Some years ago I squirreled away a cryptic comment from a guy called Toby Bourke, former head of donor acquisition at Greenpeace International and director of fundraising at Greenpeace UK, now CEO at Red Fundraising. It went like this.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome aboard this flight to somewhere between here and where you actually want to get to. Flight time tonight could be anything from one to six hours, depending on how well we do.
We’ll be flying at an altitude that we hope will be slightly higher than last year but not as high as we flew four years ago when flying was easier. We cannot at this stage commit to a specific altitude. Obviously we hope we will go reasonably high.
We are hoping for a smooth flight but if there’s any turbulence we’ll conclude air flight is unrealistic in this current climate and land immediately.
Now, sit back and enjoy the flight!
I recently rediscovered Toby’s comment and find I like it still. The point is, you need to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. If you don’t, your chance of getting even close to where you want or need to be is infinitesimally small.
So clearly fundraisers can’t function without targets that stretch them. Without money we can’t continue at all. Without aspiration our organisations will achieve much less than they might. We have to aim high, for the sake of everyone who needs us.
But despite their usefulness – for example in events, in special appeals and in focusing community endeavour – donors, by and large, don’t like targets. They will understand their necessity of course, because they’re neither unreasonable nor stupid. But if they believe preoccupation with achieving your target is the main reason you’re talking to them, your chances of success will become vanishingly small. On the other hand, if instead you get the donor experience right, you may be surprised and delighted that you’ll raise far more than you were expecting.
Fundamental principle 1
Fundraising isn’t about money.
American fundraiser Shanon Doolittle puts it well when she says, ‘A donor’s heart isn’t stuffed with cash, it’s filled with passion. And that’s what you have to tap into, dear fundraisers.’
By all means calculate the money you’ll need for your appeal or the coming year and work out how you’re going to raise it. But see your financial objective in its proper place. As veteran fundraiser Harold Sumption used to say, ‘if you start by asking for money you won’t get it and you won’t deserve it.’ So it’ll pay fundraisers to be very careful about how they talk about their targets to donors, if they need to mention them at all.
Asking for money should be the last thing you do after communicating appropriate information and inspiration. By then the pressure should be off, the outcome a foregone conclusion, decided by the donor.
Fundamental principle 2
Giving is always voluntary.
Targets are not the concern of donors and they shouldn’t ever be even aware of them. Instead all they should see is the cause, themselves and their part in making the required difference. Fundraisers should see targets as applying to donors collectively, in groups, rather than to any individual. Donors must always be free to decide for themselves how much or how little they give, or whether they’ll give at all. This is not optional, it’s a fundamental human right, nothing less. Fundraisers should celebrate it, not try to get round it. Donors of course also decide whether on not they’ll give a fundraiser a hearing. If fundraisers are to continue to be allowed to raise funds publicly the public’s right to say no has always to be accepted, instantly and without question.
Fundamental principle 3
No pressure is acceptable. Ever.
This needs no embellishing. Fundraisers might be advised to inscribe this principle on their heart. Passion and enthusiasm, yes. Pressure and persuasion, no. For fundraising to work it has to be all about inspiration, not at all about persuasion.
Fundamental principle 4
Fundraisers should be as concerned about donors
who don’t respond as much as they are about donors who do.
Reaching your target shouldn’t over-ride concern for the donor. You’ll only achieve your fundraising potential if donors are happy, inspired and want to stay because, in future, fundraisers will be judged as much or even more for their skills in retention than in acquisition.
So say goodbye to the philosophy that says, ‘as long as your next mailing generates more money than it costs, you can mail more’. Not if the effect of yet another mailing is to irritate legions of merely resting supporters.
Continued top of column 2, above.