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Peter Lewis: Excellent fundraising is about so much more than counting the pound

Written by Peter Lewis
12/07/19

Fundraisers can often be the first in charities to get an insight on what the public is thinking and how wider trends or changes might be impacting the charity sector. Fundraisers will be speaking to the public and supporters every day and hearing what they are thinking and feeling, not just about the cause, but about the wider environment, too.

Over the last year or so, I’ve heard a lot from fundraisers who are saying that we are in the midst of a period of change – a feeling that I think is being backed up now with findings from recent pieces of research.

Last month, CAF’s UK Giving 2019 reported the number of people of people that have given to charity has dropped from 61% to 57% over three years. This was followed by the Sunday Times publishing its latest Giving List as part of its annual Rich List analysis of the UK’s wealthiest people. It revealed the number of individuals donating more than 1% of their wealth has decreased from 86 down to 72.

But while the research is suggesting fewer people might be giving to charity, it also claims the level of donations is staying consistent. The UK Giving report suggests the total amount donated to charities has remained the same, with £10.1 billion given each year. This means giving remains constant, but it’s coming from fewer people who are giving more. And this applies to the Giving List, too – the growth in giving has been driven by a cohort of those at the very top. To find out why this might be happening, we need to look at the other side of the coin to think about how charities have been fundraising because as we all know, what you get in donations depends on how you are asking.

New research that we did at the IoF, in partnership with PwC, shows that many charities are adopting a different approach to previous strategies, and that while there are real challenges ahead, I believe that they are putting in place the right foundations for future success. I was really pleased to see that ‘Improving the experience of current supporters’ is the number one current area of focus for charities (63%).

Excellent fundraising is about so much more than counting the pound that comes in and totting it up at the end of the year – it has to be grounded on the strong foundation of giving supporters the positive experience that they want and deserve.

Our research also showed that charities are concerned about future economic uncertainty and the disposable income of donors, and continue to experience a rising demand for services. Charities have also had to contend with the introduction of GDPR and changes to the system of fundraising regulation. These are difficult challenges, but in my experience, fundraisers are among the most flexible, adaptable, resilient and optimistic group of people I’ve ever met, so if anyone is up to the challenge, it will be them.

But that always needs to be grounded in realism, plans, and strategy. Despite challenges, charities continue to perform above expectations. Charities who responded to the PwC survey raised £3.37 for every £1 they spent, demonstrating a strong return in investment. But fundraising is not just about financial returns; donors also want to feel that they are valued and expect a well-rounded experience. Donors primarily give because they have a meaningful connection with a cause, not because of ROI ratios. In uncertain economic and political times, the ability to deliver a strong supporter experience is essential and it is encouraging to see that charities are taking a more donor focussed approach.

As we look ahead to months (years?) of continuing uncertainty in the wider political and economic environment, one of the things that strikes me is that those charities that are proactive, put in place clear strategies and plans, and invest in their team, people, and skills, will be putting themselves in the best position to succeed.

Peter Lewis is the chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising



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