Is 2019 the year of unpredictability?

Last year we survived the GDPR straight-jacket and the ICO’s rather OTT recommendations to evolve systems whereby we could fundraise respectfully in ways that our donors both expected and appreciated. This was tough for us all and involved a distinct loss of revenue for some organisations, but we still managed to grow the sectors voluntary income considerably and that is a tribute to fundraisers determination and ability to adapt and innovate.

This year on the brink of Brexit, or perhaps not, we face at least a year of economic uncertainty whatever happens, and uncertainty is the enemy of decisions to expand, invest in fundraising or even give generously.

But, before we look forward, let’s look back and see how the predictions for last year went. I foresaw four positive trends:

  1. Fundraising expanding into overseas markets.

This was obviously not available to every organisation, but here at IFC HQ I have seen an increasing amount of our business coming from a rather wide variety of organisations which sought to raise funds in other countries. This varied from the large international NGOs that wanted to raise funds in wealthy Asian countries, to those who were working in Latin America and realise that these countries had developed a wealthy middle and upper class that were far more generous than previously realised and that corporates in those countries often wanted to make their mark or to simply help the communities where their sales and profits originated.

Interestingly, many much smaller UK organisations were also able to tap into donors based overseas or from ex-pats, some setting up ‘Friends of …’ 501 C (tax effective) organisations in the US. BTW our director in the US can help with the set up and development of these US support groups.

  1. A growth of innovative major donor approaches.

I have noticed that an effective major donor strategy is still languishing on many organisations wish list, and the kind of game changing innovation I was hoping for just hasn’t materialised – let me know if I am wrong here. I would love to hear from you if you have engineered a breakthrough. As I said then the good old-fashioned approach routes still seem the best bet and have been working well for us, especially in our capital appeals.

On the contrary billionaire philanthropists have come in for a rather well thought through kicking. The brilliant Anand Giridharadas an ex-McKinsey analyst and NYT columnist asked the following pertinent question:

“Are generous billionaires a crucial stopgap when government isn’t working right — or are they a reason why government isn’t working right?”

He then answered it in a book ‘Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. See:

The crux of the matter is that if organisations like Amazon and the other FAANGS paid their taxes, government would have the money to do their job of looking after vulnerable people properly and to invest in overseas development that helps people and lessens conflict.

Indeed, it is often because these employers pay rubbish wages that people cannot live on that they cannot provide for their families so causing myriad social problems.

  1. Contactless donations will grow.

Yes, they did and yes, they will continue to grow in 2019; but strictly speaking the trend, especially amongst the young, is now to pay through the phone using one of a variety of apps. The good news is that charities are increasingly right up there with the digital trends and allow people to give however they like.

By the way, all those charities that accepted Bitcoins early on, and didn’t bother to cash them in right away, were sitting on fortunes and may still be! And those INGOs that use blockchains to ship funds overseas are saving transaction costs and securing their financial deliveries.

  1. Charities becoming social enterprises.

This was a Continental trend I felt could slip though the Chunnel and arrive on our shores but, though this is often the preferred way for millennials to engage in delivering socially good outcomes, it doesn’t feel like much of a trend here.

So, what about the trends for 2019?

First, I must say with May’s Brexit deal scheduled for a vote on tomorrow, as I write, it would be rash of anyone to predict what will happen there. Let’s be rash and say, “Brexit won’t happen” as the only trend is towards another vote and the numbers for remain are rather higher now than leave. Phew, with that out of the way and the £250m that the EU gives to UK charities saved, let’s return to fundraising.

  1. Proving that what you do actually works effectively will be a key note of charities that raise increasing amounts of money.

This is really the continuation of a long running trend with donors, especially major donors and grant-makers demanding that charities prove they are worth funding. I have heard charities still claiming that the work they do cannot be monitored and evaluated, which is an increasingly unsustainable position. By contrast charities that monitor and evaluate thoroughly, increasingly use it as an effective selling point to back up their emotional stories of individuals with some intellectually striking facts.

So, tighten your procedures because they will be under examination and if you are not evaluating what you do rigorously – shame on you…

  1. Hitting the media fast and with relevance will be the key to building support.

Chester Zoo is a shining example of using the media effectively. When their cages caught fire, they had photos in the media whilst the fire raged, set up an appeal in an instant and made sure the news kept featuring the Zoo by thanking the fire fighters publicly etc. In the end they raised £120,000 of which £100,000 (twice their target) came in 24 hours.

Part do the way to do this is for charities to add campaigning to their mix of activities. This is hard call for some who have never done it and are frightened of appearing to be political; but if you are to be relevant then your cause needs to be seen as important, and you need to be featured. If what you do is really important you can do this, but my advice is to have #1 above in place first!

  1. The Thames Garden Bridge fiasco means amateur capital appeals have had a warning – take the advice of those who have run capital appeals before.

Essentially, they made the elementary mistake of releasing the news to the press before they had raised 80-90% of the amount they needed and were very confident of the outcome. Once you tell the press what you are doing and how much you need, they will come back with questions far too early and hound you for not raising the money, then cast doubts on the project which is easy to do by finding a few people who will object to the appeal or maybe to planning permission for the project. It is easy to give an exclusive to one paper to guarantee some coverage (which may have happened here with the Evening Standard) but then the other papers are liable to run a counter argument.

Professionally one needs a feasibility study to show that the funds are out there and exactly where they lie. Then a multi-year strategy with the ‘silent phase’ running until you are almost there, then a public launch and final drive in the ‘public phase’ to complete the appeal. Many charities we work with do not plan on a large public appeal unless they have national reach and know the appeal will be a favourite with the public.

The Garden Bridge was, in my humble, a wonderful idea that was monstered and which could have met a reasonable target, especially as naming the bridge could probably have commanded far more money than it did. Yes, it had some faults, for example the lack of a cycle route, but I hope at some time in the future a similar idea will come back and be successful.

  1. Ambitious projects with significant impact back by a sense of urgency will succeed in 2019.

Let’s hope the ill-fated Garden Bridge doesn’t drag the idea of other imaginative projects down in its wake. Remember the NSPCC brilliant appeals – hugely ambitious with real targets on a significant scale and led by imaginative fundraising programmes.

With London choc full of billionaires and the hard years of public opprobrium behind us let’s strike out with some awesome appeals. It is these appeals beloved by the public that make them appreciate the work of charities.

This is probably less a prediction than a call to arms for fundraisers. You can do it – get on to that reluctant director or cowardly board and let your organisation grow with ambitious fundraising targets and resources to really help your beneficiaries.

Roll on 2019 and let’s go…

John Baguley, Chair, Group IFC