THE BLOG

2016: The Year Fundraising Must Change Forever

13/01/2016 12:13 GMT | Updated 12/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Last year was an annus horribilis for many fundraisers. The perfect storm of media criticism, regulatory changes and public disquiet were intensely challenging for charities - but this now presents us with a once in a generation opportunity to radically remake the fundraising sector.

I have been a fundraiser for many years on both the agency and client side and, along with my many hundreds of fundraising colleagues, I have made use of every single channel and practice that looked like it would provide a good return on investment. This includes all of those that have recently been a focus of criticism.

In doing so I found myself trying to balance the need for funds, the pressure of the board and the importance of good relationships with both supporters and the wider public. On the occasions when I felt that the supporter experience wasn't as good at it might have been I, like many others, reached for the stock reply that this was "OK, because it works."

But even before the events that shook the sector in 2015, I felt that on the occasions when I got the balance wrong it was because the teams I worked in put the needs of the organisation and our targets too far ahead of the needs of supporters and public perception.

Too often, fundraisers feel forced to resort to tactics which deliver in the short term but lead directly to an overall decline in public generosity - effectively poisoning the well of goodwill on which every charity depends.

So as we begin a new year, what are the resolutions I and other fundraisers could make to turn this around? The first is straightforward: if your organisation is treating supporters as targets to be acquired and converted, like a sales pipeline, rather than very generous people who have given out of empathy and even love for our causes, then it's time to change. Long term, positive relationships deliver the long term, positive returns that charities need to survive and thrive. The principle of Relationship is not new and delivers great results.

This behavioural change has to be sector led and bottom-up regardless of government imposed and top-down changes. Complying with regulations, misguided or otherwise is one thing but an approach from a charity that is hawkish and invasive but nonetheless compliant with regulations is still deeply annoying to supporters.

So our second resolution is to go beyond compliance and standard practise in how we treat our supporters and the public at large.

And thirdly, 2016 is the year for fundraisers to fully embrace digital. In recent years I have become a digital-first fundraiser, and at Change.org we are pioneering a model which is providing a suite of digital tools for charities. It offers the opportunity to recruit extremely engaged supporters through advertising on our site, and any supporter who likes what they see can give their permission and join a charity's communication programme.

More so than any other medium, digital fundraising also tilts the rules of the game in the donor's favour. At the heart of the medium is the principle that interactions are user-led and user-controlled. Digital puts users at the centre of everything, hands them control over the sorts of relationships they want with organisations and gives fundraisers a suite of incredible tools with which to tell an organisation's story in a way that is both compelling and convenient.

Three simple resolutions: we all need to stop thinking of supporters as targets and start thinking of them as generous human beings; be respectful of the new regulations but don't assume sticking to the letter of the law is enough; and make 2016 the year in which charities go digital first.

If the sector can make these three shifts and stick to them we'll look back at 2016 as the year our fundraising model became fit for the 21st century.