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Creative concepts: conflict, consensus and compromise
A focused and powerful creative concept drives fundraising growth. Every fundraiser knows this and most fundraisers have cried, banged their head in frustration or even left their job when their artfully created powerful idea has been destroyed. It has had so much added, subtracted, amended, redacted and opined on that it’s lost all its power, inspires nobody and doesn’t raise any money. Despite their lack of control over this process, it’s then often the fundraiser who is blamed for the poor performance. Why does this happen? Internal conflict leans to consensus decision making which leads to compromise. And compromise is the death of the Great Fundraising concept, as it is the opposite of focus and focus is what gives a great concept its power. If the organisation accepts a compromised concept (the lowest common denominator) in order to appease internal conflict then it compromises its ability to raise money. So the problem in creating great concepts is: internal conflict. How to solve this problem? We’ve studied and worked with over 300 organisations and concluded the following: If the conflict is caused by ignorance in other departments as to what the fundraising department needs, then a course of education is required. This is required for everybody from the board to administrators. Everyone must know and understand that fundraising needs focus and that it takes a serious professional to achieve this. If other departments do not like this, they must at the very least professionally respect it. ‘I don’t like it’ must not be allowed to compete with ‘I have evidence it works.’ The fundraiser must become the master or mistress of the internal conversation. Lunches, coffee and time invested in colleagues across the organisation must become a strategic priority. Have ‘No compromise champions’ in every department at your organisation. They are highly trained and responsible for managing input from their department to fundraising and making it excellent. The final decision on big concepts cannot be delegated to middle management or perhaps not even to the executive team. If different departments are left to negotiate the organisation’s ‘big message’ you will end up with a compromised concept and therefore compromised performance. Decide the decision-making group before you start your creative process and make sure everyone knows who the decision-making group. The job of the decision-making group is to make a non-compromised recommendation to the chief executive. From watching and working with the successful organisations, we can make an unequivocal recommendation: all departments, including the board, should input, but the final call, and refusal to compromise, must come from the chief executive or general secretary. Like it or not, that’s what works if you want to raise significantly more money for your organisation. These steps will help you to create a supportive culture of fundraising that gives fundraisers the freedom to develop the very best concepts for their donors. Why not give it a try yourself? Because in the end, embracing conflict and making crisp decisions separates the successful organisations, the ones that significantly grow fundraising, from the rest.
The power of brand in fundraising
In 2019, Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health joined forces and a year later created Corus International as our parent organization. This gave an opportunity to relaunch Lutheran World Relief as a fundraising brand – and we are still in the midst of doing that right now. We brought our organization together with Philanthropy & Fundraising North America in December 2019 to work on this. What is the problem, solution and ambition for Lutheran World Relief? I will tell you that at one point we identified over 90 problems that we were trying to solve. Reach everyone. We thought this was good. But then, when we got to this point, we thought that maybe our problem didn’t quite get to the essence of who our Lutheran donors are. Lutheran donors live their philanthropy through the lens of their faith. It is a part of who they are. They are proud to do the work, to contribute, to make quilts, to do all the things they do to help solve the problem through the lens of their faith. So, we came back at it early in 2020 and rearticulated the problem in another way… That really nailed it for us and we were, and still are, very excited about where we landed with that problem statement. In February 2020 we had a big plan. We were going to do a launch and a year-end campaign and we were going to dive in and really dig in for the next six months and make that year-end campaign just perfect. So, we would really strike the right cord. Then we got the same curve-ball as everyone else. How can you live through coronavirus when you are living in poverty? That forced us to come back and really take a hard look at the problem, the solution and the ambition and what our organization was being called to at this time. We’re told to practice social distancing to keep our loved ones safe. We’re told to self-isolate to protect the vulnerable. We’re told to wash our hands to stop the spread. We’re told to stay at home. When we went through this part of our creative, one of the things that we knew, deep in our core as a team, was that we couldn’t wait. We couldn’t wait. Because we knew Paulina. Paulina, who has lived through two wars and is living in a Ugandan refugee camp and has just gotten to the point where she can feed her family. Is now facing another big threat. And it is because she has the very least. Because she is among the most forsaken. That we had to go fast. And so, our team got together and began very quick work to move everything forward. And we did it for another reason. We did it because all of those Lutheran donors who were supporting our organization. Who are isolating. Who are staying at home. Who are being told to stay away… are trying to figure out how to love their neighbor. In this, problem, solution, ambition, just became so much more important for them too. And so, we have moved everything forward. And our donors have responded. And yes, our revenue has grown. And yes, we are helping people like Paulina. But our work has just started. And our donors are saying they are in.
