Surveying the fundraising landscape after nearly 20 years in the charity sector, I think it’s fair to say it’s a time of change. Maybe it was ever thus, though I do like that quote from Justin Trudeau that says, “the pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again” (I can’t believe Trump doesn’t get on with this guy, right?!).
I’m coming at this from an individual giving perspective. When I started out in the nineties in telephone fundraising I was so wet behind the ears that my powers of insight were certainly still paddling around in the baby pool. But I did observe that following the launch of the National Lottery and the growing phenomenon of regular or committed giving, charities were getting more serious, and professional, about the potential of growing these sources of regular income.
So, telephone grew, direct mail adapted, and this thing called face-to-face appeared on our streets. And the income grew. Income derived from the main direct marketing channels added another £5bn or so each year during the noughties. An unprecedented trend.
Whilst this enabled so much – and we must never forget the huge societal benefits this great increase in giving facilitated – it also created a culture of supply and demand that would ultimately prove unsustainable. The ability to recruit donors at low rates and keep prices down within a competitive market has a certain ring of boom and bust about it and to some extent that’s played out in recent years.
My assertion is that we’re now in a transitional period whereby a fundamental rethink about individual giving channels and how they’re used is, and should be, underway.
Next wave in fundraising?
For keen economists or cultural philosophers out there, I guess we could also look at this moment as the beginning of a new wave or at least the next wave in the long-term cycle of fundraising. Similar to the wider economy we have a fragmenting market with more methods of communication and payment (giving) in play than ever before and the temptation is to jettison the old in favour of the new. But that’s way too simplistic.
Let’s call it as it is. We know that if we stick doggedly to the old supply and demand model and expectations around five-year return on investment models for individual channels, we are likely to end up disappointed. Add to that a not-always-familiar-with-the-realities-of-fundraising trustee board that’s also likely to be adding pressure on fundraising directors and their teams, and it’s not a winning combination for anyone involved.
Similarly, if we place our expectations squarely at the door of digital or social media channels to plug the gaps, we are likely to come up short given the vast numbers of prospects required to generate significant income.
Overlay this with the implementation of GDPR, and renewed focus on quality and the donor experience, and it’s easy to see how genuinely engaging with supporters and their preferences has become ever more crucial.
Creating relationships with potential
If we are to evolve then, we must adjust the lens and look at how we integrate the established and the new methods of communication, our purpose not simply being the recruitment of donors, but the creation of relationships with potential.
Applying these principles to the day job we are already seeing how Door-to-Door (D2D) can be used strategically for more than a straight fundraising ask. In practice this can be about gathering additional feedback and future communication consents from existing and potential supporters or utilising the power of conversation at the doorstep for different products such as lotteries,
campaigning or research surveys and polls.
All of this needs to be supported by intelligent, accurate and compliant data capture solutions and in 2018 the market leading agencies and NGO’s are proving this is do-able. Add to this the potential for mobile integration both during the initial fundraising dialogue and then during the ongoing supporter experience and the benefits of a smart, brave new world start to become a little clearer to view through that lens.
But we all need to work together to achieve this, collaboration will be key.
Going back to Mr Trudeau’s sentiment; let’s keep the pace, jettison the out of date, blinkered metrics, and start to see the equity in our donor relationships with potential for the future.
Dominic Will is joint managing director, HOME Fundraising.