Talking problems with fundraisers recently, I hit on the idea of crowd sourcing a list of one word problems for fundraising – so thanks to fundraisers through twitter and linked in, we have this final shortlist of the top 30.

30 complaints

What does it tell us? We are stuck and not understood. It’s all about my favourite word. Leadership.



Sometimes in adversity, good things can flow to greet you. Very often, the inspiration for that good comes from the past. A comforting place, when it was what it was and from its certainty, we can draw lessons to help guide us in a future of uncertainty.

As the sector embarks on ways to re-engage with the donor, including the welcome launch of a Commission for the Donor, it’s worth remembering that so many of us began fundraising where we learnt from wisdom learnt before us. Moments of clarity that will have guided us for years to come. For those who remember and believe in Ken Burnett’s book Relationship Fundraising, its worth reminding us of a perfect list in the book, fashioned by Ken’s mentor, guide and friend Harold Sumption, a fundraiser and pioneer, and who founded the International Fundraising Workshop. There’s a great blog by Mathew Sherrington in 101 Fundraising with more pearls and wisdom. Whilst Ken reminded us that there are ‘no absolute rules and slavish adherence to formulae’ there are some principles fashioned from that relationship that would do well to shine today. Here they are, lifted without permission but certainty that the author would very much like them shared as they were written, so here they are….10 key principles

  1. Fundraising is not about raising money. It’s about meeting needs and bringing about change
  2. People give to people, not organisations or even causes. Fundraising is a people business. Personal requests work best. Fund the development is people development.
  3. Friend making comes before fundraising
  4. Open their hearts. Open their minds. Then open their chequebooks.
  5. Communicate need to bring the problem to the donor
  6. Set clear targets. Communicate your goals to your donors. Communicate action and success to encourage full involvement.
  7. Know how much to ask each prospect for, and when
  8. The most important 2 words are thank you. Acknowledge every donation with a friendly, personal letter. Give larger donors special treatment
  9. Encourage donors to identify with your organisation, to feel a sense of shared ownership
  10. Always be honest, open and truthful with donors. Share your problems as well as your successes

I hope this helps guide another generation and reminds this one that going back is the right way to the future


Here’s the thing. Technique is actually in the way of fundraising. Targets have the wrong focus. Together, finally its clear – they are undermining fundraising.

Where do we really look when we focus on these two pillars that seem to dominate our boards, or meetings, or internal planning? What do we look for when we hire staff? What language do we use when we circulate ‘best practice’? What is the sequence we see?  Technique driving target or target driving technique – driving cost, driving net, ROI, investment, budgets, performance. This chain is the daily diet of fundraising. Like a hierarchy designed to drive short-term because that’s all that seems to really matter.

Results are important, of course. Without more we can’t do more. Fundraising results deliver change and that’s what we all sign up to, and realistically everyday we need to make micro and macro shifts to get the best value out of what we do. But with the pressure for visible results from donors and newspapers and seemingly everyone, we are forced to focus on the very one thing to be judged by. Targets. The benchmark of success or failure. So we fuel up our technique and race to the finish line. But its often the wrong finish line.

Technique is just a how. Target is just a where to. By themselves they are a transaction, a commercial process, a requirement. We can’t do without technique and target but we can’t let it dominate and we can’t let it lead. We need to relegate technique and reinvent target

We can do this by the rediscovery of the art, principles and values of relationship fundraising to balance the tyranny of technique. We start with the why and we answer the purpose. We champion service, experience, giving and relationships. We recalibrate time from short to long-term. We redefine targets and our view of success so they are aligned and we let judgement and intuition have space to breathe, create, innovate fail and succeed.

But above all, we need to get the leadership right in our organisations at every level. We need get people to behave in the right way and to do the right thing.


After much soul-searching in the fundraising sector in the last few months, and much anguish about the future and direction of travel, I have compiled a powerful list of 10 ‘saviours’ for fundraising and the sector.

