If you want to know about ground breaking research on how a group of fundraisers facing high rejection rate managed to turn it around with just one tweak, which led to 144% more people donating to them, then please keep reading. They were simply shown how their efforts were changing the lives for good. You will find out more details towards the end of this blog.
I often wondered as a fundraiser why we find it difficult to express the wider and deeper meaning of what we do in our roles, or what we are achieving in our roles beyond just hitting annual funding targets on our work plans. After having spoken to many fundraisers from all types and sizes of charities, I found that it is because we are so busy in our day-to-day job; hardly have time and resources available to us for experiencing the work our organisations are delivering and most of the time we are sharing work to donors from our websites. A small experiment, ask the fundraiser, if s/he has met the beneficiaries. I can guarantee the likelihood of them saying ‘NO’ will be very high. You may potentially receive answers such as, “my projects team goes to see our work, because I am too busy in raising funds”, or “we are too small of a team so therefore can’t take time off to go on the ground”, or “we are too large of a team so we can’t send every fundraiser on the ground.” Thus, if the fundraiser is the one whom is at the forefront of raising money and meeting and speaking to the donor, shouldn’t s/he be going on the ground to actually experience how their efforts are making the final impact? I believe that everyone working for a charity should visit the work on the ground to see the impact their organisation is making, particularly the fundraisers regardless of their type and size of charity.
I have just returned from a deeply moving and humbling field trip overseas, where I have seen first-hand my organisations’ support in changing lives of young people for better. This trip has been an incredible inspiration that has helped me to pause, reflect and find the deeper meaning in my job as a fundraiser. We often see our role on the most obvious level limited to ‘raising funds’. My recent trip helped me to reflect on the fact that I am part of something bigger than just numbers – I am part of a team (which is not just the fundraising team. It is the entire organisation, including volunteers, donors and our dedicated team on the ground) of people whom bring about a change in the world. My trip has helped me to dig deeper and find the wider meaning in to my work as a fundraiser. This means I am making the world a better place for young people. I am helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain access to better opportunities and thus essentially enabling them to unlock their real potential. I believe that our job is not limited to only raising money, but to building a legacy in many ways for the generations to come – changing lives or saving lives. My role provides me an opportunity to reach out to generous philanthropists whom have always dreamt of helping vulnerable young orphan children to become something in their lives.
But does finding the bigger and deeper meaning help to raise more money?
Finding the bigger and deeper meaning in our job not only helps us to stay motivated and inspired, it also helps to raise more and achieve more. This is because, when we know that our work has a greater impact in someone’s life, it somehow increases our unconscious motivation and makes us feel energised to contribute more – we have more authentic and personal stories to share with our donors. For example, when I first became a mentor, I was uncertain as to whether or not I will be able to add value into my mentees work, however, when I saw the progress of my mentee achieving great results due to my input, that instilled more confidence and enthusiasm in me and inspired me to continue helping more fundraisers struggling in their roles. To date, I have helped many fundraisers in my mentoring capacity from small and medium charities.
The research by Adam Grant in his ground breaking book ‘Give and Take’ shows that when fundraisers actually see and experience how their efforts have changed lives, not only were they able to stay motivated and inspired, they raised more donations than what they had before.
Adam Grant writes that he was once asked by the director of a university in America to help him figure out how to maintain the motivation of his fundraisers, whom were calling the university alumni and asking them to donate money, but they were facing the rejection rate exceeding 90 percent. He says that while figuring out why fundraisers were not achieving their desired results, he came to know the answer one day when he paid a visit to the call centre and noticed a sign a caller posted above his desk:
He says the problem was when fundraisers brought in the donations, most of the money went directly to students’ scholarships, but the fundraisers were left in the dark: they had no idea who was receiving the money, and how it affected their lives. He invited the fundraisers to a training session where he organised some feedback letters from the students whom have received the scholarships in the past and how that scholarship has changed their lives and asked the fundraisers to read those letters from the students. After reading the letters and learning that their work has had great impact in students’ lives, fundraisers responded most powerfully, nearly tripling in weekly calls and donations. In the second session, instead of letters, he organised some scholarship recipients to meet face-to-face with fundraisers to share their stories. When fundraisers interacted with one scholarship recipient in person, they were even more energised. The average fundraisers doubled the calls per hour and minutes on the phone per week by working harder. The fundraisers reached more alumni, resulting in 144 percent more alumni donating each week.
I understand not every fundraiser might be able to directly interact with beneficiaries due to whatever reason, here are some other ways you can get closer to your cause.
Ikhlaq Hussain is a major giving specialist, currently head of major gifts at Orphans In Need, trustee at Mind in Harrow, Board member and Fundraising Mentor at IOF (South East & London), and regular blogger on the topic of fundraising.