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Downes Murray International News

Creating and leading a Great Fundraising Organisation

Do you work or serve on the board of a Great Fundraising Organisation? Not any great fundraising organisation . . . but a Great Fundraising Organisation? Alan Clayton reports.

For the purpose of the academic study, “The Great Fundraising Report”, Professors Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang from the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at the University of Plymouth, defined Great Fundraising Organisations as those charities, NGOs and non-profits that:
  • Achieved significant growth in voluntary income, typically 200 percent to 400 percent over the middle term, being five to 10 years.
  • Sustained the increased levels of income.
  • Drove this income from a database of donors who were mission driven.

The object of the study was to identify behavioural factors that created a Great Fundraising Organisation. The project is supported by ongoing, informal action research on over 300 case studies worldwide.

“We particularly studied organisations that outperformed organisations with similar markets, missions and projects.

We found three key areas in which the Great Fundraising Organisations out-performed their competitors:


In the Great Fundraising Organisations, the whole organisation is fired up and inspired by the fundraising programme. The fundraising function is not in a silo.

In organisations that fail to achieve great fundraising, the fundraising function is deemed to be funding the organisation’s budget, and propositions are dictated by other departments based on fiscal need. In the Great Fundraising Organisations, the organisation unites around a mission-based proposition, meaning that fundraising and other departments are trying to solve a problem together.

Also, the Great Fundraising Organisations:

  • Are all capable of donor-centred thinking – understanding the rational and emotional needs of their donors as well as those of their users.
  • Have a learning culture about fundraising. They use the “test and learn” scientific method to create a culture of constant improvement, rather than seek certainty of outcomes before commencing a surge in fundraising growth.
  • Train and educate the whole organisation on the importance and principles of fundraising.

The Great Fundraising Organisations do not suffer from internal conflict about the need to invest short-term in fundraising to drive middle-term growth.

They are capable of prioritising fundraising investment, and other departments understand there will be a time lag between fundraising investment and increased programmes expenditure budgets.

Also, the Great Fundraising Organisations:

  • Train their boards, executive teams and managers in the principles of fundraising investment.
  • Clearly understand the large returns available, if the period allowed is long enough.
  • Give their boards confidence to invest, and to roll out when tests are successful.

The Great Fundraising Organisations base their brand on “the problem we are trying to solve”. They brand the mission, not the organisation.

They understand that, first and foremost, people give emotionally and that their emotional decisions are backed up by concise rational arguments. The key difference between the
Great Fundraising Organisations and their competitors is the ability of the board and executive teams to lead in the emotional space.

Also, the Great Fundraising Organisations:

Are brilliant at communicating in a simple, emotive manner with integrity. They are master storytellers.

  • Test all communications continuously.
  • Can navigate the cultural difference between control of emotion and logical excellence in service delivery, with the fact that fundraising is in the emotions business.
  • Understand the power of an emotional brand.
  • Overcome the fear of investment through the scientific method.
  • Understand the emotional needs of their donors.
  • Focus on their most emotionally powerful propositions
  • Most Great Fundraising Organisations seemed to create a growth surge by:
  • Creating a new dream: a fresh approach to communicating the problem they are trying to solve.
  • Uniting the organisation by involving them in the creation of the communications.
  • Testing, then investing.”
Keeping focussed and simple is key to all leadership. Keeping emotionally focused and simple is key to fundraising leadership.

Alan Clayton is chairman of Alan Clayton Associates. Request a copy of “The Great Fundraising Report” at:

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