What Great Fundraising CEOs are doing to raise their fundraising game
If you are a financially ambitious CEO, this should be a useful story. If you are a frustrated fundraiser, then consider aiming to become a Great Fundraising CEO. It’s the best way for you to raise MUCH more money and make a massive impact on the world. For me, it is a real and humbling privilege of my job that I get to work with some of the very best non-profit CEOs in the world. There are many and I respect them all. For this article, I will analyse the fantastic work of five CEO’s who have increased fundraising income with dramatic results over the last few years: Daniel Speckhard at Corus International, Baltimore, USA. SallyAnn Kelly at Aberlour Children’s Charity, Stirling, Scotland. Cathy Yelf, at Macular Society, Andover, UK. Scott Chapman at Royal Flying Doctors Service, Melbourne, Australia. Rasmus Kjeldahl at Børns Vilkår, Copenhagen, Denmark. The source for this article is detailed notes I have kept of the behaviours, analyses and actions initiated by these CEOs over a time period of up to six years. They have all been supported by fantastic fundraising heads – Dave, Eddie, Pippa, Emma, Marie, Lisbet and Allan – but for now I will focus on the specific behaviours of these CEOs. I want to show you how they drove fundraising income to transform these organisations. As a prologue, it is important to note that all five of our featured CEOs admit that they came to the most senior position via non-fundraising careers. And they said they had held assumptions, misconceptions and even some prejudices about fundraising when arriving in post. None of them had appreciated the resources, power, independence or scale of opportunity that fundraising could deliver for them and their organisation. As an epilogue, all of them have delivered transformational levels of income growth and created, launched and succeeded with new programme strategies and projects on the back of the fundraising growth. All of them have reached more service users, clients and beneficiaries and they have all made the world a better place for a huge number of people. So, what’s the story between the prologue and the epilogue? It’s a consistent story for all five featured Great Fundraising CEOs. Are you sitting comfortably? 1. They researched what other organisations have achieved. If there was no equivalent in their country, they looked internationally. They did not believe ‘it won’t work here.’ They looked at markets, statistics and communications, and they spoke to their peers in successful Great Fundraising Organisations. They came to believe transformational growth was possible and increased their ambition. 2. They took their time to learn and understand fundraising. They investigated the difference between fundraising and grant funding and developed clear insight into the different communications required for both. They immersed themselves in the strategy and metrics of investment leadership and management. They studied the different leadership styles and behaviours required to bridge the different cultures needed by fundraising and all other departments. They made themselves ready. 3. They took ownership of kick-starting fundraising. They understood that the whole organisation needed to get behind a fundraising surge, and it was their responsibility to achieve this. They took command of initiating the change. 4. They achieved organisational wide buy-in. They took the time and allocated resources for training, immersion, cultural development programmes and co-creation sprints for communications. They dealt with politics and nay-sayers. They remembered to include the board throughout. They got the right people on the bus – and got a few wrong people off it. 5. They made the three key decisions. They prioritised meeting donors' needs, optimum investment levels and focussed, powerful communications. They consulted and involved widely but realised the buck for the final decisions ultimately stopped with them. They did not compromise. 6. They set their fundraisers free. They set ambitious targets and gave fundraisers the resources to achieve them. They moved organisational chaff, politics and bureaucracy out of the way so fundraisers could move with the speed required. They invested in the professional development of their fundraisers. They permitted testing and learning. They stopped amateurs blocking fundraising with mere opinions. They treated fundraisers as respected professionals. 7. They kept involved. They left their fundraisers free to fly, but they touched base regularly. Partly they were monitoring progress, but mainly they were using the authority of their position to make sure fundraisers have the required resources to deliver on increasing targets and evaluating if there were any blockages which only the CEO could clear. They led but did not manage. 8. They used the money to create innovative projects. They used the increased income to deliver more activity in direct pursuit of the mission. Some created innovative new projects that only fundraising could fund. Others scaled existing projects in a way they could not otherwise. They fed the results of these projects back to the fundraisers and to the donors. They inspired for the long term. We know of many CEOs beyond these five who have delivered Great Fundraising. With and through their teams and boards. All five CEOs I have mentioned did all eight stages of the story, plus the prologue and epilogue. This is no coincidence. Philanthropy and Fundraising International enables Chief Executives and fundraising leaders to become Great Fundraising CEOs. Why not take a look at our seminars to find out how you can become one?
