In today’s unpredictable global landscape, charities must adapt to survive. Michelle Chambers of THINK Consulting Solutions looks at what charities can do to give themselves the best chance of thriving in an era of change.
The last year has seen unprecedented change on the world stage, with the UK voting to leave the EU in June 2016, Brexit talks now underway, the election of Donald Trump as US President in November 2016 and the results of the French presidential election reflecting the restlessness and desire for change amongst many parts of society.
Inevitably, change brings with it uncertainty and the landscape in which we are all fundraising continues to both challenge and inspire. With growing pressure to raise more voluntary funds to meet increased needs and counter the decline in monies coming from government sources, we at THINK are often asked how charities can give themselves the best chance of not only surviving but thriving in today’s operating environment. Here are our thoughts on some of the approaches to adopt:
The organisations that will find it the hardest to adapt to a changing funding environment are those that are too reliant on too few types of income. With a diversified portfolio, it becomes easier to maintain a solid baseline of income through the ups and downs experienced by particular streams. Review your portfolio as part of your annual planning cycle and explore options to take your fundraising asks to new audiences.
Invest and innovate
Many organisations make the mistake of reducing investment in their fundraising activity when it feels like times might be about to get tougher. This is a recipe for disaster. It’s crucial to keep investing in new techniques, new channels and new ways of understanding your audiences to ensure you can optimise opportunities when they appear. Diversification will require investment, as will innovation. Make sure you win senior stakeholder support for any investment needs and write compelling, logical business cases to secure support from your Executive team and Board.
Listen to your donors and supporters
Your donors and supporters are your charity’s life blood – ignore their views at your peril. As individuals, we are becoming more demanding, more connected and more willing and able to engage in dialogue with the brands we like, and more able to drive that dialogue through the use of digital channels. Don’t wait to hear what your supporters think of you on Facebook or Twitter. Engage in regular surveying and opinion seeking through the myriad of ways available to you as a fundraiser to gather views which can help you both deepen trust and loyalty amongst your supporter base and improve the performance of your product offering.
Keep regulation at the top of your agenda
We have seen in the UK the result of falling out of line with the demands of the regulatory environment. Many of the transgressions made were not deliberate in our view but more a consequence of letting the detail of the rules become someone else’s responsibility. Whilst the fines levied may have been at a reduced level, the value of the hours spent by organisations responding to investigations and retrospectively putting their houses in order must run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, euros or dollars. GDPR brings new requirements for data handling across Europe, impacting all parts of your organisation including fundraising. Make sure fundraising is represented on internal, working groups and that all team members understand what their part in ensuring compliance is. Ensure you understand best practice as well as the legal requirements and take time to familiarise yourself with any codes of practice for fundraising in place in your country.
Support your teammates and look after yourself
As much as you need your donors and supporters, you also need your fundraising colleagues. Take time to celebrate your successes, to reflect on and learn from what happened when things didn’t go so well and look out for signs that your colleagues (and maybe you) are getting stressed and might not be coping. Make sure that you have a clear and agreed personal development plan and support your team members in seeking out opportunities for personal growth. Happy teams are high performing teams, so keep a close eye on morale.
And finally, make sure your organisation allows you to respond quickly to developments. We have seen some organisations almost paralysed over the last couple of years by the fear of doing something wrong. But those we see thriving are those who move quickly to adapt their offerings and working procedures in response to the marketplace. So, ensure that as much as possible, your fundraisers have the freedom to breathe and to act.
About Michelle Chambers
Michelle Chambers is the Managing Director of THINK Consulting Solutions, a leading international consultancy dedicated to not for profit fundraising. We’ve been working with charities in the UK and all over the world for more than 15 years. The THINK website – www.thinkcs.org – provides a wide range of insights and information for everyone interested in changing the world.