It’s time for fundraisers who are tiptoeing around the world to rediscover their voice. Being bold takes confidence and the sector as a whole should be united in taking fundraising to the next level...
Disruption is a word with a whole host of negative connotations. We speak of children being disruptive in the classroom, adults being disruptive in the office and long working hours being disruptive to our family lives. But we must not forget that disruption can be a good thing too. Sometimes the status quo needs to be shaken up with new approaches and change. In fact, fundraisers need to be a little disruptive if they are going to achieve their goal of encouraging people to change their behaviour and donate.
As fundraisers, we know that the majority of charitable giving happens in direct response to an ask for support. Our role is to encourage people to sit up and take notice of the vital causes we work with, to make the case for donations and to build genuine engagement so that the charity remains front of mind for the foreseeable future.
This means that we can’t tiptoe around the world, afraid of making any noise. Silence will not right the world’s wrongs or fund life-changing medical research and emergency services, or provide shelter for those in need. Whether we reach out through social media, direct mail, an ad campaign or ask face-to-face for funds, we need to be respectful and we need to be sensitive, but we also need to be bold.
Changing the tone
Being bold takes confidence and, as a sector, fundraisers need to rediscover their voice. It’s not long since UK fundraising standards and practices were overhauled, seeing fundraisers pull back on campaigns, hoping to find their feet in a rapidly shifting landscape. The current fundraising environment is now a markedly different place. Donors have been rightly reaffirmed at the heart of any fundraising strategy, alongside charitable beneficiaries, and the focus lies on nurturing those supporters and giving them the best possible donor experience.
But, as with any industry that has undergone change, it can be difficult to find the right voice. Although it’s critical that donors remain at the heart of fundraising planning and we continue to be sensitive to their needs, fundamentally we should not be apologetic about fundraising. Sometimes it feels as if we are still in recovery mode, with fundraisers afraid to speak out, but we cannot afford to stand back for long.
What it means to be disruptive
When we use the word disruptive, it is important to distinguish this from disrespectful. It has never been more critical that fundraising is done properly, and in a way that is engaging and respectful. It is not about shouting the loudest, but fundraising confidently, proudly and unashamedly. This might mean raising difficult topics, discussing emotive issues that could make the public feel uncomfortable or challenging common thinking, but doing so sensitively and for the benefit our society as a whole, in an environment that encourages dialogue and a deeper level of engagement.
New technology has also had a huge impact on fundraising, with charities making increasing use of social media, chatbots, contactless payments, digital currencies and virtual reality. But there are many other ways to be disruptive that aren’t channel or method specific. This could be reaching out to different profiles and new groups of potential supporters. Charities should also consider collaborating and learning from partners outside the sector or finding other ways that existing supporters can engage with them.
Breaking the mould
Being bold is can be difficult at times, and every organisation needs to choose its moment wisely. Having awareness of all the contributing factors, from the external (including societal, market driven and regulatory) to the more controllable internal and cultural issues, will go a long way to determining whether the changes you are trying to implement will succeed.
Too often we’re conditioned by what we’ve done in the past, but if we rigidly stick to that formula and repeat what we’ve always done, we shouldn’t be surprised if results disappoint. At best, this will deliver the same results but more realistically, it will provide diminished returns.
If we look back to every charity’s objectives, their founders were moved to act to meet a need. Those radical thinkers, their approaches and solutions, whether established hundreds of years ago or in recent years, are great examples of being disruptive.
Being disruptive then isn’t just about putting meaningful innovation at the heart of our fundraising strategies, it is much more far reaching than that. It’s about leadership and strategies that could even – in some cases – lead to the demise of the same charitable organisations.
After all, if a charity has fulfilled its objectives or can be encompassed within another organisation that commits to meet the same goals more effectively, closure could indeed be its ultimate goal. This requires us to leave our own egos at the door, share resources and knowledge with competitors, and identify opportunities for more effective collaborative working.
If we are to bring charitable causes to the fore in an increasingly busy world, it’s time to stop fearing disruption and be bold about our fundraising.
First published on “The Fundraiser” on 23.4.2018