I meet with a lot of charities - big and small, Irish and international - all sorts of causes, all sorts of people. I love it - in every meeting I have the privilege of learning about the organisation, their history and the work they do. But I also learn about fundraising and their perception of fundraising. And there are trends. So here are 7 things about fundraising that I've learned from charities:
1. Charities Don't Like Any Form Of Fundraising...Until They Do Them
Charities and their boards are usually fearful of the next step in fundraising whether that's mailings, telephone, on-line, door-to-door or whatever. They're afraid of complaints and they're afraid it won't work.
But the reason other organisations are doing it is probably because it works, so at least test it.
2. Your Database Is Bigger Than You Think
Whenever I work with a small charity I start by looking at what's in their database - often on a spreadsheet or across a few documents or scribbled on some pieces of paper. Small charities always begin by saying they have nobody on their 'database'. Nobody. But that always turns out to be false.
They usually have past donors, volunteers, fundraisers, families of service users. At the very least they have a board of directors. And all of these have the potential to donate or generate income. The best piece of advice I could give to a new charity is to record in one place the contact details of everyone you come across and get their permission to contact them in the future. Do it from the start.
3. You Are Not Your Target Audience
You would never respond to a letter asking for money. You would never stop and talk to one of those chuggers. You would never buy a scratch card, give your bank account details to a stranger, or increase your donation when asked. Neither would I.
But that's irrelevant. Because your donors will.
4. Your Supporters Are (Generally) Neglected
You don't say thank you enough. You only respond to 50% of questions. You don't give enough opportunities to increase donations. You don't make it very easy to donate on-line. You don't let your donors give their input in to how you're run.
You could pick up the phone to one of your supporters right now and increase your income.
5. Fundraiser Goes Wrong...Charities Give Up
A lot of organisations don't have a fundraiser, which is surprising. If the first employee in a charity is the founder then the second should be a fundraiser. The whole point is that they pay for themselves and more.
But a number of organisations tell me they "Tried a fundraiser but it went wrong...it didn't work out." Imagine that attitude with any other staff - the CEO went wrong so we're not going to get another CEO, the nurse wasn't great so no more nurses.
6. The Other Charities Are Easier To Fundraise For
International charities say local charities are easier to fundraise for.
Human rights charities say cancer charities are easier to fundraiser for.
Most charities say children's charities are easier.
Children's charities say dog charities are easier.
Every charity is easier to fundraise for than yours...or not. It depends. They all have advantages and they all have disadvantages, so it's important to know what your advantages are and work with them. University/college alumni donations reached a record high while 20,000 children die a day around the world from something preventable. Everything is important to someone.
7. Fundraising Is Unappreciated
I recently had a meeting with a senior manager who had moved across from several years of project work to a fundraising position. It was satisfying to hear them say fundraising was the hardest job they had ever been tasked with.
But many charity boards don't see that. And it's undermining to the profession to see unqualified staff put in to these roles. Many boards I've met with think fundraising will just happen regardless of who, if anyone, is looking after it. When budgets get cut fundraising is usually the first to go, and the long-term effects are often detrimental.
Too many boards view fundraisers as professional beggars, but the truth is there is a huge skill to coordinating, creating opportunities, managing donors, finance, sales, innovation, design, statistics, analysis, yada yada. Some people are good at it...and some people are really good at it.
However, it's true there are not enough qualified and experienced fundraisers in Ireland. That's naturally addressed over time, as well as through the fundraising courses that have recently started. But on top of that we need to promote the job and promote the profession. Fundraising needs to be presented as an option at job fairs and in schools. We need to put time and money in to training and in to building it. We need to grow it.