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The importance of the “C” word in fundraising

The Management Centre

=mc Director Bernard Ross looks at the 5 Cs that non-profit organisations need to address before changing their fundraising strategy – Context, Competencies, Competition, Cash and Commitment.

The importance of the “C” word in fundraising


From Worried Charity CEO: I’ve been discussing with my board and senior colleagues about the need to change our income base… we can see that statutory grants are going down, but aren’t sure whether to move into online, major donors, individual giving… or even trying to set up our own ice bucket challenge! We have lots of consultants selling us this or that as a perfect solution. But are there any more general considerations we should take account of before we plunge in to a specific technique?


From =mc Director Bernard Ross: So you want to change fundraising strategy – how many C words do you need to use before you plunge in?

I’ve been working a lot recently on fundraising strategy with a range of agencies – from global ones like MSF to local ones like Poetry London in the UK. The strategies we were discussing were very different and were designed to deliver different outcomes at a different scale. But in each case we ended up asking five key questions, each based around a C.

Here are the C word questions. If you’re thinking about changing strategy ask yourself these five questions:

  • CONTEXT: what does your environmental scan – PEST and SWOT – tell you about the opportunity? Before taking action you need to explore the market you want to work in for whatever it is you want to do – the global humanitarian market, the UK philanthropic market or even London’s artistic market.

    And there are some further questions from that first one. For example: Are there enough HNWI prospects with enough capacity to deliver your campaign target? Does the channel you want to use – DRTV/F2F – work in that setting? Does your cause have enough traction to generate support now – or do you need simple awareness before fundraising? Deciding honestly and objectively on your context will help in your plan.

  • COMPETENCIES: do you have the skills, knowledge and abilities to make any strategic change in your fundraising? So again there are some further detailed questions. What experience do you have, or need, to launch a major donor campaign? Do you know what is the best channel or channel mix to use for the new strategy? Do you have, or can you get, the awareness-raising/PR/publicity skills you need to underpin the change – and what else do you need to be good at to succeed? 

    Launching into an initiative without competencies, and to some extent capacity, will end in tears or burnout.

  • COMPETITION: who else is in the ‘space’ you’d like to occupy or explore – and how strong are they? Some further questions here too. Who else has a major donor campaign ‘on the go’ and what % of your potential prospects have they already got involved? Are any competitors more effective in the channel you want to use – and are there other channels available? Is another NGO or charity more closely associated with this issue – HIV/child rights/environment/poetry – than you are and so stronger in the minds of potential donors…? 

    If so how could you gain a competitive edge? Look at how Save the Children distinguished themselves very successfully from Action Aid, Plan, SoS, UNICEF etc. by making their proposition really, really simple.

  • CASH: Do you have enough capital to invest in the new strategic area? This is a tough question. Have you costed all aspects of the major donor campaign – from funding prospect research to hiring senior staff? Do you have the £1M+ you need for the big DRTV campaign – and how long can you spend that amount for to get a result? Is another, larger NGO/charity, able to outspend you and so maintain its dominance in the issue you want to make yours? 

    Make sure you have a properly costed plan and then be prepared to invest for long enough to secure the results.

  • COMMITMENT: This is really the killer question, and maybe the only one that really matters. Does your senior team or your Board appreciate the time and effort they need to give for, say, the major donor campaign? Do they, and maybe even you, appreciate the risks – financial and reputational – associated with the radical campaign effort and the channel you’ve chosen? (Think of the antipathy F2F arouses or the level of controversy the RSPCA’s animal rights campaigns have produced.) Are those key stakeholders happy to stake out a new ‘claim’ for an area of activity and re-orientate policy or service to ensure you deliver on the promise you’re making to donors?

    Without commitment the rest will mean nothing… and that commitment has to start with you.

Five tough questions. Ask yourself them. And if you can live with the answers then move to the more technical choice of which approach to use.

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