If done together and with heart, values, principles, stories, creativity, service and care, insight, humility and solid process to back it up and the cause and need as the engine the results could be amazing. Please share – they are groundbreaking and revolutionary. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Put the donor first
  2. Put the donor first
  3. Put the donor first
  4. Put the donor first
  5. Put the donor first
  6. Put the donor first
  7. Put the donor first
  8. Put the donor first
  9. Put the donor first
  10. Lead everyone and everything so they put the donor first

I know. Exciting stuff. Truly – we are saved.


The torch is shining on us all right now, and it’s just got brighter. The sad death of Olive Cooke and the press feast unleashed has long been coming. Olive’s loss was not the reason – it was the excuse. Understanding and trust are being challenged. Right or wrong, we need to respond.

For too long we have relied on the unsaid goodwill of the donor. The trust and quiet acceptance that charities are good and need funding and we don’t need to know how you do what you do so long as you do it are over. That quiet bond is under attack from some and questioned by many. There is a simmering resentment among some that we need to understand and shift if we are to continue to raise more to do more. Scale gives the chance to make the greatest impact. But to drive scale we have invented a big machine and its starting to creak. Fundraising is central to a civil, kind and effective society. The good being done requires a connection and understanding between the hearts and minds of those who give, those who receive and those who create the climate and framework. To continue that good we must all be prepared to sign up to the true cost and the truth. It is this. That we need to ask. That what you give to is largely people. That we have to pay these people and pay them enough to get the right people. That these people are amazing value. That we need to run organisations well to get the best value. That you need to judge us on value and impact. That without these organisations and these people no one else can afford or will be able to achieve what we do. Have the debate, but tread carefully.

So where are we? Lost I fear, possibly even trapped. We need to do something different. We are all responsible. As we have grown and scaled and done more some people and organisations have become detached from some central truths and despite the words and well-meaning of most of us, to be honest these truths are getting lost in the forest of complication and expectation we have created. Let me explain. When fundraisers pursue their technique at the expense of connection and understanding of a donors needs we undermine ourselves. When we expect bigger returns without cultivating people we create transaction rather than a beginning. When we hire people who don’t get it and then we don’t help them get it, we dilute ourselves. When we see a machine and not an organism we chose the wrong science. When we fail to connect that its donors who are the heroes who make things possible not charities we lose our humility. When we drive short-term gain over long-term trust we are as guilty as any corporation ignoring the environment. This is not everyone of course. But its more than enough. It’s about leadership. All it takes for good fundraising to fail is good people who should no better do nothing.

There’s another dimension from our colleagues in charities and it goes like this. When our communications and brand teams indulge themselves in activity that actually distances ourselves from donors, when some seem to wake up and invent a way fundraisers can’t connect with donors, when we scrub, wash, clean and sanitise emotion because we don’t want to offend we disconnect ourselves. We become our own PR. When our finance colleagues drive cash at the expense of relationship, when we need to report every second on everything that’s wrong and on nothing that’s right, when we invent rules we don’t need and when we behave like a grand corporation rather than people who save lives we lose our way. When we seem to create work we don’t need that stops fundraisers asking and engaging we deflect our resource. When our colleagues doing the work prevent us from speaking with emotion, telling a story, trying to present things so donors can connect, when we indulge intellectual and principled opinion (often just personal) at the expense of what a donor might need we create distance and aloofness. When boards or CEO’s bleed Fundraising Directors dry, don’t invest, seek cash for now, and hide when it gets warm we expose ourselves. It’s not just fundraising that needs a look at the how and why.

This is not true everywhere of course. There are plenty of examples of brilliance and right and pride. But its true enough somewhere and we will all see some of this, even if some have the misfortune to see it all. The sum of this is what the public and the press are sensing and scrutinising. They are looking because they see the how and way more importantly than they see the why or what. In so doing, unused to such scrutiny and maybe even a little drunk and complacent on years of trust we struggle to gain control because we do three things not anywhere near as well as we should

