Shifting our fundraising paradigm from the outside in

13 August 2019
Author: Leesa Harwood

When Thomas Kuhn wrote about shifting paradigms in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions he did not describe edge-tinkering. Paradigm shifting means changing our view of reality by transforming our views and assumptions.  

In the funding world, we will not shift paradigms by kicking the tyres on our audience segmentation, inadequate planning processes or meaningless cost/income ratios.  And yet some INGOs continue to sleepwalk towards a fundraising cliff edge by tinkering with short term budgeting cycles and outdated fundraising formulas whilst driving income targets higher and higher against diminishing pipelines.  

It’s time to examine our funding paradigms and transform the way we financially underwrite and even deliver our mission.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Paradigm shifting is nothing new in the world of raising money.  There have already been some radical moments:

  • The first recorded, regular giving campaign letter (circa 54AD) is  St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, asking them to set aside money on the first day of every week to support persecuted Christians in the early days of the Church.
  • In 1891 Sir Charles Macara brought the first charity street collection to Manchester.  Volunteers dragged heavy lifeboats through the streets of this landlocked city, collecting cash in buckets for impoverished lifeboat widows and orphans on the coast.
  • In 1997 the rock band Marillion pioneered the crowdfunding model when they used the internet to secure donations from fans to fund a US tour.

A saint, a Victorian industrialist and a rock band are amongst some of our most notable fundraising giants.

What went wrong?

Necessity is the mother of invention as well as the magic ingredient for paradigm shifters who all have one thing in common: a desperate need to raise money and solve an intolerable problem. 

Conversely, when good times roll, necessity is scarce.  Another transformational fundraising moment, Live Aid, heralded a golden era for INGO fundraisers when we enjoyed a wave of pop-philanthropy.

In his book, The War for Fundraising Talent, Jason Lewis describes a complacent  charity sector.  It has basked for too long in the warmth of the good times and continues to recycle the same fundraising formulas for the same audiences. 

Institutional isomorphism prevails because charities replicate each other’s funding models, structures and talent, keeping the fundraising status quo on life-support.

The next generation of giants

Today, the only certainty is uncertainty and the only constant is change.  Some paradigms have already shifted:

  • The fourth industrial revolution makes the world a global village.  
  • Technology drives disintermediation and democratises social good.  
  • Organisations that were too big to fail are now too big to fund.
  • Relevance is more important than brand. 
  • Agile organisations outperform big organisations.
  • People no longer support charities to save the world, charities must support people to save the world.
  • Charities that were set up by change agents to circumvent the establishment now rely on the establishment for funding.
  • New generations of change agents are circumventing charities to change the world.

Today the sector’s new giants find new ways to thrive in the technological ecosystem, start movements, crowdfund, invest in social transformation, enable micro loans, build collaborative social enterprises and trade in crypto currencies.  

Just like the saint, the industrialist and the rock band, these giants are not from the fundraising world.  They are outliers able to see more clearly because of their objectivity and distance.  They are outsiders, less protective of and invested in the fundraising status quo.

Aneel Bhusri, CEO and co-founder of Workday, philanthropist and member of Giving Pledge  said, “Every time you see a new paradigm emerge, it’s always new vendors that lead it.  I can’t think of one case where an incumbent led a paradigm shift.”  It’s time for INGO fundraisers to shift their paradigm.  It’s time to think like outsiders.

We’ll be discussing how we can shift the paradigm by changing organisational mindsets from engagement techniques to letting the public lead at the Bond Funding for Development Conference on 7 October.

Places for the Bond Funding for Development Conference are still available. Sign up now
 

About the author

Leesa Harwood has 30 years’ experience in the third sector. Leesa runs her own consultancy, advising and coaching third sector leaders on all aspects of running successful charities.