The journey to becoming a Great Fundraising Organisation
Emma Malcolm started in her role as the Director of Fundraising and Marketing at Macular Society three years ago. When I got the call from Gatenby Sanderson asking if I was interested in a Director role at a smallish sight loss charity in Andover I said no. I was happy in my job and I thought Andover was miles away. But when they mentioned that the charity was working with Alan Clayton at Philanthropy & Fundraising International and had prioritised investment in fundraising growth. I had to find out more… Fundraising will help find a cure to the most common cause of blindness In 2016 the Macular Society raised around £3 million per year. There had been some growth in the preceding years, but income had started to plateau. And whilst the charity was helping around 25,000 people with macular disease, this was a drop in the ocean compared to the 1.5million people living with sight loss caused by macular disease. They knew if they were going to help everyone who might need them then something needed to change. In February 2017 the leadership team went to the Great Fundraising Masterclass at the Inch. To say that Cathy Yelf, the CEO, came back having had a lightbulb moment would be a massive understatement. The idea of raising money and in doing so awareness of macular disease, clicked. Cathy then persuaded the board that this was the way forward. If they wanted to stop macular disease they had to become a Great Fundraising Organisation. It was at this point that Gatenby Sanderson recruited me into a job that has been the hardest, most rewarding and most challenging of my life so far. Things had to change Three months before I even started at Macular Society, I headed to a seminar with 21 about-to-be-new colleagues and board members to develop our New Ambition. And it was incredible. Everything made so much sense. To see people I didn’t even know, but who would be part of the team driving this change, getting more and more excited was amazing. Then, in February 2018, I finally joined at the Director of Fundraising and the fun began…. The Macular Society is an organisation that has grown a lot in 33 years. But it was still operating like a small, local charity. Many of the staff had been there for ages. And whilst they’re all good at their jobs, they’d also got used to the way things worked, even when they found them frustrating. Now, I’m not the sort to change things for the sake of changing them. Life is after all far too short for that. But when I dug under the surface, I saw that pretty much everything they did needed to change. Despite having 15,000 members no-one was responsible for them. The cash appeals raised money but talked about ‘us’ too much. If a story was used at all it was only a tiny part of the appeal. There was no separate regular giving income stream. Any money given was lumped into the cash appeals. There was no system to calculate the cost per donor. And these were only a few of the issues. Things didn’t work: not for fundraising, and definitely not for Great Fundraising. To ensure that we had the foundations to achieve Great Fundraising we went through the building blocks and changed pretty much everything, from team structure to database coding. Some days it felt like the only thing that stayed the same was the address. We are not the same organisation It has been three years now. And whilst there are still some systems we haven’t quite fixed, we are in a completely different organisation to the one that I joined in 2018. So, what have I learnt? 1. Well, change is hard, and you don’t always get it right. A year in and something hadn’t clicked for us and we were compromising. The organisation lost momentum waiting for me to start three months after our New Ambition. And the step-change needed was so huge that we became nervous about going for it. We needed to go back to our Why? So, we went back to The Inch to remind ourselves of what Great Fundraising is and more specifically how we can talk emotionally about our cause. It wasn’t a popular decision with everyone but it was the right thing to do. We came back and things clicked. We stopped asking about what our hook was and remembered that all we need to do is Beat Macular Disease. It is so simple that it took us a while to trust it. 2. Every single person has played their part in getting us to where we are now. I may have lead this process, but I’m not the one making all of the changes and doing it so well. I work with an incredible bunch of people. So, the credit goes out to every single person involved. It hasn’t been easy. We got our structure wrong to start with. We thought that having separate Fundraising and Communications teams separated under one Director would work. And it didn’t. We don’t have a Communications team now. We have an Engagement team that looks after all of our audiences – including Individual Giving. We also don’t have a Brand person, because for us it’s not about the brand, it’s about all the people we need to be there for – our beneficiaries and donors. And of course, curing macular disease. It’s that simple! 3. All this change is exhausting. And three years of it feels like a long time. Trying to maintain energy through some very tough times has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. But it is worth it. When I speak to some of our members, donors or people who attend our groups. They have faith in us that we will cure macular disease. It might not be for them, but it will be for their children and grandchildren. And that gives me so much faith too! 4. If I were to do this again, I would remember to trust my instinct. The things we got wrong were those things we weren’t 100% sure about. And so now if we aren’t 100% convinced then we don’t do it. That’s not to say that we won’t get anything wrong again, of course we will. But as long as we are learning from it, then that’s ok! We care about all the people we interact with and they know we will look after them. We use their money wisely and that is all I need to keep leading the fundraising at this amazing, Great Fundraising Organisation. Because here we are. We are a Great Fundraising organisation. Over the last three years Macular Society has increased its Individual Giving income by 61%. But more importantly has increased investment in research to Beat Macular Disease by 50% as well as spending more on other services to support people with macular disease.
