Top tips for the new era of responsible fundraising

Ken Burnett shares his top tips for responsible fundraising.

Thirty-two years after its first appearance, Relationship Fundraising Third Edition has just been published. We asked its author, Ken Burnett, to explain the book’s longevity, and to give DSC readers his top tips for building successful, durable relationships with individual regular donors. 

 To quote myself, “Fundraisers need to shift their paradigm from persuasion and repeated over-asking to inspiration and delivering clear mutual benefits.”

What is fundraising really about?

The quote above is what it should be about. And now, this dream really is possible. When approached right, fundraising offers one of the most satisfying careers going. It’s a remarkable catalyst for change, though its full potential for advancing the human condition is frequently not realised by fundraisers, as many chase ever more short-term income yet underinvest in or neglect to build firm foundations for long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.  

If giving is a good experience donors will do more of it. If it isn’t, they’ll soon stop. Great fundraising always works if you do it right. You’ll have more fun and success when you stop trying to get what you want and start helping your donors get what they want. Fundraisers have the best stories to tell and the best reasons for telling them well, as donors gain significant emotional and practical benefits from their giving. As yet, few capitalise on this great incentive to increase giving.  

The above list is partial, of course. And if fundraising is ever to realise its potential, the future of fundraising rests firmly in the hands of fundraisers themselves. Great. However if you would be a successful fundraiser, you ave to do some groundwork. 

Essential preparation: 

  • Study fundraising’s history (see learn from those who’ve gone before. Listen to their stories, particularly from those who lived through fundraising’s catastrophe in 2015. 
  • Be entirely clear as to what it means to be a relationship fundraiser. 
  • Agitate for an effective fundraising culture in your organisation. 
  • Work on your skills of storytelling and communication. 
  • Make sure every fundraiser in your organisation gets the best possible start… 
  • …and that everyone you work with is committed to delivering the best possible donor experience, consistently. 

Some givens: 

  • To get, you first have to give. 
  • Fundraising is all about relationships. Keep them fresh, interesting and donor-focused. Give donors what they want, then they’ll give you what you want. 
  • Giving is always entirely voluntary. Overt persuasion is not advised. 
  • Fundraising is the inspiration business.  
  • Donors should be in the driving seat. Give them choices and control over their relationship with you and your cause. 
  • Fundraising won’t thrive without adequate investment of time and money.  
  • No one ever gives a fundraiser money for things to stay the same. Ours is the ‘for change’ sector. 

My top tips (in no particular order): 

  1. Really understand your donors and your cause. Work to define your WHY? Make it concise, yet irresistible.  
  2. Understand loyalty; encourage and build it. Be as loyal to your donors as you’d like them to be, to your cause. 
  3. Use your donors’ language rather than yours. Don’t talk about marketing: donors don’t like to be marketed at. And don’t sell: you don’t sell to your friends.  Donors love when we give them great customer service. 
  4. Inspire your donors about monthly giving and talk to them effectively about leaving a legacy. Clue: neither have much to do with what you want; both are about what will give your donors meaning, purpose and a chance to make a significant difference to something that really matters, to them. 
  5. Campaigning fundraisers are selling nothing less than purpose, fulfilment and a meaningful life, plus the many benefits that come with achieving these. Help your donors to understand this, then watch their support increase. 
  6. Make, and live by, a new covenant with your donors. Study ‘The 6Ps’ (the blueprint for the future of fundraising distilled by the Commission on the Donor Experience from their 28 projects, all devised and supervised by the largest ever body of volunteer fundraisers, determined to restore public confidence in fundraising after the media frenzy of 2015-2017). 
  7. Always give a bit more than is expected. 

Relationship Fundraising Third Edition is available now, order your copy here.