What will it take to fix giving?

Fundraising, in particular individual giving, feels like it’s in a bit of a mess. We can blame regulation, or the Daily Mail, or agencies, or trustees, or the media, but I don’t know where it gets us.

So what happened?

One answer is that we focused too hard on efficiency, and forgot about effectiveness. We focused on smaller and smaller groups of people, with fewer and fewer offers – until the majority of fundraising in the UK seemed to focus on getting a shrinking demographic of 55+ ABC1 women to make a regular gift.

And then the whole thing went ‘pop’. And now we have to ask what we do next.

One answer has to be to pick up the difficult question about measures. RoI and CPA have led our activity to be more and more efficient, to the point where much of the time, doing nothing has become preferable to doing something. That won’t help sustain our charities into the future.

Second we need to think about audiences. Rather than focusing harder and harder on a small minority, we need to think about all the people who our cause (or programme, or brand, or expertise) resonates with, and what they need from us (note, not what we need from them).

And with that in mind, the third step is to think about products. Cash, regular giving, legacies, sponsorship, events. They’re not going help us reach the people who love what we do but aren’t buying what we’re selling. When we think about what works for them, the future might look very different indeed.

All of this is likely to lead to some very difficult conversations with boards and trustees. (Although, you might argue, many of those are already having difficult conversations about cutting programmes and staff).

It could lead to a radically different culture in fundraising, with different teams, roles and structures, and a whole new language. Many charities have already challenged themselves to stop talking about ‘Dorothy Donor’ – how many more will drop the language of acquisition, retention, journeys, development, even donors?

What does tomorrow’s fundraising look like? One answer is that it looks less like sales and more like marketing – taking a broad view of the population and maximising brand reach and effectiveness.

Another is that it looks different. Exciting. Optimistic even. There will be pain. But only by looking to the future can we get away from the present we’re in.