How to make a strong business case for fundraising investment to your board
One of the most difficult things to do for many a CEO or Director of Fundraising is convince your Board and the rest of the organisation to ‘buy into’ a fundraising mindset – something that’s critical for your organisation to grow. More specifically, how do you convince your board to go along with, and crucially, sign off on bold but calculated fundraising investment? First, as we showed with developing a fundraising culture, you need to make them look at the future and dream of what can be achieved. You need to fire them up and help them reconnect with the fundamental reason the charity was founded in the first place. The Why. Once your board have operated that shift and are bought into the principle, give them the data and numbers they need to make the right decisions. Most likely, your treasurer is well versed in financial planning. However, their commercial/for-profit background doesn’t mean they understand how fundraising investment works. So, you need to show them: · Build up your financial knowledge and create a toolkit you can present to them. Make sure you use predictive KPIs as much as impact KPIs. · Include investment modelling. Show them different scenarios of returns over the middle or long term based on different levels of fundraising investment and different performance. · Use income forecasting. This way you can re-project results based on “real time” performance, giving your board up-to-date progress reports based on the initial plan. · Pre-agree on certain predictive KPIs before the next stage, so that you don’t need to go back to them for another decision (which could take months). Be clear on knowing that if you achieve X, you can move on to Y immediately. Ideally, give them only scenarios that you know you can live with. And the benefit is that you’ll be giving them a sense of control and the ability to exercise their legal duty of oversight, while assisting their decision-making in your favour. After all, someone has got to implement that plan afterwards and that’s going to be you. Get your board trained so they feel confident with fundraising investment. Finally, make sure your Board gets training in fundraising. Often, Board of Trustees are composed of people with vast experience in business and the commercial/for profit sector. But just because they understand business, doesn’t mean they understand fundraising. However, once it is explained to them, they WILL GET IT. Scott Chapman did this brilliantly as the CEO of Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in Victoria, Australia. An internal restructure meant that the subsidiary no longer delivered so many flying services and effectively evolved as a fundraising conduit for its sister RFDS across Australia. For 10 years they maintained a small, static fundraising programme. When Scott became the CEO he had to rebuild the business and services – but he soon realised that meant more vigorous fundraising. His first hurdle was to convince his Board of the opportunities for fundraising growth. “What I was trying to do was to get the Board to understand that fundraising is not the bit that is leftover. What I wanted them to do is understand that we are also in the business of fundraising.” Scott Chapman, CEO, Royal Flying Doctors Service – Victoria section. Having persuaded his Board that there was more to learn about fundraising, Scott arranged training for the entire staff and trustees, using emotional stories to reconnect them with their purpose and the cause and get excited about the opportunities that more income could bring. As Scott says; “It really resonated with the Board, coming from a world of business and number crunching. It was a shift in their thinking…an investment opportunity – and they have thought about fundraising in that light ever since. It resulted in the Chair standing up at the end of the day and stating an audacious fundraising goal because he was so inspired!” Training the Board in fundraising led to a complete overhaul of the organisation’s culture, but also its communications and processes. They now see themselves as three businesses: 1. A patient transport business 2. A primary health delivery business 3. And crucially… a fundraising business. Up until then they hadn’t been able to get the Board to invest in fundraising, they were always investing what fundraising made into services. At that point they were able to secure a substantial figure over a five-year programme specifically for fundraising outcomes. With their increased budget, the fundraising team thoroughly reviewed donor recruitment and the donor journey. Over this time the income of RFDS Victoria increased 145% to almost $50 million helping them reach more patients and provide more services to more people in Victoria. Once your board understands what needs to happen, things will start to change. Once your Board understands: 1. the opportunities that more income would bring and what that means for the cause; 2. how fundraising investment works, and 3. the numbers, indicators and different budget scenarios, …they will understand and respect the fundraising functions within the organisation and ultimately give them the support and authority to really drive fundraising growth with focus and at pace. This is particularly important during a crisis – i.e. right now! – when organisations need to react quickly, be nimble and agile, and adapt to rapidly changing situations. This could literally mean life or death for a charity. It is too important to overlook. Your cause and your beneficiaries demand it. Scott Chapman attended the Great Fundraising Masterclass in October 2015. You can join me for the next Masterclass on 8th March.
