Leesa Harwood: The future lies in a more 'co-created' fundraising

We need to empower supporters by relinquishing ownership and control

Leesa Harwood
Leesa Harwood

Ask any fundraising director to describe their framework for individual giving and you’ll hear phrases such as one-off cash givers, regular givers, low and mid-level givers. These categories define what fundraisers do and how we do it. We have been hardwiring them into our culture for decades.

I recently revisited a 2013 article about Taco Bell’s social media strategy. It made me think about alternative definitions.

In 2012 Taco Bell recognised three things: social media empowers the customer by amplifying their voice; some of its customers created more relevant social media content than its paid experts; and content created by "customer influencers" generated greater audience engagement.

It identified three categories of social media content: Create, Co-create and Curate.

Nick Tran, Taco Bell’s head of social media at the time, explained: "You can break down the content we share into three categories: anything we create internally; whatever we co-create – this is when we collaborate with influencers and give them the tools to create their own content; and content curation – us amplifying interesting content from our social community."

When Taco Bell rebalanced its social media approach, the results were significant. In 2012 it posted an 8 per cent increase in US same-store sales, which was double that of McDonald’s. The launch of the Doritos Locos Tacos used real-time social media listening to respond instantly to consumer feedback and collaborate on improvements throughout what went on to become the most successful product launch in the company’s history.

But things have moved on. The concept of Create, Co-create and Curate can be applied not just to social media content, but also to fundraising and campaigns. #MeToo and #IceBucketChallenge are examples of powerful initiatives owned by the supporters and curated by charities.

Anyone designing a fundraising framework from scratch today could do worse than replace traditional definitions with Create, Co-create and Curate. But most charities are not designing from scratch. They have invested in and designed strategies and structures around cash givers, regular givers, low and mid-level givers. A Create approach thrives in this framework, but it does not easily support a culture of Co-create or Curate.

To create a better environment for all three approaches we would need to reject the principle that internal charity experts are always best placed to define, create and control all products. Then we could replace the out-of-date definitions.

The introduction of Create, Co-create and Curate would require fundraising teams to relinquish ownership and control, embrace risk and empower supporters on their terms.

It would challenge our thinking about the sanctity of brand, definition of supporters and ownership of product development. We would focus less on how we define and sell to our supporters, more on how our supporters want to add value to and engage with us. It would transform the fundraising playbook into an engagement blueprint.

Some charities are already trying to create a more empowered supporter base. But it can be difficult if they are dominated by a culture of "create" and out-of-date definitions. If we can become more open and collaborative, less risk-averse and controlling, a new empowering relationship with supporters might emerge.

If we do not, the innovative influencers will become active elsewhere, outside the traditional fundraising environment. Co-create and Curate are not optional extras in a future supporter framework. They are at the heart of innovative, progressive fundraising today.

Leesa Harwood is a fundraising consultant

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