Today’s Fundraising Challenges

What is Changing and What Stays the Same...

Here we are, nearly half way through 2012, and the gloomy economic outlook is still a serious concern for the many charities having to deal with the current funding climate.  But was it ever that much easier to fundraise in more prosperous times?  I’m surely not the only person to have doubts about this.  I think that fundraising was always challenging and that this certainly hasn’t changed.

So what is changing?  Some would point to the climate of more proactive philanthropy (Bill Gates and Co. for example). Others would certainly point to the phenomenon of social communication such as Facebook and Twitter. Globalisation and increased mobility have their part to play, as does the huge creation of wealth over the past twenty years or so, especially in emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India (OK, Russia, too!).

What I find more interesting is to look at what hasn’t changed in terms of fundraising challenges.  My observations of charities large and small (mainly in the UK and Ireland) over the past fifteen years leads me to focus on what I think are the most common reasons for fundraising goals not being met, if indeed any have been set, and how these deficiencies might best be overcome. Let’s shine the spotlight on some of the usual suspects:

  • Lack of commitment to the fundraising function on the part of the charity’s trustees, CEO and other stakeholders. A fundraiser working for such an organisation is usually on thin ice and will probably be the first to be blamed for any financial shortfalls.  The remedy for this might well require a professional consultant from outside the organisation who can help the stakeholders to focus on this primary issue.
  • Overdependence on one stream of funding, be it statutory or corporate. The usual scenario is that the charity has been depending on one source of funding for some years and has not established a public fundraising function. The funding is suddenly withdrawn and the organisation is in crisis. What should have been put into operation is a comprehensive fundraising programme to include fundraising from individuals. Let’s call it ‘jobs for fundraisers’!
  • Passivity in seeking donors – sometimes observed in (but not restricted to) higher education institutions. The assumption seems to be that donors should have to make the running in making a gift to the organisation – a very dangerous assumption, indeed. One remedy would be to adopt a proactive attitude and make sure that staff members are alert to opportunities to engage potential donors, especially visitors who demonstrate a strong interest in the institution’s programmes.
  • Ignoring the wider picture – could there be opportunities to seek donors or funders abroad? Here is an issue that could be especially relevant for charities in countries such as Ireland where there are a sizeable number of charities seeking funds in a relatively small marketplace in terms of population. Depending on their cause, such organisations should seriously consider fundraising across borders.  In the case of Irish charities, this could mean fundraising in the UK or the USA.  It might also be worthwhile for charities to investigate EU funding, a complex but potentially rewarding effort.
  • Networking in the community, especially with professional advisers. Do you have any channels for networking with financial and legal professionals who just might be advising potential (major) donors?  If not, you should investigate which organisations could be useful in this regard.  In North America this is considered to be an essential element of ‘planned giving’.

In concluding, there are many other elements of successful fundraising that could be explored, such as Prospect Research, Major Gift and Legacy Fundraising, to name but three.  I simply offer the above observations about the classic challenges that remain constant in the fundraising arena.  But then, if you’re a professional fundraiser, you already know about them.

Good luck!

About the author: Jim Myers is a partner in the charity publishing firm, Social Partnership Marketing LLP, London, publishers of the Charity First Series of practical guides for charity operation and fundraising (


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