For almost three years I’ve had the good fortune to provide a monthly one-hour coaching session to Andy, the head of events fundraising at a medium-sized UK charity. One thing I really admire about him is that however busy, he is always determined to find a way to improve the way he and his team do their fundraising.
As a result of this focus on ongoing improvement, Andy and his team now raise more than £1,000,000 more each year than they did three years ago. And they’re on track to raise even more this year.
Whatever kind of fundraising you do, if you recognise this desire to continuously improve, but sometimes struggle with how to do it in practice, I’d like to share both a powerful growth strategy and also to help you believe that such things are possible.
The acclaimed business expert Peter Drucker once said that all growth is achieved in one of two ways – marketing and innovation.
One major banana skin that hampers fundraising growth is that most fundraisers focus far too much energy on the marketing element of this (ie trying to find new donors). We are hard-wired to need variety, to get distracted and want to chase the shiny and new donor / runner/ rotary club etc. Drucker would agree that some activities to increase the number of new event participants or companies or individual givers you work with makes sense. But in practice we tend to focus too much time on marketing (to find new supporters) and not enough on the second, which is innovation. To me, innovation in fundraising means repeatedly seeking ways to add more value to our existing donors, supporters and partners.
How do you do this in practice?
A couple of years ago Andy and I realised that the default thing he and his team tended to focus on was getting people to sign up to their events. During one coaching session, we changed the team’s purpose from ‘getting people to do our events’, to ‘helping people love doing our events so much that they keep coming back to sign up for more and more – that’s the business we should really be in.’
This may seem like a small shift in words, but in practice, knowing ‘what business they’re really in’ has made a huge difference in the effort the team put into helping the participants have an amazing time. For instance, it has affected how proactive they are in sharing stories which connect participants to the way they are saving lives and in sending them nice momentos such as medals, images and feel-good films within 24 hours of the event finishing, to amplify the pride and endorphin-high.
Some of these tactics might have happened occasionally before the change in focus, but if deep down you believe your primary job was to get people on to your events, then these tactics tend to remain nice to do… but they won’t happen consistently because they’ll feel like a distraction from your mission.
And perhaps the most powerful shift from the increased clarity of purpose has been in terms of which events to do at all. They have drawn back from large scale cycling events which don’t have any particular feel-good hook, to focus on smaller events that offer a much better experience to participants.
Your team may not organise events, but this story of growth is not really about the particular tactics that work for Andy’s team. The impressive thing Andy has done is to change ‘what we believe it is our job to do’. With this shift in identity and focus, getting the ideas and finding time to implement them becomes possible, and with that so does growth.
- What do you / your team currently really think they are there to do?
- If your team were to achieve consistent, ongoing growth, what would they need to instead believe they come to work to do?
- How could you help them make this shift in belief and therefore focus?
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