Developing a Philanthropic Orientation
Philanthropic orientation is a strategic orientation highly receptive to, and welcoming of, a variety of philanthropic sources of income. Importantly it is respectful of the nature of philanthropy and the role that all might play in developing it. But why should it matter to you? “An organisation’s strategic orientation is important because it shapes the strategy it will implement to create the behaviours necessary to sustain or enhance its overall performance.” (Gatignon and Xuereb 1997; Slater et al. 2006). For a non-profit organisation that performance is its ability to raise money to pursue the mission. That means fundraising. Therefore, a philanthropic orientation is vital for Great Fundraising – the ability to achieve substantial income growth – to flourish. The role of philanthropy As a concept, philanthropy focuses on love for others or love for mankind. So, if that is what philanthropy is, what would it mean for an organisation to be oriented towards philanthropy and thus appreciate philanthropy as critical for its future survival and success? Or, its ability to become a Great Fundraising organisation. A qualitative study led by Professor Adrian Sargeant, identified three key factors associated with a philanthropic orientation that emerged from interviews with senior fundraising practitioners in Australia. These were found to be: Donor orientation Donor orientation was seen as a high-level focus on donor (or supporter) needs. Rather than regard donors as a “piggy-bank” they are regarded as individuals with a discrete set of needs that the organisation should respond to and nourish. In a philanthropic culture, the organisation as a whole cares quite genuinely about the needs of its donors and the satisfaction of those needs is considered of equal importance to the satisfaction of the needs of the beneficiary. “If you’re truly serious about growth it isn’t optional. Fundamentally you have to understand the needs of your supporters and build all that you do around delivering that. But more than just the fundraisers doing that – its everyone’s responsibility. Just takes a while for them to get it.” Senior Fundraising Leader, Australia. Embedding philanthropy at the heart of an organisation For a philanthropic orientation to be adopted, the organisation has to consciously reflect on the nature of philanthropy and how the organisation as a whole will respond to and nurture it. The development of philanthropy cannot be something that is the sole responsibility of the fundraising team, everyone (including members of the Board or governing body) must see it as their responsibility. Everyone should be offered training in the basics and everyone should have fundraising (or at least supporting fundraising) in their job descriptions. “Fundraising is routinely a part of induction for new members of staff. It isn’t that we expect everyone to ‘do’ the fundraising, it’s more that we want them to appreciate how it works and to be able to articulate and be proud of the case for support.” It was interesting to note that many Australian leaders took such trouble to integrate fundraising into the organisation that they found themselves with more relationships or “bridges” between functions than other members of the organisational leadership team. This created in itself an opportunity to add value for peers because they could often forge connections that no-one else could. This was seen as important because it reinforced the non-monetary value that fundraising could offer and helped with further embedding it into the organisation as a whole. Celebration of shared philanthropic successes A further component of philanthropic orientation is the level of pride that the organisation develops in respect of its income generation and those who facilitate that to happen. Many of those interviewed noted the pride that their organisation had in its service provision and the leaders and frontline service staff who were delivering their outcomes. What appeared to mark out a higher degree of philanthropic orientation was the extent to which the organisation was similarly proud of its ability to attract philanthropy and meet the needs of and steward relationships with, its supporters. Such pride arose out of a fundamental understanding that money and mission should be seen as one and the same thing. Oriented for fundraising success The overlap of these three factors and the requirements for Great Fundraising, as documented in the Great Fundraising Report, are abundantly clear. Both call for a culture where the whole organisation is focused and energised behind fundraising – and ideally, its growth. And both recognise the importance of the donor and meeting their needs as paramount to achieving this. Therefore, developing a philanthropic orientation is clearly one where Great Fundraising can thrive – and that in itself would be reason to celebrate.
