Transforming an organisation is key to great fundraising, says report

Study written by academics Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang (pictured), says great fundraising leaders achieve change through will and humility

Jen Shang
Jen Shang

Fundraisers must be prepared to transform the way their charities operate if they are to achieve great fundraising results, according to research published yesterday.

The study, Great Fundraising, was commissioned by the consultancy Clayton Burnett and written by Adrian Sargeant, professor of marketing and fundraising at the University of Plymouth, and Jen Shang, professor of philanthropic psychology at the University of Bristol.

For the report, "great fundraising" is defined not only in terms of how much money is raised, but also in terms of the growth of a charity.

The study is based on interviews with 20 of the sector’s leading thinkers, including fundraising directors and senior fundraising consultants. Shang and Sargeant analysed the success of charities deemed to have "outstanding fundraising", including Cancer Research UK, the British Red Cross, the NSPCC and the Royal British Legion.  

The researchers asked what differentiates great fundraising from average, good and poor fundraising, and what factors allowed an organisation to double, treble or even quadruple its income.

The report says: "Our interviewees all became change initiators and leaders at an organisational level. None of them, in creating great fundraising, felt that they could create it within the current organisational system. Rather, all of them believed they must transform the organisation in order to create their outstanding success."

The report says that successful fundraising directors tend to be "level-five leaders", who lead and inspire others, achieving change through a combination of will and humility.

These leaders dedicate time to appointing or developing exceptional teams, with a focus on communication and technical skills. They develop reward and recognition structures that are linked to drivers of long-term growth, which improve staff retention.

Some of the interviewees provide members of their teams at all levels the opportunity to experience first hand the impact of the charity on its beneficiaries. Others offer junior members the opportunity to sit in on senior director or board-level meetings so they can understand and become advocates for any top-down initiatives.

The ability of leaders to think clearly about themselves, what they can offer the charity and how the systems within the organisation can be managed are key to creating an environment in which fundraising can flourish, the report says.

The report says that even basic assumptions and norms about how a charity operates have to be challenged and changed, either by the chief executive or the fundraising director. For example, in a number of cases, the report says, the charity failed to meet its fundraising targets for several years and it had been assumed that the target would not be met and it would be acceptable not to meet it.

Shang said: "A systems thinking approach requires a shift in thinking away from the dimensions that must be managed, such as teams, structures, culture and communication, to a holistic perspective on how the parts integrate with each other."

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