The great versus the rest

Great fundraising is large-scale growth – increasing your organisation’s income and impact by two, three or many more times over a period of years. But how can you achieve this? Inyathelo recently co-hosted an invitation-only, 90-minute power session with master UK fundraiser Alan Clayton (11 September) to discuss the cultures, behaviours and leadership required.

The great versus the rest

Many fund-raising organisations lurch from year to year, based on annual budget-driven panic. However, this need not be the case if you address the challenges proactively with an approach defined by Purpose, Passion, Pride, Performance and Profit, Alan told  CEOs, directors, board members and trustees in a 90-minute power session.

He was visiting South Africa in association with The Resource Alliance, sponsored by Nedbank Private Wealth and endorsed by Inyathelo and the University of Stellenbosch Business School.  Alan’s Great Fundraising programme is based on over 300 case studies, and the work of Professor Adrian Sargeant and Professor Jen Shang. Research spans one person start-ups to international NGOs with multi-million dollar funding.

Stop and refocus

The challenge is that fund-raising staff get exhausted, simplicity entropies and new staff bring complexity; there’s a need to stop and refocus on a different version of the dream that first launched the organisation. “You can have all the brilliant fundraising techniques you want, but if the organisation is not lined up, this is not going to happen.”

Alan discussed the ‘red dot moment’ on an organisational graph (before an uptick in profitability and growth) when its Board signs off on the appropriate level of investment to drive great fundraising. This is the time when the fundraising goal ‒ and how to meet it ‒ have become simple again. The organisation re-unites, and its people believe again in the mission, how to achieve it, and that people will donate. The Board has confidence and gives the go-ahead for fresh initiatives.

Simplicity is key, but it’s not easy attaining this. One needs to think and feel big.

Invest for the long term

Trustee thinking limited to prudence and mere governance does not lead to achieving great goals. Rather, decide to spend as much as you are able to, on raising as much as you possibly can.  Embrace long-term fundraising thinking which requires investment. “Often it costs money to get people to make their first donation, but it pays dividends. Baby boomers, for example, are going to leave behind more than anyone before.”

Many look for the ‘next big thing’ to ensure cash flow, while the successful follow the scientific method of hypothesis testing, measuring and learning. They are open, with a culture of learning rather than a culture of certainty. They may spend 90% of funding on what they know will work, but the rest on exploring.

Stronger together

The greatest block is not the number of potential donors – it’s internal conflict about fundraising; and management not making great decisions. The whole organisation must be proud of fundraising because that is the means of solving a problem together.  The money and the mission need to become the same thing.

Organisations become emotionally united when they talk to people face-to-face. Donor-centred thinking, and awareness of what donors need, are key. Non-profit narcissism (begging with anger), believing one has a great organisation so people need to give us money, is not the answer. Rather, consider how people need to feel when they donate money.

Giving is a basic human need. “The ability to give is the definition of self-esteem. If we treat donors badly in terms of their gift, we are damaging their self-esteem and they won’t be back,” said Alan.

Reconnect and tell the story

There must be a belief in the mission, and fundraising, across the entire organisation – re-connecting with the vision, belief and passion which created the organisation in the first place. Some key factors are:

  • A stranger must believe in the dream of an organisation, within 20 seconds.

 This is not the organisational strategy, rather the truth well told about the organisation in a storytelling format. Emotion is part and parcel of conveying this story, as the decision to give is after all about emotion, and the organisation was set up for emotional reasons.

  • Performance is a blend of emotional inspiration with professional measure, structure and science.

Before investment takes place, three things must be in place: rigorously tested understanding of money with ability to measure live results; clarity around the culture of an organisation; and new ambition in which the dream has been refreshed.

  • Liberated leadership.

NPOs are in an emotive sector and leaders can liberate their people by giving them permission and freedom to tell the truth well. However, two areas should not be delegated: prioritisation of investment; and decisions on the messaging they may use.

  • Make the organisation fund-raisable.

The entire organisation must be proud of fundraising and able to contribute. People issues – how people feel about fundraising ‒ can however stop great fundraising.  This can be addressed by asking: “What problem are we trying to solve?” For example, in the case of the RSPCA in Western Australia, the focus was not on making people understand that animals  are sentient beings; instead the RSPCA focused on the problem that there were only 11 inspectors in the vast area, so many animals could not be saved. People needed to donate so the RSPCA could fund more inspectors to make a difference.

  • Talk about one donor.

Discuss a donor, name him or her. For example, Marjorie, who scrimped and saved small amounts to make a difference. It was important to honour Marjorie and the impact she made.

  • Have a big idea that drives everything.

The key message must encompass both the problem and the solution. Dreams can and should be so big they are impossible. (Such as eradicating cancer, or the Cystic Fibrosis Trust on its 50th anniversary ‘We won’t celebrate being 50 until everyone can.’)

People do not give spontaneously, they only give when asked and are inspired to do so, concluded Alan. “The focus is on being incredible.”


Learning about large-scale growth: Alan Clayton with (left to right) Xolile Mokoena of Nedbank Wealth, Inyathelo Executive Director Jessica Rees-Jones, Christelle Cronje, University of Stellenbosch Business School alumni and stakeholder relations, Jenni Mcleod, director of Downes Murray International,  Inyathelo Operations Director Feryal Domingo, Sarah Scarth, Southern Africa Area Representative, Resource Alliance and Inyathelo Finance Director Soraya Joonas. 

To receive a free copy of the full Great Fundraising Report and the executive summary, click on this link and fill in your details: https://alanclayton.co.uk/request-research.