The value of culture
Before I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was a salesperson. I sold shoes. I sold ski trip packages. I sold whitegoods. I was good at it. And I was good at it because I was working in a customer-centric culture. I learnt the golden rule in sales, that is, to sell with the same honesty, integrity, understanding, empathy and thoughtfulness that you would like someone else to use in selling to you. Finding the world of fundraising mid-career saw me move on from classic sales but not from the basic tenant of being customer centric. In the fundraising world it means meeting the needs of donors. It gets talked about a lot in our industry. But if anything, the global pandemic has shown me how it is not actually a prioritised bedrock of many fundraising programs. Culture crisis When Covid-19 hit it became obvious that the decisions non-profits made at that moment would set the tone for their fundraising through, what has turned out to be, an enduring crisis. Some organisations were able to act quickly and focus on the business of fundraising. Others either hoped that relying on the strategy in place, business as usual, would work or even worse withdrew, assumed donors wouldn’t or couldn’t help and in some cases stopped fundraising altogether. The difference between the two? Those whose fundraising is still thriving have a culture that supports a clear understanding of, and respect for, donors. They knew the need to give is greater in a crisis, so they kept their donors involved and busy. In times of crisis, when our strategy is no longer relevant or needs to adjust, quickly, those without a strong culture falter. Led by fear Fear permeated the sector. Fear of the unknown. Fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear that donors were compromised and not in a position to help. Fear that our services could not be delivered. Fear that we may not be able to adapt to continue our good work. Many charitable organisations shied away from communicating with their donors. Those fundraisers who did communicate with their supporters got bogged down in internal sign-off procedures and endless amendments to messaging. A 12 day approval timeline for an email, once seen as acceptable, became obviously outdated practice and not useful. So, we need to ask: How were some organisations able to be confident about their fundraising and meet the needs of donors in the face of this crisis and others were not? How were some organisation able to be more focused and energised in their fundraising than others? How were some organisations able to turn the crisis into a growth opportunity? The quality of the culture that supports fundraising was the great divide between the Great Fundraising organisations and the rest. The culture of Great Fundraising What was the difference their culture made, and still makes? Their leadership gets fundraising and they have the right people leading. They know where they are heading, they have clear ambition. And they trust those they have employed to lead their fundraising. For Aberlour, a Scottish Children’s charity, the Covid-19 pandemic could have been a real disaster for their fundraising. Fortunately, they had invested in fundraising training for the Senior Leadership team and had appointed an experienced fundraising leader. In the face of the crisis they had an internal culture that trusted fundraising and facilitated one of the fastest crisis pivots we’ve seen – six hours from appeal inception to launch! “Having trust gives you the ability to work at pace and that is what this process, starting with PFI, has helped achieve. It has given the team a sense of confidence and enhanced our credibility… It has raised our profile externally and, most importantly, enabled us to raise more funds…”
Pippa Johnston, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Aberlour. Aberlour is a great example of the fundraisers position within the organisation, relative to other departments and roles being elevated to important. Their work is questioned less often, their professionalism, experience and expertise are respected. This sees them have increased motivation, confidence and productivity. 2. Their leadership gets fundraising and they take confident, decisive action. Consensus seeking compromises plague our industry. A lack of agility plagues our industry. 3. Their donors are seen as part of their organisations culture too. All too often the concept, and power, of meeting donor needs often remains just that, a concept. But not for Great Fundraising leaders. Approaching donors with honesty, integrity, understanding, empathy and thoughtfulness requires us to see them as important stakeholders. Listening, understanding and adapting to their needs reaps the rewards of loyalty as demonstrated by the Australia’s Flying Doctors; “I just got off the phone today to some major (and not-so-major) donors, just asking them how they were, how is life through Covid-19 – not asking them for money – so they all feel like they are a part of us and are on the journey with us.” Royal Flying Doctor Service Those who could meet donor’s needs were in organisations where their culture meant donor’s needs were understood, seen as important (not more important than the needs of beneficiaries but equal) and time, effort and consideration were given to understanding and meeting them. So, what is culture worth? For organisations wanting to be truly great at fundraising, it’s gold. When your whole organisation buys in to your fundraising ambition and understands the fundraising function and its importance to the mission, they will be able to build for the long-term. And in times of crisis, they won’t lose this momentum.
