5 Challenges of Fundraising

Rock climbing challenge

It’s not easy being a fundraiser. All that asking. All that rejection. And in the middle of all that, getting the materials and investment needed to put the appeals together in the first place. But fear not – in this blog post we’ll provide some ideas and inspiration to help you tackle 5 of the most common challenges encountered by fundraisers:

  1. Lack of investment in fundraising from senior management

Let’s start with a common fundamental problem. Your board or senior management team don’t understand or trust fundraising, and aren’t willing to make the investment needed to grow or maintain an effective Individual Giving programme.

This is a lack of investment of both confidence and financial resources, but both effectively amount to the same thing – fewer opportunities for you to make asks.

In our experience there are a few ways to overcome this challenge, but none is an instant ‘magic bullet’ – you must approach this with patience and attempt to understand what’s holding the senior team back. Below are a couple of suggestions:

  • Listen to them – it’s easy to get frustrated when it feels like people don’t understand your work but take time to understand their concerns. Then address those that you can immediately, and bring evidence to support your arguments on other points
  • Demonstrate proof of concept – if you can prove how investment can pay off in a limited context, this may give the board more confidence to sanction further investment. So, ask your board to let you prove how investing in an external agency to help you in a cash appeal brings you a greater net income. And when it does, go back to them and ask to do it again. And again.
  • Build an ‘internal PR programme’ for fundraising – see it as your ongoing mission to educate others in your organisation about fundraising, and to inspire them about what you’re achieving. Plan out how you’ll keep people informed about what you’re doing, what you’re achieving, how donors are reacting and what impact the results are having.
  • Find allies – it’s unlikely that the whole board or management team are ‘anti fundraising’ so see if you can build up a relationship with one or two people who ‘get it’ and can help you influence those that don’t.
  1. Conflict with the communications team

A classic – and something we continue to see regularly at organisations large and small. The fundraising team feel their voice and output is being controlled by people who don’t understand fundraising and are solely concerned with the brand.

This is often a sign of structural problems within the charity, where there isn’t a senior enough advocate for fundraising who’s helping to achieve a balance between communications and fundraising. Ultimately of course, there should be no conflict as you’re both seeking the same aim – to advance your charity’s cause. In short you need an integrated approach, where communications and fundraising are planned together by experts in each area, in order to enhance each other.

Some of the solutions to this challenge are the same as those in point 1. But we can add a couple more:

  • Seek to involve the communications team early on in the planning process for your appeals so that they feel involved in it, and you can take their input into consideration at an earlier stage, saving you problems later.
  • Agree clear processes and set clear expectations for how they will be involved in any signoff processes.
  • Overall, build relationships and trust, and show openness to listen, whilst firmly drawing your own lines.
  • If the difference of opinion as to how to execute fundraising appeals is more intractable than this, offer to test a ‘communications-sanctioned’ version of a pack against an ‘untampered fundraising’ version – and see if this can prove your point.
  1. Fundraising by committee

Is there someone (or more than one person) in your organisation who likes to have more input than is necessary or welcome in your fundraising work – and particularly your creative development? Perhaps they have pet projects or themes that they want you to focus on, but which don’t work from a fundraising perspective?  Or is there a sense that your fundraising appeals are built by committee rather than by the experts in your team?

In either case, your results (and most importantly, your charity’s income) are being compromised by the organisation’s failure to trust your expertise and let you do your job as a fundraiser.

The steps you can take to address this challenge are the same as in point 2 – listen to people so that you understand their concerns and the reasons why they want more input. For example, they may be worried that a particular area of your charity’s work is being underrepresented, or may simply be getting involved because they think they have to!

Then, set out clear campaign development processes and roles, and set clear expectations for the points at which other people in the organisation can have their say in your appeals, and which aspects of your appeals they can have their say on. Build the processes so that the experts in your fundraising team are responsible for the key decisions in what asks you make and how you make them.

  1. Getting hold of case studies

Most fundraisers know that telling stories is fundamental to the success of their charity fundraising campaigns. But one of the great challenges for any fundraiser is how to get hold of a regular supply of case study stories that are strong, emotive and relevant to the different types of appeal that they are running each year.

Only the very largest charities have staff dedicated to seeking out and logging stories, photographs and other materials. So, most fundraisers have to source their case studies themselves either directly or from other teams in the organisation.

Below are some ways to approach this challenge:

  • Understand where your stories come from – where do the stories come from in your organisation? Each charity’s work and beneficiaries are different, and the places you might find case studies could vary a lot between organisations. So, a good first step is to make a map of your organisation and the touch points where potential stories can be found. Then you can ‘follow the story’ and get in touch with the relevant teams.
  • Make everyone aware of what you need – you need to build relationships with the people in your organisation who can provide you with stories. Spend some time with them to understand their work, as well as the challenges they face in getting good stories, photographs and other materials for you. At the same time, treat this as an opportunity to explain how you work, what you need and why these materials matter so much – ultimately, in terms of helping the beneficiaries you all care about. Address any possible concerns they may have about how potential case studies will be approached and treated.
  • Plan your fundraising appeal themes months in advance – it is good practice to sit down before the start of the year as a team and plan the basic themes of your fundraising appeals in advance. This gives you plenty of time to find the strongest angle of need to present in each theme, and enables you to give lots of notice to the relevant people in your organisation about the materials you need.
  • Plan your case study needs in advance – it’s not just themes that you can plan in advance. Different types of fundraising appeal may require different types of case study, and you can request these at the start of each year to give your teams the chance to find the best possible materials. This doesn’t mean you need to commit yourself to a particular creative approach at this point – just a rough idea of the material you might need. For example, a cash appeal for a disability charity is likely to require a story about a beneficiary. A legacy pack might well need a legacy pledger for a lift letter.
  • Set up your own story library for your charity – it doesn’t have to be just the largest charities that have great libraries of materials and stories. You can set one up at your charity. This means you can be constantly collecting new stories – not just at the times you urgently need them. Be sure to accompany them with high resolution pictures, videos and any other relevant materials you can find. And ensure you keep a record of people’s consent for their case study materials to be used.
  1. Working with an external agency

The agency you choose to help you with your fundraising must add something to your organisation’s work to make the investment worthwhile. At the most basic level it should give you better results than you could get in-house or with another agency. It should also be easy and enjoyable to work with. Better still, you’ll get other benefits such as mutual learning and support. Here are some ways to approach working with your agency to help you get the best out of them:

  • Choose one with proven expertise and experience – it’s not about flashy ideas and promises at pitch meetings. It’s about whether the agency has a proper track record of success and experience in direct marketing for charities. Talk with your prospect agencies – get to know them properly and seek substance over just style.
  • Establish clear processes and ways of working – set clear expectations as to who does what, the scope of people’s roles and establish specific people to act as the focus of the relationship on each side.
  • Build the relationship – get to know each other. Be respectful to each other and treat each other like you’re on the same team (as you are). Find nice people to work with who share your enthusiasm and interest in the cause.
  • Do your bit – don’t just expect your agency to be the one working hard – you need to step up too. Give them a good, thoughtful, complete brief. Respond within the timescales you’ve agreed. Give them the materials they need to do a good job. And take joint responsibility for doing the job well and on time.
  • Do it together – this means celebrating successes together and giving each other credit, and on the flipside taking responsibility together when things don’t go so well, and looking to resolve things as a team rather than falling into blaming each other.