On Wednesday, the latest Future of Fundraising* debate took place in London. These events involve couple of dozen leading fundraising practitioners chewing the fat on the major issues facing the sector today.
This time we addressed one of the most pressing concerns of UK fundraisers, in a context of falling response rates and increased regulation, how do we continue to find new supporters for our charities and where will tomorrow’s donors come from?
While I’d like to say that we solved this particular conundrum and identified plenty of low cost sources that would bring in new supporters by the bucket load, that would be stretching the truth. What we did do was to highlight some of the thinking and approaches that charities will need to adopt if they are to successfully reach new donors in the new world of fundraising.
We agreed that the current crisis facing UK fundraising has been building up for a while. And part of the fundamental issue has been too many charities trying to reach the same audiences using common channels and identikit approaches. There have been too many instances of non profits chasing volume over quality and failing to properly respond to supporter motivations or wishes.
Members of the group thought the idea of “cold” recruitment is itself part of the problem. Charities need to start by understanding who their current audiences are and to find the groups of people they are able to specifically relate to. So for service provision charities, they need to talk to their constituency of people affected by their issue and secure their support as advocates and donors. Charities need to overcome silo mentalities that prevent fundraisers talking to service users or that separates fundraising from the people delivering the programme.
This approach of finding the people who care about your cause applies to all charities. Direct marketing fundraisers need to think like their major gift colleagues. Who are the people with both the capacity to give and the propensity to give to your issue? How do you reach them and who are the people in your network who can help you get to them?
In today’s world, where technology allows us to target communications at an individual level, the idea of mass mailings, mass face to face or mass anything is anachronistic. We need to use the available tools to create one on one relationships as commercial marketers have been doing for years. But this means charities need to revolutionise their approach to data and information management. Too many charities have antiquated and incompatible databases and senior staff who don’t understand how to use data to drive effective marketing.
Similarly, charities need to become radically better at integrating their activities at every level. Integrating “fundraising” with “communications” (it’s the same thing). Integrating activities across multiple channels. Developing a holistic approach to managing relationships with supporters.
There’s lots of good examples of charities doing good things in all of these areas. We heard about organisations getting really serious about supporter care, investing in having proper conversations with their donors. There’s lots of innovation going on with communications, for example using videos and virtual reality to engage with audiences in new ways.
But the key to success will be to do all of this in an integrated way across organisations and to do this for the long term.
Sadly, there’s no silver bullet for charities to use to find new supporters. But there’s philosophies and approaches that will work. None of it is easy to do and there will remain the temptation to look for the short cut to success.
That as we’ve seen, quickly becomes the long road to nowhere.
*if you’d like to be invited to the next Future of Fundraising debate, drop George Milne at Audience a line firstname.lastname@example.org