Long-term growth out of a crisis
Nine months since Covid-19 brought the world to its knees and many nonprofits are still in crisis mode. Exhausted, frazzled, and out of the initial adrenalin that launched a thousand emergency appeals, many organizations still face an uncertain future. But as famously quoted by John F. Kennedy, “When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” And for nonprofits, there may NEVER be another opportunity like this one to transform your fundraising culture for the better. Survive or thrive The leadership behaviors that win the day now will determine which organizations merely survive and which thrive for years to come, powered by a committed team, passionate supporters and accelerated fundraising growth. There will no doubt be some organizations who will sadly have to close their doors. The most vulnerable of these will have cut back their fundraising spend the moment the health crisis broke out. These will be few and far between; as history suggests we will see many mergers or bailouts from other organizations with similar missions. Most non-profits — about 2 in 3 — will continue to fundraise but with a ‘business-as-usual’ mindset. They’ll proceed cautiously so as not to offend anyone. They’ll send an emergency appeal here and there that will bring in some cashflow, but few new donors and supporters. They will achieve a gradual recovery in the short term, followed by a longer term of flat or declining revenue. According to research carried out by Philanthropy & Fundraising International since the Great Recession of 2008, 1 in 10 will emerge from Covid-19 with a renewed passion and commitment to their cause both internally and externally, expanding their donor and supporter base often on a massive scale. This could be your organization. But how? Focus, energy and action What I love about PFI’s work, drawing on Professor Adrian Sargeant’s research and working with hundreds of organizations around the world, shows us that Great Fundraising organizations are the ones that know how to put long-term priorities into sharp focus. They apply crisp decision-making and focus the organization to create energy and momentum that will transform the fundraising culture for the long-term. My colleague Alan Clayton puts it succinctly in a seminar he recently delivered about creating the culture bounce back at this difficult time: “The very best fundraising leaders understand that in times of crisis, there is not only an opportunity in the marketplace, there is also an opportunity internally. There might never be a better time to improve the quality of the organization’s fundraising while making fundraising efforts better-embraced by the entire organization for years to come.”
Alan Clayton, Philanthropy & Fundraising International Leading out of a crisis Here are a few things that the truly great fundraising organizations have been doing for the past several months — and it’s not too late for you to follow suit: 1. Get through the emotional barrier of worrying about money. Believe in yourselves and believe in your donors and supporters. Together, you can do this. 2. Appoint a team of experts, fundraisers and money people.
Give them the authority to create the ideas, make the decisions, then let them do it. 3. Move quickly.
COVID-19 will be here for a long time. People won’t stop giving but the opportunity to turn things around internally and transform fundraising exponentially will be relatively short. 4. Have the right people leading the fundraising function.
Leaders that understand the importance of uniting and aligning the whole organization behind the fundraising drive chain. 5. Reach out to your donors to meet their needs.
Put yourselves in their shoes. Ask how they are? Right now people need all they can to help them feel good. And donating to something they believe in will do just that. Done well they will remember you as we emerge from this crisis. Those that understand fundraising will get this. This week the UK charity RNLI Lifeboats shared their story at the IFC (International Fundraising Congress) of how, with upfront investment in fundraising, firing up the internal culture, and focusing their fundraising communications, they were well prepared for the Covid-19 storm that has hit. The results speak for themselves. If this was easy, everybody would be doing it. This could lead to some of the hardest decisions an organization ever has to make. Ensuring underlying fundraising resilience could mean the choice between layoffs, funding a beloved project now or investing in fundraising for the long term. When it is appropriate, this is the most difficult leadership decision there is, which is why it takes great leaders to make it. You can learn from the lessons of the past to help your organization build a better future. To learn more about the behaviors of the greatest fundraising organizations around the world, please visit philanthropyfundraising.com, or leave a comment. And if you need a bit of help, we are here for you.