Joe Jenkins: We need major changes to the fundraising business model

In the latest in our Future of Fundraising series, the director of supporter impact and income at the Children's Society says bold and dynamic leadership is required

Joe Jenkins
Joe Jenkins

Whatever the future holds for fundraising, I can confidently say the charity sector is being, has been and will continue to be disrupted. Reacting to this will require significant ongoing change to our business model, including our approach to fundraising.

We can build upon some core principles, but we’ll also have to pivot into new territory. We cannot predict the detail of this future, so we’ll need to particularly invest in our capabilities as much as our plans and systems. All of which will require bold, dynamic, ambitious leadership.

Every sector – across the public, private and civil society domains – has been powerfully impacted by changes in the external environment. Shifting demographics, technological revolution, political, economic and social transformation require rapid adaptation for all types of group and organisation.  Just as there isn’t only one business model for the commercial sector, nor should there be for charities. In the future, I expect to see a far greater diversity of approaches within civil society as we continually innovate to achieve greater impact.

Current trends suggest we should anticipate significant changes to our "fundraising" model in particular. I do not doubt many of the fundamentals of fundraising will hold true: when charities connect people emotionally to their missions and provide ways to make an impact, they will be inspired to get involved. But I’m not convinced that the continued separation of "fundraising" – as a department, function, discrete endeavour or profession – will be serving us well in 2030. There is already a shift towards the principles of "supporter engagement" that prioritise the whole supporter experience, value every type of contribution (money, time, voice and more), build relationships and movements focused primarily on long-term impact over short-term transactions, and break down those unhelpful internal silos of fundraising, communications, campaigning, volunteering and so on. Over the next decade, we need to go further and be prepared to shake up our whole dated bureaucratic hierarchical management structures to organise around our beneficiaries and supporters, rather than our functions and fiefdoms.

To remain relevant in the fast-paced, complex 21st century, we will need a new form of agile leadership that focuses on capabilities and culture rather than top-down strategy and operations. We must build cultures that thrive on rapid innovation, flexibility and collaboration, and are resilient in the face of change. Cultures that require investment in our infrastructure, systems, processes and, crucially, in our people. As the most advanced businesses already recognise, it will primarily be the talent of our people that will enable us to effectively navigate this volatile, complex, uncertain future.

The scale and pace of change can feel hugely threatening, and it’s an understandable reaction to bury our heads in the sand and hope for the best. On the other hand, the possibilities that are opening up before us are huge, unprecedented and incredibly exciting. What we need to do now, more than ever, is not only to recognise but embrace the disruption in our sector and turn boldly to new models of social impact. We have more hope now than at any time in human history that we might tackle our most pernicious social problems; by 2030, we need to have risen to the challenge.

Joe Jenkins is director of supporter impact and income at the Children's Society

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