Think Fundraising: Think Impact

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Think Fundraising: Think Impact

Written by Kevin Robbie (First published by ProBono Australia) | 9th November 2022

The world of fundraising is undergoing a seismic shift, but is anyone noticing or are they too busy dealing with the fires? What does the future hold for the fundraising industry?

This article has been brewing for nearly six months but eventually emerged prompted by two other great articles written by leaders in the sector. I acknowledge that I’m standing on the shoulder of giants.

These were Brayden Howie writing on the future of philanthropy, and Jen Riley writing on the lack of outcomes focus in grant applications.

The heart of both these articles points to a seismic shift in the way that fundraisers will have to operate going forward, yet my understanding from talking to key people in the fundraising sector is that this shift is going unnoticed. The reason for this is because there is a frantic fundraising scramble going on likely driven by a few key factors:

  • The well-publicised cost of living crisis that is engulfing Australia is beginning to effect individual philanthropy. There is the sense in the sector that as people are “tightening their belts” they are reviewing their philanthropic giving. It would be good to see research into whether this is the case, or it may be the case of the research happening after the horse has bolted.
  • Within the not-for-profit (NFP) sector, or as I prefer to call it, the for purpose sector, there is the continual birthing of new organisations offering new and innovative solutions to tackling problems. This should and needs to be applauded, however, they are usually chasing the philanthropic dollar. In the context where there is no ‘death rate’ of other for-purpose organisations, this simply leads to the philanthropic dollar being stretched too far. Logic would say it is completely unsustainable!
  • Some of the traditional ways of fundraising including street fundraising, corporate volunteering, fundraising balls and sponsorship were dramatically disrupted by COVID-19. Many organisations have not returned to pre-2020 levels of fundraising and there is commentary that some never will. With the traditional legs of the fundraising stool removed, what are the new options? There has been a growth of new, innovative and often localised approaches morphing out of crowdfunding models, but this requires not only new technology but a technological savviness on the part of the fundraisers and the donor.

Faced with these significant foreground challenges, are fundraisers noticing the more, (and some might argue the most), significant change on the horizon?

Increasingly funders (whether individuals or foundations) are shifting to ‘outcomes-based’ funding decisions. They expect clarity of communication of intended impact to be central to any funding request and are shaping their processes to demand this from applicants. This behaviour is driving a shift from who you know to what you know about what changes as a result of what you do.

What does this mean for the fundraising profession? They will need to increasingly ‘Think Impact’. There are a few things that fundraisers can do to get the foundations for the new paradigm in place:

  • Impact measurement training – improving impact literacy will become increasingly crucial for people in the fundraising industry. They will need to see themselves as ‘impact communication professionals’ rather than fundraisers.
  • Interaction with frontline services – there will need to be a shift from the centralised (and sometimes detached) fundraising team and their interaction with frontline delivery staff. A blurring of lines will occur as fundraisers increasingly get involved in engagement with beneficiary stakeholders so that they can understand the change their organisation is creating through the voice of lived experience, and more importantly communicate this change to potential funders.
  • Developing an impact prospectus – this is a new tool being used by pioneering organisations to revamp their communication to funders or investors. Modelled off work in the responsible investment market, an impact prospectus focuses on what is changing and why you (the funder) should invest. It is the door opener to a different type of conversation with funders with outcomes at the core.

Whilst this new paradigm may be presenting a new language for many fundraisers, it is a language they are going to have to learn to communicate in very quickly. Because while many fundraisers are fighting fires, the fundraising world is changing dramatically in the foreground and with waves of change on the horizon.

Kevin Robbie is the Managing Director at Think Impact with over 25 years experience working in the for-purpose sector. Kevin leads Think Impact’s work in impact-led design, assisting government, philanthropy and for-purpose organisations to design better services or approaches. He has extensive experience in strategic philanthropy with over a decade working with philanthropic foundations in Australia.

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