigorously test activities that can really drive up that value. Roll out the winners. And continue to test in learn.
Let’s not forget what we’ve learned about how to do effective fundraising. But just carrying on with what’s worked before won’t do. And, now more than ever, the whole organisation needs to put fundraising at its heart.
Or stop asking.