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Making money: getting it right internally

There can be few charities which would not want to deliver as best they can against their mission and for the vast majority, funds raised will be a core enabler of this…

The Outward Bound Trust has a history of successful fundraising and this has particularly taken off over the last seven years, with fundraised income tripling since the arrival of the current Director of Fundraising. Outward Bound has used this position of strength as a catalyst to fundraise income further through deepening understanding of, and alignment within The Trust, of donor needs.

About The Outward Bound Trust

The Outward Bound Trust exists to unlock the potential of young people through learning and adventure in the wild. Each year, 23,000 young people from across the UK benefit from an adventurous, personal development residential course. In 2017, 82% of participants came from backgrounds of disadvantage and The Trust made their course possible through fundraising. Significant funds are also raised for capital projects across the six residential centres, based within the mountains of Snowdonia, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands. Demand from disadvantaged young people for these courses keeps growing and so The Trust must ensure that fundraising grows annually to match this need.

The importance of internal alignment

Outward Bound decided to take a close look at our donors’ needs and how we are aligned within the charity to best meet these needs, with the premise that a better understanding of our donors’ needs would enable us to better meet them and therefore to raise increased funds to deliver our charitable mission.

We embarked on this project from a position of real strength in our fundraising.  This was deliberate:

  • The pressure was ‘off’ so there would be time to properly reflect on learnings and implement improvements
  • We would get a snapshot of how we fundraise at our best
  • We appreciated that what happens internally is as important as what happens externally when it comes to engaging donors

Waiting for a crisis before we started this analysis would have meant approaching on the back foot with potential loss of opportunity to learn powerful, useful information.

Getting the ball rolling

With the research emphasis on internal alignment, we needed to ensure that as well as capturing our donors’ needs, we investigated understanding of donor needs across all internal stakeholders. We employed an organisation with expertise in this area to hold focus groups with a wide representation of our donors; trusts, corporate partners and high net worth donors, along with stakeholders from all the different functions within Outward Bound. The remainder of our donors completed a short online questionnaire which replicated the focus group questions.

What donors need

A ‘need’ is defined as something which must be present; without it, the whole experience, service and proposition fails.

The research showed that our donors had five basic needs, that Outward Bound was meeting each of those needs in part and that there was scope to connect deeply with our donors by meeting each of these needs fully. We also established that there were differences between internal perception of donor needs and those defined by donors themselves.

Steps for closer internal alignment

Five key steps were identified to generate closer internal alignment around our donor needs:

  1. Adopt the five defined areas of donor need established through the research
  2. Deploy common language around these across the Trust
  3. Align objectives, solutions and resources to ensure those needs are consistently met
  4. Establish KPIs which focus on effectively meeting donor needs
  5. Use a regular feedback mechanism to monitor donor needs

To support this process, we completed an initial root cause analysis which examined gaps identified between donor needs and the way in which we were meeting them, and to analyse the same in relation to internal stakeholder understanding and alignment around donor needs. Determining root causes will enable us to adjust our policies, processes, information and people factors to deliver lasting, widespread solutions, with expected long term reduced operational cost.

Positive implications

The implementation side of this project is still in early stages, but we are confident that it will increase our alignment and engagement with donors, leading to deeper relationships and happier donors, which in turn will generate increased fundraised income to support our charitable work. Likewise, the project will increase the alignment of internal stakeholders, leading to greater opportunities to identify, support and generate fundraised income.


Before embarking on a project such as this, it may be helpful to consider the following:

  1. How well does your fundraising team currently know and understand your donors’ needs?
  2. How well do other stakeholders in your organisation know and understand your donors’ wants?
  3. What do you want to understand and learn by measuring donor needs and internal alignment against these?
  4. What benefits might your organisation gain through better understanding and alignment to meet your donors’ needs?
  5. What appetite is there within your organisation to invest time now in order to reap benefits in the future?

Ultimately, a better understanding of your donors’ needs, coupled with internal alignment to support this, will result in more funds raised to support your charity to deliver its mission. This is something we can all aspire to.

Isabel Berry is Head of Trusts and Foundations at the Outward Bound Trust

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