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Where is the future for fundraising? Regulation, or empowerment?

The future must focus on the relationship between donor and cause, not on fundraising technique. We have got to put the donor first, not the charity. Then we can do most to help beneficiaries.
That is not, I believe, where we are. We need a change in direction. And such a change requires a catalyst. Where is that catalyst? What will be the trigger for change?
Over the past year, much has become clear. We have a problem. We, as fundraisers, were responsible. Not just a few rogue charities; all of us. The media exposed it. In my view, they didn’t create the distrust and disquiet that donors have in charities; they confirmed something that was already there.
So there was a reaction. Standards, controls, sanctions, re-set buttons, an obligation to opt-in, greater requirements for trustees and so on.
Has the response to bad practice been measured, correct and appropriate? Or an over-reaction? Probably the latter. What has surprised me in all the furore is that no-one has reported the impact that all the new regulation will have on the beneficiaries. How many will not be helped because of a possible over-reaction? It has not been a zero-sum game.
We need to turn the current situation on its head.
At the moment we have identified a problem and moved backwards. We’ve been told off. Told we mustn’t do it again, or there’ll be trouble. Been defensive. Looked for compromise.
This may have been needed.
But now, we should recognise the problems, and move forward. Not see fundraising as inherently bad, to be controlled, but as something that is inherently good, to be encouraged. Make fundraising brilliant. Make us all feel proud to be fundraisers.
Ken Burnett and I met to discuss this before the Olive Cooke story broke. We felt that all the evidence was that people wanted to be relationship fundraisers, but didn’t really know how. Relationship fundraising has always been much talked about, but not really implemented. We wanted to do something. We believed things could be changed for the better. Then the Olive Cooke story gave us an added impetus.
And so the Commission on the Donor Experience was born.
Our aim is to transform fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to the business of raising money.
A huge aspiration. But we now have:

I believe the Commission is the catalyst I referred to above. The trigger for change.
The thing that could leverage the transformation of fundraising.
When we launched the Commission in March, people said: ‘yes, but how?’   We have spent six months listening, drafting and consulting.   Involving the best minds.
We have now said ‘how’.   Not the answer, but a description of what the answer will look like.   And, after much discussion, debate and refinement, we have produced the scope of the Commission.
Up to now, we have been opening up.   Now, we begin to close down.   To do the work, consult with donors (imperative) and get the work reviewed by independent reviewers.
Good enough is not good enough.
Please read the project zone.  Even if you haven’t time to read this, please be ready for the final report.
Let me give you a few examples of the projects.

Satisfaction and commitment

Traditionally fundraisers measure success in money raised now. But as indicators of long-term commitment several factors are more important and more useful than the ubiquitous, historic RFV tool (recency, frequency and value). This project will create a practical guide to measuring these other main indices and will show where relevant research and examples of best practice can be found


How to move from Fundraiser to CEO - by Bruce Tait. Upwards white arrow on blue background.

Giving choices and managing preferences

There is clear evidence that giving donors practical control over how they relate to and hear from fundraisers can be highly effective in improving both the donor experience and fundraising results. This project will look at the systems that have been implemented and the results they’ve achieved, with the aim of defining an ideal approach that offers donors practical choices and real control over the shape of their relationship with individual causes.

The role of trustee boards and senior management

Fundraising’s evolving future will inevitably have profound implications for volunteer boards and senior management teams. This project will help them to understand the changes in their roles and to prepare for, contribute to and respond to fundraising’s new agenda.

Fundraising investment

Donors often express concern about any money being spent on fundraising, despite evidence that appropriate investment in fundraising enables their contribution to be more effective by leveraging further donations. This project will identify the extent to which donors’ concerns on this topic are a barrier to giving, and how better fundraising practice can ensure that the ‘the truth told well’ about fundraising costs can reassure those donors who are willing to engage with the issue.

The use and misuse of emotion

Fundraising is inevitably emotional and emotion is hugely powerful, so must be used responsibly and wisely. This project will consider whether and how emotion can be safely used in fundraising communications. It will define the opportunities and responsibilities that come with telling the truth well, with power and passion that can move people to action

Evidence of impact and effectiveness

Every donor’s most pressing question is, ‘will my gift make a difference?’ This project will look at all of the ways charities can become known for inspiring, quality feedback that proactively brings this difference to life by showing donors what’s achieved when they generously give their support.
None of this is rocket science. But it requires change. The 25 projects are mutually reinforcing. The outputs of the Commission, taken together, could make a huge difference. That difference won’t happen overnight. It will take years, possibly many.
How do we embed the outputs into the sector? How do we ensure this is not tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper? (Or whatever the digital age equivalent is.) We still need to work out the detail. But:

This is not about charities. It’s about need and beneficiaries, and the donors who want to be part of the solution to that need. It’s about the role of fundraisers in linking them. And the obstacles we, as fundraisers, often put in front of donors, by focussing just on asking, not on how the donor feels, the experience she is having or the difference she is making. It’s about the practice that will enable us to make sure donors have a better experience so that they’ll want to give more and do more for beneficiaries.
Why else do we exist?
Is fundraising an activity that needs to be regulated? Of course. As is driving a car, practising as a doctor or fixing people’s boilers. But we shouldn’t become obsessed with regulation. That is, for some of us, what has happened? We must change.
Fundraisers connect donors to causes. If we make donors feel that they are having a good experience they will give more. They will feel empowered and that they are making a difference. More beneficiaries will be helped.
That is what fundraising should be about.
The CDE sounds obvious. “Give donors a better experience and they will give more”. But it is much more than that. The output of the Commission will not only give guidance on how to behave differently but also think differently. And, I believe, that is what we must do.
© 2016 Giles Pegram CBE