Back to the mission: what fundraisers should be thinking about for 2020 and beyond?

December 16, 2019

by Andy Theedom Director

Email +44 (0)7561 789087

The 4th industrial revolution is changing everything. It's not just disrupting the way productive activities occur but the very fabric of societies. The examples of where organisations are being disrupted are endless, and many are close to home - whether global behemoth or Parent Teacher Association.

I did some work with a big household name in the charity sector who wanted to understand whether a new organisational structure would better support the delivery of their mission in a digital age.

The things they wanted to overcome could be summarised as "donors are changing and we don’t understand how, commissioners won't buy the right services from us, volunteers won't change, staff won't change either and our technology is out of date".

This is an organisation that was founded as a radical and passionate response to a real need. But, as it had become successful and grown, it became an institution with its own history, culture, infrastructure and so on. Its day to day had become dominated by distinctly institutional considerations - such that the 'break-through' they needed was also expressed in institutional terms.

My challenge to them was that they need to get back to mission, back to radical and away from the institution itself.

Consider trainer and sportswear brands. They don't make the shoes. What they are very effective at, though, is creating the environment in which people will buy trainers and other apparel that bears their logo. They do this through marketing, and not just through advertising. They invest in the individuals and teams that speak to the groups that these organisations want to sell to. They have created a terms of reference for those groups that makes the brand such a part of everyday life that its not even a conscious choice.

Question: are you making and selling trainers to individuals or are you creating an environment in which they get bought?

Consider Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion. They aren't institutions but they are powerful movements; able to bring cities to a standstill as Extinction Rebellion showed in London earlier this year. No one person or group decides how they will operate and there is no hierarchy or institution at the centre of them - but they are very well researched in terms of what actions and interventions are likely to be effective. Digital tech enables participants to communicate and organise such that they can achieve incredible displays of protest and create the conditions for change.

Question: are you losing impact by trying to manage it? Do you need a completely different approach?

For the charity mentioned in this blog, the questions above will be at the centre of their thinking as they set their new strategic direction and goals. But these questions can be applied equally to other charities, if not the whole sector. How can you create the environment in which your mission is secured, rather than trying to 'sell every trainer'? And, what things can you do now to move beyond your institution and re-engage with your radical mission?

I recently attended a meeting of the Institute’s Directors’ Network, to discuss what fundraisers should be thinking about for 2020 and beyond. This blog is an abridged version of those remarks.

by Andy Theedom Director

Email +44 (0)7561 789087