It’s time to behave like Fast Moving Consumer Goods in our fundraising
I predict that the biggest charity in the UK in 2020 doesn’t even exist yet. How can that be? Well, we often follow the commercial sector and look at the most rapidly growing corporates today. Facebook is only five years old and Google ten.
Why do I say that the same thing could happen in the charity sector? Quite simply because existing charities (like existing large corporates) tend to be risk averse. Fundraising investment tends to go to ‘proven’ techniques, even when the evidence is there for all to see that those techniques are well past their sell-by date.
Virtually all existing charities struggle to raise significant money on the internet, despite increasing investment in digital strategies. It is sometimes argued that much of the money raised on the internet would have been raised anyway. Be that as it may, the internet has not yet proven to be the fundraising Holy Grail we thought it would be.
I would argue that the main reason for this is that we’ve been treating the digital world in the same way as we treat the conventional world of fundraising: test, retest, roll out.
Yet we know that people behave digitally quite differently from the way they behave in their real lives – just look at the Facebook confessions of so many – things people would never talk about face-to-face!
The wonderful example of Charlie Simpson, the young lad who raised over £200,000 for Unicef, should be a lesson to us all. How did he do it? Not through any sophisticated viral marketing campaign. Rather, he caught the spirit of the moment – he was in the right place doing the right thing at the right time.
The point is that Charlie Simpson can’t be repeated – if he could, we’d all be at it. I’ve heard lots of people ‘explain’ the Charlie phenomenon: most of them simply explaining it away as “lucky bugger got some good publicity”.
This seems to me to entirely miss the point. Sure Charlie Simpson (and Unicef!) got lucky. But why did he get lucky? Because a crowd formed around him and spread like wildfire.
Now digital crowd-forming is a bit of a mystery – why do certain things take off and go viral while others don’t? The answer is: we don’t know and in the rapidly evolving digital world we probably never will.
What that means is that we’re going to have to throw risk aversion out of the window in the bracing digital world. We’re going to have to behave much more like the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) market, where 90% of products never get to market.
So we need to do all the right things – develop our crowd-forming tools and identify our “sneezers” – but actually the most important thing is for us to accept that 90% of the products we put out through those mechanisms will fail. By “us” of course I don’t mean just the professional fundraisers but also all our supporters doing their own thing for us on the internet as well.
The potential prize for those organisations who treat fundraising products like FMCGs will be not only future Charlie Simpsons but also significant and rapid income growth. For those who remain risk averse, they will end up relying on the old techniques, many of which are facing a long-term decline. One way lies growth, the other stagnation. Where do you want to go?