I can’t remember a time when there was more focus on fundraising innovation in charities. Everyone I speak to seems hard at work searching for the next “big thing” or even quite little, but new thing.
This is hardly surprising. With falling results from established channels and a seemingly endless barrage of media criticism producing a raft of new restrictive regulation, UK fundraising has never seldom felt so beleaguered. At a time when reduced public expenditure is hitting charities’ income from government, fundraising from private sources is becoming ever harder.
The most far-thinking charities are therefore turning to innovations to provide the growth they need to provide for. So significant resources are being invested in developing new approaches,channels and products. There’s some really interesting work going on and quite a few promising ideas being developed. We are, for example, seeing social media (particularly Facebook) come into its own as a fundraising channel, seeing lots of organisations focusing on supporter engagement to improve donor recruitment and retention. There’s a lot of work on micro-donations with development of schemes such as pennies and a penny for london. Lots of people (including me and my friends) are working on using mobile technology to change how charities talk to their supporters. New event ideas appear every day, it seems. There are interesting trading ventures being developed and new approaches and thinking being applied to the humble charity shop. And I think that the impact of crowdfunding and new forms of social finance on fundraising is only just beginning to be felt in a significant way.
This is all very exciting. No one loves innovation more than me and I think it’s healthy for fundraising to be regularly re-invented. But we also need to keep our sense of perspective.
There are, as we all know, no magic bullets in fundraising. It’s a myth that there are. The search for new approaches needs to not be at the expense of the old. I’ve been struck recently by a number of people who ought really to know better talking about regular giving in the UK “declining” (it’s not) and talking about one off donations as the new way forward. Well, as our cousins over the water would say, do the math on that. I’ve got a mass of lifetime value data that tells me that regular givers are orders of magnitude more valuable than cash donors. I don’t see that changing any time soon.
The basics of good fundraising don’t change. The channels we use, how we use them are evolving all the time but what makes people give and why doesn’t.
So when we re-invent fundraising let’s not forget what we’ve learned. Engagement without a purpose is just entertainment. People don’t give unless they’re asked. They give emotionally not rationally. And you ask for buttons, that’s what you’ll always get.
We need innovation in fundraising. I’m optimistic that we’ll see lots of new approaches being tried very soon. But it needs to build on what we know or we’ll be expensively relearning the lessons of the past.