Why fundraisers should follow their hearts – and not just the rules

Fundraisers love rules. Throughout most of our careers, we are told to analyse the statistics, follow the evidence and learn the right techniques. But to be a great fundraiser, following the rules is not enough.

There is some great fundraising literature out there, and most effective fundraisers will have learnt a range of principles and techniques through standing on the shoulders of other people, as well as testing and gathering evidence themselves over time. Good fundraisers will also be meticulous planners – knowing which communications to send at which time, and with which message.

These techniques should form the foundations of your work as a fundraiser, but they need to be complemented by another critical ingredient – your humanity.

At fundraising conferences you will hear plenty of experts telling you the importance of using storytelling and emotion in fundraising in order to encourage people to give. Whilst this is true, it can give the impression that a fundraiser needs to simply use the right ‘tools’ to achieve the best results.

The best fundraisers do far more than this. They are not simply technicians, constructing emotive appeals and stories using the statistics they’ve analysed and techniques they’ve learnt. They actually need to give something of themselves to the cause they are working on.

An effective fundraiser will bring their own humanity to their role. Here are a few examples of the ways in which you might do this:

  • Use your emotional intelligence to reflect deeply on your own emotional connection with the cause. What is it about the cause that gives you the strongest emotional reaction? Then use this to consider the ways in which other people might react to it.
  • Look at each appeal you produce from the perspective of the person you are writing to, rather than from your charity’s position, or you as the person who is writing the appeal. Consider every aspect of the appeal from their perspective, including its timing, theme, design, messaging and content;
  • When planning your fundraising and communication activities for the year ahead, put yourself in the position of one imaginary person who might be receiving these communications. Then plan the number, range, tone and content of the communications you want to send over the year with that person in mind – rather than just what fits best with the charity’s own plans and mailing schedules. This helps you to see things from your supporters’ point of view, and empathise with your supporters as individual people rather than seeing your supporter base as one amorphous, non-human dataset.
  • Use your empathy to consider how different types of supporter really view their relationship with the charity – rather than how the charity views or categorises them. For example, a ‘lapsed supporter’ may view themselves as neither ‘lapsed’ nor a ‘supporter’ of your charity, and realising this could help you gain a much deeper understanding of their position and motivations, which in turn could improve the relationship you build with them.

So, great fundraising involves trusting your own feelings and instincts and empathising with other people – beneficiaries, donors and many others. Learn to trust your humanity and instincts – as these will not just help you to live a better life, but to be an even better fundraiser.

By Richard Docwra, Director of the fundraising and social change agency ChangeStar – www.changestar.co.uk. Contact him on 01273 964018 or info@changestar.co.uk.