Expert View: Why fundraisers must start thinking differently

People in the UK are very socially conscious, and charities must find ways of connecting with them through digital technology, writes Matt Connolly, strategy director at Enable Interactive.

I don't work for a charity - I do marketing. But the last I heard - and I'm sure this is correct - fundraising is about raising funds. If money is so important to charities, why aren't they doing all they can to go out and get it?

I'm not calling for more chuggers or asking you to chop down more trees to add to the direct mail landfills. Nor am I suggesting you rob a bank. I'm talking about innovation. The marketplace is packed. Charities are bombarding the public with information to get their messages across, and the competition is high. I just don't think many are getting it right.

Colleagues and friends are starting to resent charities because of what they see as time-wasting with ineffective TV ads and mailings. As a marketer and someone who gives to charities, I see both sides. But I feel the current approach just isn't working. Perhaps charities need to think differently about how they approach their audiences, and now is a perfect time to do it. The UK is becoming incredibly socially conscious; there's a sea of people wanting to enter a dialogue with charities and each other. That's the key.

So what can you do as a charity? Only one thing: innovate. Do something different. Be remarkable. Don't be afraid. If you get this right, you will gain the respect of an incredibly hard-to-reach audience; you'll also gain their trust, their commitment and their support.

You have to take risks. If you don't, you will be a lost voice. Start to think about fundraising differently. Don't focus on the cash. It's about relationships, dialogues and turning donors into patrons. It's also about building a level of advocacy with them so they do your marketing. People don't buy from brands any more; they buy from other people - whether they know them or not. Give them value. Give them utility. Help them connect. Help them understand what you do and why. Think strategically.

One way to do this is to connect with your audience digitally. That doesn't necessarily mean using the newest gimmick; it's about using the technology in the most effective way and establishing your charity as an integrated medium. By using websites and innovative digital tools, you offer a flow of information that educates your users - and you open the way for dialogue and increase fundraising opportunities.

It may be relevant only to a small number of people, but imagine the opportunity for deep engagement. Now is the time to think differently about fundraising. If you don't, you will fail - but if you innovate now, you'll build success for the future.

5 MORE THINGS ...

Only 27 per cent of UK charities felt they were making the most of the internet in 2007, according to NfpSynergy's report Virtual Promise 2007.

Forty per cent of charities felt they had a strategic plan for their use of the internet, compared with 64 per cent the previous year, according to the report.

It also showed that only 30 per cent of charities with turnover of less than £1m a year had dedicated budgets for websites last year, compared with 55 per cent of those with turnover of between £1 and £10m and 78 per cent of those with turnover of more than £10m.

The Public Fundraising Regulatory Association says that the number of sign-ups from face-to-face fundraising dropped from 585,846 in 2005/06 to 513,000 in 2006/07.

The PFRA also estimates that the number of sign-ups through face-to-face fundraising in the 2007/08 period will rise to 515,000. The regulatory body is "quietly confident" that the increase will continue into next year.

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