Firstly, we don’t defend well. Raising your head is a rare thing. We sound like we have been caught out all the time and even when some have we give mixed messages. Its simple. Deal robustly where bad practice happens. Show we have the means to deal with it. Define the context that it’s not the norm – but it won’t be tolerated. The truth is we must defend in a context. Our context is knowing why we do what we do, why its important, the safeguards we have and our openness to being better – but we must continue to ask and we need you to be ok with it or we are all screwed. Get the context right and we can defend better. Secondly, we promote badly. It’s not just about asking. It’s about how we ask, the way we ask, the frequency and the style. If we tried a little harder to work before a crisis on explaining, promoting, connecting, seeking and reaffirming a societal permission rather than person by person we can continue with the consent and trust we need. We have a behavioural norm – lets not sleep walk to its change the wrong way. I tried to get us to promote better in the past but was told this sounded like ‘motherhood and apple pie’. It was, it is, and we don’t have enough of it. Lastly, we undermine ourselves. When people behave in a way that doesn’t get donors, that deploys technique over relationships and people and make demands we can’t sustain because we need to feed the machine then we will run out of road. And right now there isn’t another one open yet.

What can we do? We can take a look at ourselves. If we have people who don’t value or respect donors they should leave. If we drive process rather than relationships we must change. If we don’t delight, love, respect and listen to donors in everything we do before we ask we should abandon trying. If we don’t run organisations doing good with donors at their heart we must re-engineer or we will go nowhere. If we hire people who don’t get it we need to lead better and make sure they do. If we drive short-term over long-term we will kill the very thing we need more of. If we don’t bring people at all levels with us and don’t defend and promote we will lose our place and be led rather than lead.

Fundraised income is not a right. It’s a privilege. Time we all got back to some basics.


Some words matter more than others. Some have a rounder meaning, set a tone better and signal a mood more easily. In legacies the right words can be the difference between engaging or alienating.

The right words will help you and them nod with gentle enthusiasm, help them ponder on meaning or be moved by the string they form in the order they were delivered. They cut to the core, they sum up, they direct. So….here are my top 10 best words in legacy fundraising

  1. Consider – time after time a solid word in legacies. Being asked to consider is polite, respectful and appropriate. Would you consider leaving a gift? Nice
  2. Leave – leave a gift, leave a mark, leave something of yourself
  3. Gift – A legacy is a gift. Simple
  4. Future – Some time soon. Look to then and you made this possible – in the future. Hope. Now but to come
  5. Small – A small share, a small amount, small. Legacies get seen as large when in reality a small share of whatever is left after friends and family
  6. Share – a share of whatever is left after friends and family
  7. Family – its first and foremost and needs to be upfront
  8. Remember – the time to look back, with the donor and you
  9. Commit – a promise to leave a gift but no more – in time, when ready
  10. Thank you – its two words but lets break a few rules

This is not jargon. This is communication, connection, relational. Honest and real. Hope. That is a legacy.


Working with fundraisers is a constant journey of discovery. We were discussing how to respond in a simple way to a supporter who said they wanted to do more….what else could they do? It’s a simple and frequent question. But the response is never simple is it?

So what is the problem that they identified as we discussed how to address this common question?

It’s this – firstly you probably can’t remember. Secondly, when you try you are almost certainly brainstorming your own list from various memories and prompts, and frankly its likely to be long and the prompts you remember aren’t always the right ones. The third problem is structure – this long random list has no framework. The fourth problem is no one is prepared to be able to respond when asked, so you are literally making it up in front of the questioner and then when it happens again you create another list. So here’s the solution to break the cycle.

You need to remember and then use these 4 headings.

Given. Raised. Time. Left

They are the 4 pillars of giving from which you can remember and offer choice. How? So, something like this then…( allowing for some things you may naturally say or not – this is an illustration!)

‘They are 4 ways you can help us. You can give – either a one-off or a larger gift or many of our supporters give on a monthly basis. You can raise money. Perhaps an event or a challenge such as a run or a trek or some other way. You can give your time, either as a volunteer or on our board or perhaps in our shops. You can leave a legacy. Many of our supporters are leaving a gift in their will after their friends and family so our work can live on’

Given. Raised. Time. Left

Better than a mind melt every time.



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