One of my long term mantra’s has been to ‘use windows, not mirrors’, a simple way of reminding myself that truly to move forward, be in line with the market place and to have any hope of innovating, you have to focus on the outside world and not the internal world of an organisation.
Charities continue to run formal cultures that they believe reflect best business practice and thinking, but in reality, most companies stopped working this way at least a decade ago. Charities still lock themselves into continual internal meetings, brainstorms and various other gatherings that set the direction for fundraising and shape what we think donors need and what their values and motivations are. We convince ourselves that this is even more accurate if we have commissioned a mountain of research that will literally ‘fuel’ our meeting discussions and debate.
To supplement our inward looking and safe environment we also build in ‘break-out’ opportunities every year where we attend conferences in the belief that they provide essential education and training inputs.
For nearly twenty years I have used my speaking opportunities to focus on trends and unique insights. Never trying to predict the future, that would be stupid, but trying to stimulate alternative thoughts, views and perspectives. We all recognise that the world we operate in is ‘on speed’ and getting faster by the week, so it’s no wonder that we don’t accelerate forward as fast as we would like when we are using old thinking and strategies that were often conceived eighteen months or more previously. Consumer, and therefore donor lives are like waves hitting a beach, constantly changing and offering new opportunities and challenges. Our job is to try to ride these waves and either be ahead of the market or at least in line with the market.
In planning terms, one of the fastest growing service industries of the last five years has been ‘trend services’, companies that monitor multiple markets and industries and feed a wide range of trends to marketing teams on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. A large number of these trends are simply ‘fads’, here today, gone tomorrow, but the art is to look deeply, consider a test and see if ‘the wave is worth riding’. The flip side of some of this is, of course, knowing when to get off the wave before it crashes.
We have to stop navel gazing and simply driving our thinking by the existing activities of the Third Sector. No fundraiser in Europe or possibly the world can have missed what a bad year 2015 has been for the UK fundraising profession; constantly in the media spotlight and with major damage to the trust we have with our supporters. Sadly one of the impacts of this environment has been people keeping their heads down, playing it safe and generally avoiding anything new. While this might seem logical it is not sustainable and ultimately will add to the damage in our Sector.
So at the dreaded strategic planning season, now is the time to take a deep breath and to focus on finding new ideas and directions, preferably driven by the external world. Pledge to yourself that you will come in 2016 renewed, refreshed and with all guns blazing (but not forgetting the important lessons of 2015 if you’re in the UK). So much is happening that you are spoilt for choice, but no one is going to hand it to you on a plate. Frankly, I am tired of charities summarising their future strategy development as regular giving, major giving and digital. This is too narrow and we have been saying this for the last ten years!
So choose a category to summarise your view of trends tracking:
- “it’s all to difficult and it’s not really my job”. “What we’re doing is working, why change?”
- “if someone else makes the effort, I’ll take a look.” “Our Board is very risk adverse and likes to play it safe.”
- “my job is to find new ways to delight donors, ensure my charity is relevant and to stand out in the market place.” “I recognise failure is a natural part of the mix, so I like to get stuck in.”
- “we are a new breed of charity that totally embraces change, tries new things, empowers people and tries to pioneer new thinking, even though we’re quite small.” “ We constantly aspire to be donor driven.”
You know that hiding and peeping and not really options, unless you’re just ‘doing a job’. But if you’re a true fundraiser who believes in the power of what we do, start 2016 as a tester and/or a leaper!
First published on 101 Fundraising October 2015