Building a New Lexicon Part 1: Fundraising

We train, we read, we study, we connect, we exchange, but is this enough? Are we truly seeking ways to transform our fundraising and to reengineer the DNA of fundraising as we know it today? With all the tools available to us I believe the most powerful is the one we focus on least, our mind-set. We’ve heard that once the mind is set, programmed or made up it is very hard to change; but I guess that is my challenge, to change your mind-set and the whole way you think about and view fundraising.

So where do we begin? Probably the simplest place is to challenge the language we use. We are conditioned by our training and as the sector adopts the key descriptors of our work it naturally becomes the norm and we are forced to conform. But if you think of the real meaning of the words we use and above all how other sectors use them, I believe we would want rapidly to liberate ourselves from them and invent a new language that is more suited to contemporary fundraising and practice.

To be controversial, let’s start with ‘fundraising’ itself, crazy to think we would or could ever change it, but frankly it is such an inadequate word in reflecting what we do. In fact it works against us at every level as ‘fund’ is the first element of the work, which can only be linked to money and the raising of finances. Anyone new to what we do, especially board members, will focus on money as it is the first thing they see in our title/descriptor. We have other words like giving, philanthropy, development and resource mobilisation but as we explore each of these I wonder if we can really get closer to an all-encompassing term for the work that we do.

We constantly see new ‘schools of fundraising’ emerging: such as, Impact Philanthropy, Social Innovation, Venture Philanthropy – all definitions of a supposedly different approach that recognises more the people or brain investment, the expectations of giving and perhaps a unique methodology or approach. Perhaps this is the solution, a range of descriptors that can be used by different programmes and approaches, moving away from a single word that really doesn’t reflect what we do in the complex modern world in which we operate.

As fundraising continues to get tougher, do we set out to ask for funds or do we set out to ‘interchange’ with people? Providing opportunities for them to express their values, to connect and genuinely to take action on something they believe in?  Remember the strongest donor foundations are those built on shared values between a person and the mission/vision of an organisation. We all know that the more valuable supporters are always in control and it is our job to go with the flow and provide opportunities, insights, options, stories, reports and conversations that build and enrich their interest, knowledge and spirit. It takes a brave fundraiser (there goes another variation on that word!) to step back from the financial focus and to believe that other actions will ultimately build a stronger link with the donor and perhaps a longer-term view of their connection and investment with the charity and its mission.

Fundraising as a single word doesn’t reflect our role in sharing, translating, bridging, motivating and facilitating giving in all its manifestations. We need to be careful about this word in future; it will always be at the heart of my thinking and activities, but it needs a much wider frame of names and words to help other people truly understand what we do.

So ‘fundraising’ is just the doorway to the vocabulary that we absorb and carry around, the one that I believe slows us down and forms barriers to how we think about things professionally. Over the coming months I will be looking at each and every word we use to describe our activities and offering challenges and fresh outlooks to help reprogramme our brains and set us free!

 

Tony Elischer

October 2013

 

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