Magical Frameworks for Success?

After over thirty years in fundraising I have firmly concluded that there is no such thing as a ‘donor pyramid’ that donors climb; or a ‘donor journey’ that donors follow, why? Because I am fed up with explaining that these things never ever did exist, because supporters are individuals, perhaps even more in the ‘imatter’ world of today, and as such they don’t follow predefined routes or strategies, they do their own thing, in their own time, on their own terms. Experienced fundraisers know that pyramids, journeys and cycles are essential frameworks to guide our thinking and to challenge us to create the fullest context for supporters to navigate their own journey of inspiration, relationship, engagement and support.

In a world were channels are queen, we need to open as many channels as practically possible and allow people to take more control of how they want to express their values and beliefs through our causes and brands. But channels need to be set in a clear strategic frameworks that are logical, informed, integrated and, if possible, donor centred; which is why in reality we have always needed a deep understanding of frameworks that help us shape a strategy fit for donors.

At the AFP International Congress in San Antonio on the 24th March I will be hosting a major presentation that is built around a cycle I do believe in, or to be more precise the ‘Fundraisers Lemniscate’; a framework/journey that truly shows how a fundraiser can grow their passion, energy, belief, dedication and creativity as they go deeper and deeper into our amazing profession.

Magical frameworks think consulting

Using a theatrical and multi-sensory experience we will bring to life the seven simple words/steps that every fundraiser will spend their life understanding, exploring and perfecting:

All fundraising starts from the need, but all fundraisers need to take responsibility for telling the stories that bring the need to life and give people a simple, clear understanding of what you want to change, why and how.

True donors are becoming increasingly rare and we have to face the reality that we often take existing market share as it is easier than growing market share, i.e. new donors. Once a fundraiser can tell the story they need to become obsessed with gaining a deep understanding of people: generations, gender, wealth, lifestyle and the many different segments that exist and could exist; only then can they define who may connect to the story. No cause has universal appeal and our role as fundraisers is to focus on priority audiences with our stories and propositions.

Fundraisers used to talk about ‘techniques’, but in the twenty first century techniques are hygiene factors that must be pre-mixed with channels, creative, insight and uniqueness to create inspiration that will draw supporters towards a cause/brand. To begin a journey towards a real relationship with an individual all the work must go into pulling a person towards our vision and work and not simply pushing them to give, which in reality will always be short term and short lived.

As in real relationships, getting a ‘first date’ isn’t that difficult in the fully connected 24/7/365 world we live in, but moving to a second interaction or engagement is the real challenge; and possibly at the heart of why we are struggling as a profession today. Our obsession with recruitment needs to be balanced much more with greater investment in moving donors’ emotions, understanding and motivations as soon as possible after their initial gesture of support.

The joy of a second gift, a second action or simply further interaction from a donor is fantastic, but then engagement has to move to conversation, seeing which donors may want to move to dialogue and potentially a deeper relationship and potentially higher level of support.

At a basic level, humans are sociable beings that want to be, and need to be, connected with other people. For years we have sought ‘donor loyalty’, but this is rare and increasingly becoming out-dated so now we need to create causes and brands that people can belong to, movements for things that people believe in and believe that can make a difference to the world (I seriously try to avoid the cliché of changing the world nowadays!). The future is about flexibility, adaptability and relevance.

Are we ever guilty of taking donors for granted? … hell yes, and we know it! We use the lack of time and resource as our excuse for not continuing to nurture, treasure and delight donors. This is why the Lemniscate cycles back through inspiration to remind us of the constant challenge of delighting, surprising and reconnecting donors.

The ultimate destination for all our energy and activity has to be drawing out the spirituality of the not-for-profit sector, the true zeitgeist of the twenty first century. Spirit is no longer exclusively linked to faith, it is about the way people want to see the world, relate to the world and how they want to take their responsibility seriously for how they leave the world. Fundraising is not about asking for gifts, it is  about giving gifts, the gifts of enabling people to express themselves, their values and their beliefs; we help people make sense of this crazy world we live in and restore the belief that every action can make a difference and that there is good in everyone.

Fundraising isn’t a job, it isn’t a career, it’s a calling and to succeed you need a clear journey that can continually challenge and shape your outlook, thinking and skills.

Tony Elischer
THINK Consulting Solutions
March 2014