Move on from the old major donor techniques, says consultant

Kim van Niekerk tells an IoF conference that major donor fundraisers need to develop new tools, not keep working with old ones

Kim van Niekerk
Kim van Niekerk

Major donor fundraising needs to move on from the techniques that worked in the past if it is to make progress in the future, according to the fundraising consultant Kim van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk warned that major donor fundraising had been "creaking for some time" and called on delegates at the Institute of Fundraising’s major donor conference in central London this week to question whether the rules and techniques that had been considered best practice in the past were actually effective for them.

In response to the problem, she said, a new set of tools should be developed based not on what had worked in the past, but on what fundraisers envisage would work in the future.

"In the past couple of years I’ve been beginning to feel a bit of a niggle about what we teach as the way to fundraise," she said.

"If we’re teaching the best practice of the past, we are tied to the potential of the past.

"If scientists and designers and engineers designed from what they knew of the past rather than their visions of the future, I suspect we might still be staring up at the stars rather than looking down from them."

Van Niekerk acknowledged that the language of "hot, warm and cold prospects" and ideas such as it taking 18 months from approaching the potential donor to securing a gift had been useful in the past.

But she said: "I think I’m not alone in thinking that major gifts fundraising has been creaking for some time. I’ve yet to see a major donor survey that has them all going ‘this is the most amazing thing we ever do’.

"There is so much resistance to and unhappiness about how charities are working with major donors despite all of our best efforts with the tools that we’ve been using."

She said fundraisers should think of existing practices as "technology" and consider whether the technology available was helping or hindering them. She gave the example of a charity she worked with where she said moving away from fundraising language had helped to "prevent mental boundaries" within the organisation.

"If I tell the team that 18 months is the normal time it takes to generate a gift, that becomes the norm," she said.

Van Niekerk said she had not encouraged fundraisers to do in-depth research on the people they approached because she felt that "was breeding a lot of fear and cynicism and judgement" among potential donors.

As a result, she said, the charity had "built opportunities faster than I’ve seen many organisations do".

"What is the vision we want for our future?" van Niekerk asked. "The vision I’m holding on to is a fundraising that is easy and uncomplicated."

She said fundraisers should "create or think of creating a new ecosystem for major gift fundraising, where the technology is really fit for purpose and where we are building for the future emerging in front of us, not the best practice that is behind us".

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