INSTITUTE OF FUNDRAISING: Fundratios, legacies and a rosy little league table

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising

'A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece exploring the latest results from the Fundratio benchmarking project. The beauty of this project is that it allows participating charities to get a really clear picture of their fundraising effectiveness in comparison with a wide range of other organisations.

It's one thing to know what your own return on investment ratios are like, but it's a lot more useful to be able to compare them with another organisation.

How else do you answer your trustees when they ask, "well, is that good?".

The clever bit about fundratios is that, while you get all the detail about your own individual organisation's performance, your rivals only get your aggregate data as part of a collective set of figures - you remain anonymous! There is now a clear sliding scale of charges to contribute, which means that many organisations can have seriously useful management information for just a few hundred pounds.

But there are risks in taking part. It will mean that you can no longer use the excuse that your rival isn't really more efficient and is just reporting their fundraising costs differently in the Sorp accounts. It will also mean that you are asked to provide all sorts of financial information that you know you really should be able to provide if only the office systems were in place! Signing up to fundratios probably has greater implications for your finance department than your fundraisers.

Many organisations find fair and impartial assessments of their fundraising performance useful when used in terms of investing for the future. Often it is the mix and diversity of the different fundraising techniques employed that protect a charity from wild fluctuations in their fundraising performance.

The clever among us are able to spot the trends in new types of fundraising, and invest in those growth areas at the right time. Though this is easier said than done.

Interestingly, while we are getting better at it, we still have an in-built reluctance to talk about our fundraising investment strategies.

Somehow, we still believe we need to keep quiet about spending money to raise more money.

In the stock market, however, life is very different. A good performance this year cheers the shareholders, but unless you can show the clear and precise steps you are taking to ensure or guarantee a good performance next year, then your share price is likely to fall. Surely we owe it to our stakeholders and beneficiaries to show them how we are going to be able to support them in the future. Not just now, but in five years, and into the next generation of supporters too.

The classic case here is that of legacy programmes - so few charities have them. It can only be that the trustees take a short-term view, and are not governing for tomorrow.

A recent article in Marketing, a sister publication to Third Sector, produced an interesting little league table. It showed the top 10 charities by total voluntary income (figures supplied by CAF) as against their marketing spend (figures supplied by Nielsen Media Research).

Number one and two made an interesting comparison. Cancer Research UK was first with a massive income of £238.8m (but still not enough for its vital work) against a marketing spend of £8.1m.

Second was Oxfam, with an income of £121.6m (not nearly enough for the job in hand) from a £4.6 million expenditure. I've carried out a little bit of crude home-made market research, and every non-sector person I have shown those figures to have commented on two things.

Firstly, and obviously, is to comment on what a lot of money it is, and how incredibly efficient it looks.

Secondly, and without fail, was to ask why Oxfam doesn't double its investment and, therefore, try to double its income?

The point here is not to suggest that doubling would work, but to show that, put in an interesting way, the issue of investment in fundraising is understood and accepted - so why do we shy away from it so often?

Finally, if you want a wake-up call over the legacy investment issue, then go down to number four in the table where you have the RNLI with an income of £107.2m, raised from an expenditure of just £1.6 m. That's the power of legacies for you.

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