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Fundraising’s other R word

Howard Lake | 17 July 2019 | Blogs

I was at a really great talk the other day with a bunch of smart charity fundraisers, marketers and deliverers. We spent a fun half hour talking about the transformation of fundraising, the collapse of trust, the end of the Victorian era and loads of other interesting topics. 
Towards the end, someone asked about the value of ‘stewardship’ in fundraising, something I hadn’t mentioned at all. This isn’t because I don’t think ‘stewardship’ is important. It’s just that I don’t think it’s fundraising.
But lots of people think it is. Taking a look at the chat around the recent IoF convention it’s clear that lots of people still believe in the primacy of the ‘donor relationship’. That the primary aim is to ‘acquire’ and then ‘retain’ people called donors by showing them lots of ‘donor love’. It’s such a pervasive way of thinking that whole departments of people in charities are organised around it, leading to thicker-walled silos and ever-more entrenched, self-confirming ways of thinking.
But worse, perhaps, this emphasis on relationships at all costs is persisting at a time when GDPR makes it harder than ever, when Facebook, contactless and other models enable people to give money without giving their data (how dare they!), and when definitions of loyalty are fundamentally shifting. In other words, when regulation prevents it, technology makes it unnecessary, and people don’t want or value it.
Fundraising, despite all this, seems for many to still be about badgering people to give us their email addresses and postcodes so that we can pretend to be their friends. Instead of actually BEING their friends.

R is for relevance

Gold bracelet with 'relevance' engraved on it
And that’s where the other ‘R’ word comes in. I’d argue that by far the more interesting (indeed necessary) dynamic in fundraising today is RELEVANCE. The ability to be part of and add value to people’s lives. The empathy and emotional intelligence to understand what they might need from us. The bravery and imagination to actually offer it.
Without it, we won’t stand out; but will be compelled to follow the tricks and techniques of old. Without it, we won’t be able to evolve, adapt or change. But most importantly, without it, I don’t believe the charity sector will survive at anything like the scale it wants or needs to be.
So. Please don’t ditch stewardship. Don’t stop thanking people, being polite, spelling their names right, or doing the right thing. But please, don’t mistake it for fundraising. Because to raise funds now you need to matter. And that’s a much harder job,



Why your supporters are wealthier than you think... Course by Catherine Miles. Background photo of two sides of a terraced street of houses.