Rhodri Davies: The trends that will change fundraising

In the latest in our Future of Fundraising series, the head of policy at the Charities Aid Foundation says fewer middlemen and developing technology will be two factors

Rhodri Davies
Rhodri Davies

When predicting what fundraising might look like in 2030, I think we should start with at a number of clear trends that are likely to amplify in coming years.

First, disintermediation. Many of the most successful companies in the world today have disrupted markets by creating platforms through which those who have something and those who want it can interact directly without traditional middlemen. This is happening in the charity world too, because crowdfunding and donation platforms are enabling donors to respond directly to fundraising requests from people and communities around the world.

Taking this further, what if the platforms themselves were removed from the picture and replaced by networks of people bound together by technological infrastructure, but without any centralised organisation at its core? We have already seen signs of how this might work in the experiments using blockchain technology to create distributed governance models.

What is the role of fundraisers in this context? Do they find themselves bypassed because people are able to issue and respond to pleas for funding directly? Or do they become even more vital as the curators and navigators of what might otherwise be an overwhelming landscape of information?

We should also ask what sort of information this is likely to be. Charity has always had at its centre a tension between heart and head. Do you use facts and evidence to convince people of the importance of problems and the best ways of addressing them? Or do you appeal to emotions with individual stories or powerful imagery?

Technology could amplify this tension more than ever before. The ongoing explosion of data combined with the predictive power of artificial intelligence will enable us to make ever-more rational decision about how to give effectively (should we so wish). But on the flip side, technologies such as virtual and augmented reality bring the promise of unprecedented kinds of experiential fundraising.

So will fundraisers double-down on heart, using VAR as an "empathy machine"? Or will they embrace data and AI to create ever-more rational approaches to charity? Maybe they will find some way of combining the two.

When it comes to data, the wider question of how much personal information we are all to give away to reap the benefits of automation and personalisation will be a major part of public debate in coming years, and something fundraisers will need to grapple with more than most.

Last, but by no means least, the way we engage with technology will change significantly in coming years. The huge growth in conversational assistants (such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri) suggests our screen-based paradigm might be coming to an end. We have already seen the first iteration of voice-enabled donations, and as this develops the opportunities to develop new fundraising approaches will be enormous.

Against this backdrop, it will come to seem ridiculous to think of "digital" fundraising as some sort of specialist category. And we should prepare for this now in the way we structure teams, the skills we are equipping fundraisers with and the way in which we embed innovation within organisations. If we do not, then the danger is that the wider world will not wait for us and we will be left behind.

Rhodri Davies is head of policy at the Charities Aid Foundation

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