2020 Vision in Fundraising – Part III

In Part three of our 2020 Vision in Fundraising, we share more essential fundraising tips that we’ve picked up over our 20 years working with clients and as frontline fundraisers ourselves. We have singed our fingers so you don’t have to.

In April I was giving a series of fundraising talks in Mexico and picked up a lovely term the ‘working dead’. Here I call them zombies, but the working dead perfectly describes the degree of stupor people at all levels of the organisations can fall into. Tip 13 gives some guidance in activating or executing these unfortunates. If you need more see ‘Fundraising & Zombies’ on Amazon.

These fundamentals are in no special order, but I will be pulling them all together later in the year and hope to build a comprehensive look at the underlying principles behind our beloved profession and practical tips from practitioners everywhere.

And if you missed the previous two 2020 Vision blogs, you can find Part I and Part II here.


  1. We decide to give with our hearts, but we justify it to ourselves with our heads.

One of the really basic principles that underly all our fundraising techniques. If you can move a donor’s heart you can reach their wallet, but they will need proof of the impact you are having so they can justify giving both to themselves and to their family and friends. All this can be done in so many ways, but we are all learning how effective stories can be in this work, bringing the beneficiary’s situation close to the donor and satisfying a basic instinct we have for a clear logical account we can easily understand and then pass on to others.     

  1. Leadership is not about telling the team what to do.

Management may be about getting the job done but leadership is showing where the organisation or department or even the event is going, how we will all get there and what is the real benefit of that journey. People follow and imitate leaders. So, if you believe in what you are doing, act morally and professionally and so will your team! Don’t flunk the hard decisions, don’t be cynical about the organisation and don’t run yourself down, all of that will detract from your ability to inspire people and transform their work.     

  1. Fundraising is everyone’s responsibility.

Fundraising is not a ‘necessary evil’ sitting toad-like on a pot of ill-gotten gold, it is a core competence of every non-profit that intends to be sustainable, self-sufficient and to scale-up its help to its beneficiaries. As such, we all have a part to play wherever we serve in the organisation. And no, this does not mean just helping out with events now and again – however welcome this would be.

For example, it may mean trustees opening up their contacts, giving professional advice (not whether their aunt hates phone calls) and sometimes showing leadership by giving money too. For CEOs it may involve ensuring Fundraising is properly resourced, and for other staff it may involve a large variety of useful actions not in their job description. So, ensure everyone is fully informed about fundraising and take the time to discuss how they can be helpful – as ever over-communicate to get through to people who may be sceptical.        

  1. Deal with the working dead!

So often I have found people who have worked for the same charity for years and who have given up, do a very poor job badly and make everyone else in their team feel “Why should I bother if they don’t”. As a manager, don’t work around these zombies and feed their condition, or you will lose the respect of your team and they will lose pride in their work.

Yes, it is tough to tackle people who have been worked around for years, but it is a kindness to get them motivated, perhaps retrained and working with renewed passion for the cause or to sack them if they don’t shape up. Yes, you can sack useless people who don’t perform, but get your boss behind you when you start this process as charities seem reluctant to ever take this step.    

  1. Newshounds beat schedulers.

At Amnesty International we made full-page adverts work financially because we pitched them against news items on TV about human rights violations. People could see an atrocity and then have the option of helping soon after. We also linked our direct marketing, door to door and other techniques to that event and as close to it in time as humanly possible.

Now look at what Avaaz.org does – within a few years of starting, they were turning over millions. So, build your schedules, or things may not happen at all, but be prepared to bend them to breaking news when it touches the people you want to help. Right now, the TV is still the key news media to follow, but that is splintering across platforms and you need to be alert to what is happening in all key media. Make friends with Communications, but please don’t just leave it up to them to let you know when the news breaks.  

  1. Run with scissors!

At the risk of being trite, if you are not making a few mistakes you are really not running fast enough or carrying those dangerous scissors. We live in a rapidly changing world and your fundraising will fall behind if you are not changing and adapting your techniques at least as fast as your external environment changes.

If you want a safe measured life then take up accountancy, but if you want to be a successful fundraiser then be adventurous: test and try out dangerous ideas and if your instincts are right you will have great success and probably a few cuts too.     

Back at the ranch

I wrote this on my return from Mexico City where I was talking to various NGOs who are taking advantage of the impressive growth in the Mexican economy to fundraise locally, though this has also been forced on them as Mexico is now a more developed country and not eligible for as many international grants as before. It has also just elected a left-wing government and, though they intend to help the poorer people in society (applause all round), they are also not registering many organisations to receive donations. This means they cannot legally fundraise. Let us hope the new government chooses to work with civil society to learn from its experience and maximise help to the poor instead of taking over and making the many mistakes we have learnt from over the years.    

Right now, my heart is with the French people as Notre Dame burns, but I am heartened by the massive donations that have been pledged spontaneously even before a fundraising campaign started. Thank you to the extensive news coverage of this tragedy which has ensured the story of Notre Dame doesn’t end here.

Read parts one, two and four of our 2020 Vision in Fundraising series.

John Baguley, Chair, International Fundraising Consultancy