Leesa Harwood: Five new year resolutions you should have made

The most effective habits last and become a way of life

Leesa Harwood
Leesa Harwood

Polls suggest that about 30 per cent of people make new year resolutions, but fewer than 40 per cent of them manage to stick it out for the year. As a fundraising leader I have often been tempted to set fundraising resolutions for myself and others. My top five would look something like this:

1 Work to rolling, multi-year fundraising targets

Working to one-year fundraising targets then resetting every year forces fund-raisers into short-term behaviours and bad practice, removing any opportunity to identify and mitigate risk. It seriously compromises long-tail fundraising activities such as legacy, corporate or philanthropy. Not all in-year fundraising activity will deliver results in the same year. By imposing artificial, short-term targets we are creating a quick-win culture that works against sustainable and meaningful supporter engagement. Instead, create rolling, three to five-year financial planning cycles supported by non-financial targets to stop an "in-year income at all costs" culture.

2 Use evidence-based tools to reassure your chief executive and board

Chief executives and trustees need to be reassured that your multi-year forecasts are based on evidence. Asking the board to sanction long-term, multi-year planning without it is a leap of faith. Use dynamic, three to five-year, interdependent prospect pipelines, case-for-support pipelines and risk logs to set and report on progress. Then fundraising directors can reassure chief executives and boards they are on track with their forecasts.

3 Create end-to-end financial plans

Raising money and spending it are part of the same end-to-end financial process, yet many organisations disconnect the two entirely or join them up too far downstream. The best organisations consider the source of income as they decide how to spend it. They plan expenditure budgets in collaboration with fundraisers who are involved at the inception-and-design stage of key expenditure lines. This isn’t mission creep or interference; it’s collaboration and gives fundraisers the opportunity to deliver true donor engagement at the planning stage, not just at the 11th hour.

4 Change the numbers narrative

The fundraising funnel has been around for a long time, as have words and phrases such as "attrition", "retention", "win-backs" and "conversion rates". Change the narrative, the vocabulary and the belief that fund-raising is a numbers game. Focus on the quality of your relationship with donors, not how many you can force through a funnel and hang on to at the other end.

5 Fail at least once every year

Run at least one campaign every year that fails. If everything your fundraising department does is a resounding success, they’re not innovating or experimenting enough. Ring-fence a budget for experimentation. Fail fast, learn from it and move on. Within clear regulatory and ethical parameters, push the boundaries and build an entrepreneurial culture.

None of these suggestions is revolutionary. And, as with all the best resolutions, they’re not just for one year. The most effective habits last and become a way of life. But charities that stick to all of these basic principles are few and far between. Without them your charity would run an unimaginative, short-term fundraising plan, working to achieve unrealistic financial targets at all costs in a silo. Does that sound familiar? Maybe it’s time to join the 30 per cent.

Leesa Harwood is a fundraising consultant

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