By Sarah Squire
Chair of Trustees: “We have all read your fundraising strategy and it’s a real step forward for our charity.”
Fundraiser: “Great, that’s good to hear”
Chair of Trustees: “But we need you to focus on the quick wins.”
Fundraiser: “Err, sorry?”
Chair of Trustees: “Income is down. So, we need some quick wins. We need some large trust grants. We need that low-hanging fruit. Let’s leave the legacy fundraising and individual giving programme until next year.”
Fundraising quick wins
Let’s start by setting one thing straight. There are no quick wins in fundraising. But once upon a time there were.
In 1997, I landed my first fundraising job, as Trusts and Major Donor Fundraiser for Tearfund. This was a new role for the charity and for me.
I was totally new to fundraising. All I really brought to the table was a modern languages degree and a passion to do something meaningful.
But with the support of a brilliant manager, some external training and a trip to West Africa, I soon found my feet.
And early on, I started to see some rather exciting results. And by the end of my first year, trust income had doubled. You can check the endorsements on my LinkedIn page if you don’t believe me.
Yet how is it that trustee boards up and down the country still don’t understand this? Why the continued hanker after the elusive quick win?
There are three reasons behind this
- the short-term culture that dominates our lives
- our obsession with productivity
- lack of fundraising knowledge on charity boards
Short-term culture in a long-term game
The main problem is the short-term mindset that dominates our culture. We want things done now. Pop into Costa for your morning latte and you expect to be drinking it within 3 minutes. Order a curry on your way home from work and it can be on your doorstep by the time you arrive back. Instant gratification pervades every aspect of our lives.
And this culture has also seeped into our boardrooms.
Yet, the irony is, charity is a long-term game. There are no quick fixes for people with mental health problems, victims of abuse, the bereaved and the hungry. Most charities expect to be around for a long time because the work they do is long-term work.
So why are we so short-termist when it comes to fundraising?
Our obsession with productivity
Our productivity-obsessed culture is also a big part of the problem. We measure value by activity and productivity. And our busyness and uber activity leave little or no time for long-term thinking.
“If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future.”
These were the words of sociologist Elise Boulding in 1978, talking about temporal exhaustion. Her words still ring true for us today.
The voluntary sector is as prone to uber-activity, to the constant need to ‘do stuff’ all the time. A wise fundraiser once told me that knowing what not to do, is as important as the doing itself.
Finally, trustee training (or lack of it) is also a big part of the problem. If your Trustees don’t understand fundraising, short-term thinking is likely to rule. And, with it, unrealistic expectations and fundraising targets.
Many of the charities we work with have a wealth of business, legal or financial skills. Expertise in the charity’s service delivery is also a valuable asset. This could include a health practitioner as Trustee of a mental health charity. Or a professional youth worker as Trustee of a youth charity.
These are all hugely valuable skills. But fundraising skills are also important. And in today’s challenging climate, it has never been more important to have fundraising skills on your board.
The bottom line
So, my challenge to you – and to myself as well – is to take time to stop and reflect. The constant cycle of uber-activity is exhausting and counterproductive. Balance your immediate income needs with a longer-term strategy. Don’t cut back on individual giving and legacy fundraising just because you won’t see any immediate results.
And instead of bemoaning your board’s lack of fundraising experience, educate them. Provide a robust evidence base for all fundraising activity. You may even like to tell them about some of the great fundraising training courses and books out there.