Wednesday, 6 November 2013

5 Golden Rules for Writing a Fundraising Strategy

Collectivist Margaret here. 

Four months ago I skipped sectors to embrace a new Head of Fundraising role in the voluntary sector. It's a big job, transforming fundraising at a charity which is itself undergoing transformation at every level. 

Put yourself in my shoes. I've got a blank sheet of paper and strategy to write.  Where do I start?

Okay, that's rhetorical question.  Here's where I'm starting.

Not with money.

Rule 1: Fundraising isn't about money.

It's about enabling something important by raising money.  If you start with a financial target you'll very quickly go off track and lose one of the most important benefits of having a fundraising programme - its potential to affect the culture of an organisation

So where do we start?

Rule 2: We find out where our charity is going and what it wants to change about the world. 

That's our final destination. It gives us focus. Let's say your charity wants to end childhood poverty in towns around England. Your Services, Policy, Activism... - the team that delivers the work anyway - team has identified seven towns that are high priority areas.  They want to pilot education programmes, but it will take a long time to get off the ground. The details are sketchy but there is a general direction of travel that should infuse all your thinking. 

But isn't that a bit vague? Yes it is.  Which is why....

Rule 3: We align our fundraising progamme with our colleagues' forward strategy
It HAS to be this way around.  Charities shouldn't be looking blankly at fundraisers saying "how much can you raise?" and expecting a steady flow of pocket money to spend at random. You wouldn't expect a bank to give you a loan without a business plan. You shouldn't expect a donor to give you money without an idea about how and where it will be spent.  We need a dialogue.  We need to inform our colleagues about our prospect base and the fundraising potential of the projects they are devising. They need to tell us how much those projects will cost and what timelines are involved.


It's not just about cash. It's also about how your fundraising methodology aligns. Will community goodwill be key in making your child poverty projects a success?  If so, then should you be focusing on nationwide Charity of the Year partnerships - or fusing community fundraising with local corporate partnerships? 

Which brings me onto...

Rule 4: The journey is nearly as important as the end result
You know your final destination: end child poverty.
You know how you are going to get there: seven strategic projects.
Now it's your job to think not only about how to maximise income, but how to maximise income in a way that a. embodies who you are as an organisation and b. supports your organisation's direction of travel.

See above.  If you're all about community, community  is where you start.  If you're a university striving for international standing, where can you develop strategic international partnerships.  Fundraising isn't about money, it's about transformation.  Fundraising methods aren't just about achieving money to achieve transformation. They are a direct reflection of what your organisation is all about.

Rule 5: Get the right people and the right resources for the job
You have worked out where your charity is going.  You have an idea about how its going to get there.  You understand the role you have to play in realising money to make that happen.  You're in dialogue with colleagues about that.  You've also worked out your organisation's USP and aspirations.  You're trying to create a fundraising programme which reflects that.  Rule 5 is all about one question: what do you need to get there?

The equation you are creating for your CEO is simpleTo enable their vision, you need to be enabled. 

You want to end child poverty? You think community is the way to go?  Do you have a community fundraiser?  Publications and resources?  Admin support?  Web presence?  Digital communications which can support and facilitate? 

No?  Then income will suffer. Can you negotiate more resources?  More staff?  No?  Then be realistic about what you can achieve on what you have.  Manage expectations.  There are a dozen industry benchmarking exercises to back up what you are saying.

Yes?  Then full steam ahead with an implementation plan.

I've given you Five Golden Rules.  Now its time for 3 Top Tips:

1. Don't forget about the need for infrastructure.  There can be a perception that fundraisers = money.  Fundraisers who having to spend their time filing and data inputting and gift processing don't = money. They = filing, data inputting and gift processing.  There is an opportunity cost to not investing in infrastructure.  Make the case for it.

 2. Manage expectations.  It doesn't matter if your charity needs £30 million if your charity only has £3 million worth of prospects.  It doesn't matter if your charity needs money by next Monday if those prospects are cold.  Fundraising targets don't become suddenly become achievable because of organisational need, desperation or by willing it so.  They need to be based on evidence. You need prospects equivalent to the amount required.  You need projects which can command the sums your prospects have the capacity to give.  And you need resources (manpower, for example) to develop those prospects.  Doesn't matter if you have 40,000 alumni flagged as having a capacity of £1 million if you only have one fundraiser and she spends 50% of her time on data entry and filing.  She will never get to more than sixty of them.

3. Don't be afraid to be different.  One model will not suit every organisation.  Think about what makes your school, university or charity unique and build a fundraising programme which suits YOU. Not Harvard. Not Cancer Research UK.  Unless of course you are from Harvard or Cancer Research UK.  Don't hide in the shadow of best practice.  Innovate.  And if you don't believe me read THIS splendid article on why adopting best practice sucks.

Write a PRACTICAL strategy.  Write a VISIONARY strategy.  But above all, write a GOOD strategy.  One that provides the roadmap for raising the funds which will transform your organisation.

Related Posts:

What I learned at the IoF National Convention and What I'm Going to Do about it
Learning to be a Strategy Superhero
Fundraising isn't just Fundraising. Fact.
Important Stuff every Organisation Should Think About.
Top Tips for Fundraising in our Times
Development Operations: Getting started


  1. Spot on. Philanthropy is not about money or transactions. It's about love and transformation. Nice piece!