Optimism of the will

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“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will” Antonio Gramsci 1929

So I think more fundraisers should read Gramsci. You might question the relevance today of the words of an Italian Communist leader who died in one of Mussolini’s jails in 1937 but bear with me.

Gramsci was not someone who was easily daunted and despite being imprisoned by a Fascist dictatorship while the world round him when up in flames he was still able to look on the bright side.

And he was an acute observer of what he saw.

In his “Prison Notebooks” Gramsci said

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”

You might take that for a pretty good assessment of the current state of the world.I also happen to think that it nicely sums up the current state of UK fundraising (I think “morbid symptoms” might be a reference to the Fundraising Preference Scheme but I might be wrong).

I’ve been doing some work the UK fundraising landscape and it’s pretty depressing stuff, frankly.

As you look at each area of income for charities, the news is generally bad

  • Numbers of charities, increasing
  • Demands on services, increasing
  • Statutory funding, going down. Fast. (Oh and the Tories are planning to nick lottery money apparently).
  • Overall voluntary giving. Flat, possibly declining
  • Individual giving. Flat. New regulations will stop or make more difficult much current fundraising practice.
  • Corporate giving. Flat, possibly declining.
  • Trusts. Flat.
  • Fundraising events. Really, really hard.
  • Major donors. Not much happening there growthwise either.
  • Charity shops. Profits flatlining.
  • Digital. Lots of expectation but still not really happening for most charities.

Actually about the only good news is that consultancy Legacy Foresight expect legacies to rise by 20% in the next five years.

When the most positive news we have on fundraising is about death rates rising, then we definitely have a problem. So you’d not be blamed if as a UK charity fundraiser you were a bit, well down at the moment.

But successful fundraisers are, like our friend Antonio,  optimists of the will. They don’t ignore issues and challenges but they look for the ways to overcome them to achieve the missions of their charities.

And people are still being successful. Because the problem of general overviews of something as big, complicated and messy as charity fundraising is that there are always exceptions to every rule.

It remains and will remain possible to do effective, sustainable fundraising just by doing it properly. By having a decent proposition, articulating it well, asking respectfully and telling the donor what you did with their money.

Just by doing this you will immediately differentiate your charity form a host of others where, for lots of reasons, fundraisers don’t have such a good story to tell.

And of course a good strategy will always take you a long way.

And by looking for the opportunities in a landscape where most of the population loves charities and wants to support them but don’t always feel that charities know how to talk to them.

Finally, Gramsci also had some good advice on fundraising regulation

if you beat your head against the wall it is your head which breaks and not the wall”

I’ll bear that in mind at the next sector meeting.


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