I don’t know about you but I am quite happy to see the back not only of 2019 but the whole twenty-tens. It is possible we will look back in future years and see all the good things that happened in the last decade that are currently hard to perceive but I seriously doubt it. Fundraisers are by nature optimists, we have to be, but even am I am struggling to see positives in the last ten years of worldwide chaos.
As a consequence of the ever increasing list of things in the world that are going from bad to worse is that non-profits are needed and will be needed more than ever. There’s loads of work to do and that means we will need to mobilise ever more resources to support it.
So at the beginning of the 2020s where is the state of fundraising at? Working as we do at AAW with many dozens of nonprofits of all sizes globally, we have some sense of what the overall picture for fundraising looks like. It’s as to be expected a very mixed picture.
The world of charities and non-profits is full of diversity and generalisations are to be made only very cautiously. Markets and contexts very greatly. But there are definitely some trends that are being commonly experienced for many nonprofits. We hear again and again of rising competition, of reduced response rates in traditional marketing channels and of concerns about public trust and confidence. In response nonprofits are seeking to diversify their fundraising portfolios, develop new channels and income sources and focus on really improving their ability to engage, retain and develop supporters. We see key focus areas being digital (in all its manifold aspects) and on on relationship based philanthropy.
While most of the organisations we engage with can see where they need to get to, making the necessary transformation is much harder to achieve. Key barriers are a mix of strategic and operational issues.
The biggest issue, because it drives all others, is a continuing failure by the collective senior leadership of many nonprofits, from the board downwards, to understand that fundraising is a strategic activity. No aspect of developing an organisation’s mission and strategy makes sense without thinking about how it will be funded, by whom and in what ways. It is astonishing but true that many even large nonprofits still develop their organisational strategy first and then look at how to find it. Or conversely follow funding in a completely unstrategic way. It is still acceptable in many countries for boards to entirely lack fundraising expertise and for senior leaders to think that fundraising isn’t their responsibility.
Operational barriers fall out of fundraising not having organisational priority and/or not being approached systematically. Most of our clients report finding and retaining the right staff with the necessary expertise as a major issue impeding progress. Having a strategy that puts funding into the heart of an organisation also allows nonprofits to think long term about recruiting and developing the talent that they need to deliver it. Having the right systems and technology is another common issue where an understanding that these key bedrocks need to be continuously invested in is vital.
In 2020 we will see many of the trends of recent years continuing (such as these I talked about last year) But what will make the biggest difference to the fundraising performance of nonprofits this year and in the decade to come will be an increasing understanding that fundraising strategy and organisational strategy are the same thing.