By Dr Ruth Knight
I believe organisations and fundraisers must stay alert to trends, technology and how they view organisational culture. These may appear as challenges, especially if you have limited resources and people power, but most challenges also present great opportunities.
The first opportunity is to understand donors, their needs, interests and how they want to give. For example, many donors today want to be engaged in more meaningful ways. This desire for engagement presents us with an opportunity to look at how we are using events, social media and storytelling, and how we are listening (not just talking!) to our donors regularly. Are we sharing compelling stories of impact, and being transparent about what we are learning through evaluation and outcome measurement?
We also need to ask how and when donors want to give. Digital disruption means social media and crowdfunding is allowing donors to choose much more flexibly and responsively to causes that attract them. Tap-to-donate technology is replacing the traditional collection tins and allowing donors to make spontaneous decisions about giving when they don’t have cash.
Some organisations are using virtual reality to engage prospective donors experientially, helping to create greater empathy between donors and the organisation’s mission. Blockchain technology is also disrupting the sector with its solutions aiming to reduce financial and legal intermediaries to make donating easier and the charity more transparent.
Blockchain technology is still relatively new, so it’s wise to investigate how it might be an opportunity for you. Organisations don’t have to be scared by the latest, shiniest tech coming on the market or feel they have to adopt every innovation. Still, these technologies are an opportunity for organisations to design more effective ways of engaging with donors.
Fundraising basics still apply
Whether you adopt the latest approach and technology or not depends on your strategy, budget and research about your donors. But never forget: the basic principles of fundraising still apply. You should always consider if the approach you are adopting is building greater trust and confidence with volunteers, donors and funders. Organisations are not automatically entitled to ‘trust’ by virtue of the work they do. You should consider ways to build trust with anyone in contact with your organisation, and address any issues or situations that might erode that trust.
You can build trust by asking donors how and when they want to be contacted and then respecting their wishes; and staying professional in your communications by responding wisely and thoughtfully to complaints and questions. Regularly updating donors on how you are strategically thinking about your activities and looking after your staff and volunteers is also a confidence booster.
Building a good internal culture is critical. Organisational culture has a powerful influence on how people think and behave at work. It has a significant impact on how people connect and communicate with organisations, so I believe that reflecting on the culture of giving within your organisation, and the challenge of purposefully creating a positive narrative within the organisation about fundraising and philanthropy, is increasingly important.
Tear down the siloes
I’ve been working with organisations on this issue and have found that commonly most staff (who are not fundraisers) think that fundraising has little, if anything, to do with them. This thinking means that the fundraising department can be siloed, misunderstood and avoided. Staff (including leaders) and volunteers do not speak to prospective donors because they do not think about themselves as fundraisers. They resist sharing stories and getting involved in fundraising events.
To change this, fundraisers, but especially all leaders of the organisation, need to actively work to ensure the organisation’s culture is donor and human-centred. To begin this process, here are six steps you can take:
- consistently give people a good donor experience, especially if they are staff and volunteers
- actively address myths and misconceptions about fundraising within your organisation
- celebrate ‘generosity’ throughout the organisation daily, not just during a fundraising campaign
- help everyone in the organisation identify how their actions contribute to achieving shared fundraising goals
- ensure the fundraising team is not a siloed, independent team. They should be seen as, and work as, partners with all staff throughout the organisation. They should help everyone understand the fundamentals of fundraising and how their work impacts on fundraising success
- ask staff and volunteers to write thank-you letters, and share their organisation and staff’s gratitude with supporters on social media and with their networks.
Over the next three years observe, discuss and strategically adopt the trends, technology and thinking that is going to support you to achieve your goals and build a robust culture of giving.
Dr Ruth Knight is a researcher and lecturer at QUT’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies. She has spent many years researching how workplace culture can achieve engaged workforces and organisational sustainability.
At FIA Conference 2020, Dr Knight will facilitate a session on creating an internal philanthropic culture on 27 February and give a presentation about human-centred design to improve creativity, collaboration and workplace culture on 28 February. To find out more about Dr Knight’s research, connect with her here.