Was I Right About Fundraising Trends In 2017? Or Was I Right?

At the start of 2017 I looked forward at fundraising’s possible direction of travel for the year. At the time we were suffering from the hammer blows of critical press attention and government directed regulation that threatened to become a stranglehold on charities ability to fund their work and to meet increasing needs in an age of austerity.

From the eyrie of the Gherkin’s 84th floor, in IFC’s Top Table meetings we had looked all through 2016 at what kept the heads of fundraising up at night and what joy might make them spring up in the morning. This resolved itself into 4 positive trends:

  1. Overseas expansion.
  2. Imaginative major donor approaches.
  3. Contactless donations.
  4. Charities becoming social enterprises.

So how did I do?

  1. Overseas expansion

If IFC’s order books are anything to go by, this was spot on, and not just in a simple expansionist way. Though we helped organisations plan their overseas fundraising into Latin America, East Africa and East Asia principally Singapore, Hong Kong and the countries around the Mekong river, this was not simple expansion from the West; but a rather more nuanced approach, both to help their local branches and partners to raise funds in countries where they delivered services and a more complete let’s ‘start from scratch’ where the money now lies approach. Indeed, this years’ motto certainly seems to have been “follow the money”.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that should have been our keynote all along as wealth moved from the middle classes into the hands of the entrepreneurs and those riding unicorns. By unicorns I mean, of course, new tech enterprises turning over USD $1 billion or more, and in case you thought that was trivial the Techcrunch unicorn leader-board shows 267 unicorns with a valuation of $920b and $176b raised in financing. Which brings me neatly on to my next prediction:

  1. Imaginative major donor approaches

Simply put, London is the city with the largest number of billionaires in the world. The 2017 Times Rich list gave the names of 86 billionaires in London with 134 billionaires in the UK all told.

The question is: are we really effective at getting them to give and have fundraisers risen to the challenge and developed new imaginative approaches? Again, from our own work as consultants we have been involved in cultivation events from the most prestigious locations to the most fascinating, including an airship hanger with an airship so huge you could not step back far enough to photograph more than a very small part of it.

For the most part, I must say that the simple old-fashioned route of locating major donors, cultivating them and asking them personally remains the most effective I have encountered. If I am missing something please let me know.

The other key item is that crucial, clearly written, emotionally enthralling and intellectually stimulating document – your case for support. A new and imaginative approach? Well, let me deal with the question by saying “Yes, every time!”

In keeping with the earlier tech theme my next prediction tipped contactless donating to grow rapidly.

  1. Contactless donations

Well, we certainly saw a plethora of charities start accepting contactless giving in a wide variety of ways, including right through their shop windows!

In this, Cancer Research was well ahead of the game. Now the whole contactless giving project has proved itself, but has not proved a huge new income stream. As I said the adoption of new technology tends to be a slow burner, but over time it is invaluable.

The one area where contactless may prove invaluable is in street collections, now that fewer and fewer people carry cash. It may also increase the average gift substantially, often doubling the £1 coin offering to £2.

Now, if I had predicted the rise in value of Bitcoins under the tech heading I would be a seer and probably a lot richer than I am. As I write the price of bitcoin has reached $10K and is still heading north, but it looks like a classic bubble and some people may get their fingers burnt very badly. That is, however, no reason not to accept bitcoin and I predict, despite the eventual bursting of the bubble, that crypto-currencies like bitcoin and Ethereum will be happily accepted by most charities before too long.

Lastly, I predicted charities becoming social enterprises.

  1. Charities becoming social enterprises

This may have been the worst of my predictions as far as it goes. Though bright young social entrepreneurs continue to bypass traditional charities and set up their own enterprises to carry out their dreams of helping people, charities themselves have not followed the pattern of the Netherlands and other countries in radically altering their structure or simply adding a social enterprise to their group of legal entities. At least not enough to impinge on my radar.

That lack of responsiveness may prove costly over time. In say, five to 10 years’ time the loss of talent, failure to capitalise on opportunity and rigidity of purpose may become critically apparent, but it may also be too late as boomers retire and Gen X takes the reins of power with even less regard for historical institutions and ways of operating. We have already seen the trend for the very rich to set up their own philanthropic institutions which following Mark Zuckerberg’s example are often companies not charities.

Lastly, in closing, I touched on the restrictions that were beginning to engulf charities. For many these have proved very damaging as telemarketing companies went under and research faltered, but today I can see that as a sector we are well equipped with a variety of competent advisors to bring us through the next set of changes, for example GDPR compliance, and right now they don’t look as bad as we might have thought. The Fundraising Preference Service too proved to be a damp squid, irritating though it was for fundraising to be singalled out as a profession.

Roll on 2018 we are ready for you!

John Baguley, Chair, Group IFC