Help me! I’m a fundraiser!

Help me! I’m a fundraiser!

Help me_I am a fundraiser.jpg

If you think fundraising needs to change, you’re invited to join us in making a movement – and it kicks off with an Open Space event in March. Richard Spencer explains how you can get involved


Being a fundraiser isn’t what it used to be. Although not all fundraising is the same, and different approaches are needed in different circumstances, fundraisers of all kinds have come in for a beating in recent months. Some extremely publicly.


As fundraisers, we could do with some help.


We know fundraising isn’t perfect – and that everything can always be improved. There are many conferences, publications, training courses and accreditations aiming to deliver ‘better fundraising’.

But what actually is meant by ‘better fundraising’?

The dark and scary problem is that ‘better fundraising’ has evolved to be a response to the challenge that fundraisers never came up with themselves. Regardless of the charity, that challenge goes something like:

“The target is to double net income, and with institutional funding drying up, how can we extract as much money as possible out of our supporters?”

This has led to lots of innovation, investment and focus on getting more supporters as rapidly as possible (sometimes at very high cost) and seeking to increase donations from existing supporters (with an acceptance that not all supporters will like it).

It’s what drives every director of fundraising to demand their own ‘ice bucket challenge’. It leads to a culture of growth at all costs, and of stretching fundraising models beyond breaking point.

It leads us to focus on and obsess over response rates, average gift sizes, volumes and returns on investment.


This must change.


We believe that ‘better fundraising’ needs to reflect what we all know – that it must start with the donor and focus on the experience they have of supporting charity. Most of us are donors and know this. Yes we need the financial measures, but we need to discriminate positively in favour of measuring the quality of the donor experience if we are to restore any balance and trust in charity fundraising.


So what do we do? What should we be doing today?


There’s at least one person in every charity who already thinks about the donor experience first – and this philosophy drives their behaviours and actions. Often there are many.

If it isn’t you, find that person or those people, speak to them. Share your ideas with them. Get their feedback, seek their advice. They may not speak the language of returns on investment, payback and breakeven, so keep your mind open and adapt.

In some charities this person is the chief executive, or chair of trustees, or both, and they drive this philosophy powerfully through the charity. If this is your charity, then you’re one of the lucky ones.

However, more often than not these are the people who have regular experience directly with donors. Some are volunteers, some work in charities, many would not describe themselves as fundraisers.

They see their role as inspiring people to take action. For them, it’s not necessarily about the money.

Given that the ‘better fundraising’ challenge is all about the money, it is probably a reality that these people are not regarded internally as the high-flying, high-return fundraisers that are praised and rewarded – but you may know already exactly who they are.


So what next – what should we be doing tomorrow?


If the starting point is to fix what you can where you work, then the next thing ‘better fundraising’ needs is for fundraisers to come together, share best practice and support one another in making it happen. We need to work together to bring about the change.

We need a grassroots revolution, led by a movement of fundraising enthusiasts – people who want to change fundraising. For good.

This is where the Commission on the Donor Experience comes in. If you want fundraising to change, then join our movement.

In the meantime, we are having our first Open Space event in York on 4 March – please come along if you can. Seek out those donor-centric people in your organisation, listen to what they’ve got to say, and bring them along too. Find out more here.

The future of fundraising needs you.


Richard Spencer is director of the Commission on the Donor Experience

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