What would we do if we could start again?             

I find fundraising fascinating. And I’m not trying to be facetious when I say that. I really do find it fascinating. When an organization ‘does fundraising’ it can mean so many things. When a person says they are a ‘fundraiser’ they can operate on so many levels, from specialist at the big names, to all-rounder (and more!) at the smaller end of the scale.

My work as a fundraising operations specialist (which in itself can mean many things), has recently taken me to fundraising places, organizations and cultures that I’ve never experienced before. And I think I’m the better for it. It’s good to stop and think differently about the things you thought you knew, to be shown a new side of something, and learn how to literally think about things differently.

Last year, I attended a fundraising conference in New Zealand, and listened with fascination as sessions referenced how telemarketing was delivering great returns, and could be used to support not just fundraising, but service delivery and volunteer engagement. Wow. Just hearing people speak positively about a channel that, in some markets around the world, is demonized, was refreshing.

But it was also sad in a way, as it made me think about what we’ve lost through a chase for that last drop of ROI, or the fairly brisk saturation of the market, or simply how some organizations did it just plain wrong. However you want to frame it, the culture of fundraising in the UK that has evolved in the last 10 years has taken the sector to that place, and now the UK is the poorer for it, I’d argue. Literally.

Recent projects have involved undertaking research on the needs of fundraising offices around the globe, requiring lots of interviews with country offices of large, international organizations. One project aimed to find the ideal CRM solution to cover several offices, with the expectation that it would be a case of system X out, and system Y in – just tell us what system Y is please. Ah, not so fast. The world is more complex than that. The recommendation there was to think bigger. You could swap X with Y, but that wouldn’t maximize your return. Stop, look around, think ahead and you can see that widening the scope of the ask brings much bigger gains.

Another project revisited an attempt to apply one single approach to supporter segmentation to multiple offices around the world. The organization knew it wasn’t working, but didn’t know why, or what to do next. Talking to offices quickly showed that there were clear differences in cultural approaches to giving, and indeed to the core purpose of the non-profit, which differed significantly from market to market. So, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach was never going to work.

That organization is now looking to implement a two-level model, one high-level global, and one refined at local level, but both linked so that the organisation can do the monitoring and planning it needs, whilst allowing the local market to build segmentation and engagement approaches that really work for them. Everyone’s a winner, or at least they can be. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

So, what does this all mean? It means as fundraisers we shouldn’t let our thinking be constrained by how we do things around here, wherever here is. We should always think bigger, challenge the norms, and question assumptions. We shouldn’t follow the herd. Never just look to the ‘big boys’ and slap our logo on it. That hasn’t worked too well recently.

What would we do if we could do it differently? What would we do if we could start again? What would the question/project/issue look like if we thought bigger? And that age-old classic, what would we do if we weren’t afraid? Start with that thinking, and maybe we can reinvent our fundraising again. Or at least evolve it to better place for all concerned: fundraisers, beneficiaries, and donors. And it’ll be fascinating. I promise you.

Dawn Varley is THINK Canada's Client Development Consultant.
To meet her, click here.