“What differentiates great fundraising from the average, good or poor?”

“What are the factors that allow an organisation to double, treble or even quadruple its income?”

These are the questions Professors Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang set out to answer in a year-long study aptly titled: Great Fundraising.

Released yesterday, the study was briefed and commissioned by the UK consultancy Clayton Burnett and is available free of charge on the firm’s website.

If you aspire to great fundraising — the kind that requires organizational transformation — I urge you to get copies of both the Executive Summary and the Full Report, then share them with your CEO and every board member.

‘Great Fundraising’ is defined not in absolute money terms but in terms of massive growth. Professors Sargeant and Shang conducted an analysis of some of the most successful fundraising programs ever undertaken in the history of UK fundraising. The study consisted of:

  • A survey to define those organizations and programs perceived as having achieved ‘Great Fundraising’.
  • A series of detailed case studies of organizations as diverse as Save The Children, Cancer Research UK, NSSPCC, the British Heart Foundation, The Royal British Legion and the British Red Cross.

I’ll summarize the highlights of the Report in a moment.

But first, the nugget Tom and I think most important to note: The fact that Adrian and Jen focused on interviewing and understanding organizational leaders who had achieved massive growth. As in 2X, 3X or 4X their organization’s ‘normal’ income.

How did they do this? Everyone said they could not have achieved great fundraising in the organization as it once was. Creating breakthrough results required fundamental change in culture and thinking. Not great ideas, no brilliant creative, just the internal change that says mediocre and complacent is no longer acceptable.

As Adrian and Jen note in their Report:

“Our interviewees, all became change initiators and leaders at an organizational level. None of them, in creating great fundraising, felt that they could create it within the current organizational system. Rather, all of them believed they must transform the organisation in order to create their outstanding fundraising success.”

So, if you’re really into transforming your organization, look around and start drawing up your ‘hire’ and ‘fire’ list. Great fundraising requires lots of brains, energy, vision — the elimination of the treasured silo.

Here are some key takeaways from the Report:

  • Successful fundraising directors tend to be leaders who put the organization first and far ahead of their personal ambitions. Leaders who embed themselves holistically in their organization, creating great fundraising for a cause they are passionate about. They lead and inspire others through a combination of will and personal humility.
  • These leaders devote a substantial portion of their time to appointing or developing exceptional teams with a joint focus on both communication and technical skills. What Adrian and Jen term the “Organisational Learning Culture”.
  • They also develop exceptional structures and processes to optimise the impact of this talent. This includes establishing reward and recognition structures that are tied to the drivers of long term growth. This, in turn, leads to first rate staff retention.
  • The development of an organizational learning culture both within the fundraising team, but also within the organization as a whole. Such cultures legitimize occasional errors as the necessary cost of innovation.
  • What really made the difference between good fundraising and outstanding fundraising, however, was the quality of thinking the leader was able to engage in and, in particular, whether they were able to take a systems perspective on their organization. As Adrian and Jen note: “All leaders we interviewed were natural systems thinkers, although most would not have used this term. The level of abstraction that system thinking permits made it possible for our fundraising leaders to take a more holistic perspective on problem solving and further develop the culture of their organisations to place fundraising at the core.” [Emphasis added by Roger]
  • Said report co-author Jen Shang “a systems thinking approach requires a shift in thinking away from the dimensions that must be managed (such as teams, structures, culture and communication) to a holistic perspective on how the parts integrate with each other, when it is helpful to draw specific boundaries and how these boundaries then enable the separated parts of the whole to mutually influence each other. Outstanding fundraising leadership was characterised by an ability to take a systems perspective on problem solving, increasing the impact of fundraising, yes, but simultaneously assisting others in their achievement of their goals.”
  • In the authors’ eyes, Great Fundraising was usually created in the context of the emergence of an integrated culture. Formal functional departments (such as fundraising, marketing, campaigning) were usually complemented by a reward system that fostered coordination and cooperation and an integrated learning culture that encouraged joint problem solving by teams of systems thinkers. [Emphasis added by Roger]

No doubt in my mind that our independent sector is in desperate need of transformation from mediocrity to greatness. Thanks to Clayton Burnett, Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang, there’s now a helpful road map. Please read and heed.

We’re sending you all Agitator raises.


P.S.   Back in January we reported on the disturbing drop-out rate of fundraising and development personnel … the low opinion CEOs held of their fundraisers, etc. etc.

On April 11th Compasspoint, the organization behind the study will host a webinar — the second in a series — that explores the insidious (or not so insidious) role consultants play in this mess. I’m joining the panel and urge you to tune in too. You can register here.

P.P.S.  Here’s what the Sargeant/Shang Report has to say about the critical issue of staff — and consultant — retention.

“After the right team had been built, none of the organizations we examined suffered from the high turnover rates that otherwise pervade our sector. Being a part of a successful team appears to engender high levels of loyalty and our all our leaders were personally invested in their teams. The loyalty thus cut both ways. It was also interesting to note that those who defined their team more broadly, to include external agency personnel also exhibited a high degree of loyalty to that agency. Some were maintaining relationships with suppliers that had existed for over a decade.”


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