Finding purpose in you and your fundraising

Finding purpose in you and your fundraising

Guest Bloggers | 12 June 2017

When it comes down to it, why is the most important question you can ask.

Searching websites for non-profits for a client, I quickly came to realise that my research was about to become harder than I thought. To understand someone or something there is a fundamental question that needs to be answered. Why? As I searched to understand, a simple answer to a simple question began to elude me.

Despite my best efforts, I seemed able to easily get my head around the ‘what’. Programmes, initiatives, services, projects. But ‘why’ was nowhere to be seen. It’s a fundamental and simple question - who are you and why you were there? Then the ‘what’ somehow made sense because it had a context. German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why can endure any how.” How true.

For many in fundraising, stating the need is close to finding purpose. We need it to raise money. But if we are to truly engage we must find a way to step back and take a long look at purpose. This runs through everything. There are 3 areas to look at.

Firstly, finding personal purpose or calling can guide a career, role, vocation, or relationship. David Isay from StoryCorps says that your ‘calling sits in the middle of 3 things - doing something you’re good at, feeling appreciated, and believing your work is making people’s lives better’. Imagine the power we can find, if we ask and then answer this? The second area is helping the people we work with find purpose as a team and as individuals themselves. Who we work with, who leads us, who we share our day with are as important as family. Belonging with meaning. The third area is in the organisations we work in. Defining purpose means stripping back mission statements. Instead we should be focusing on a shift from the what to why, the job to calling, the head to heart, the plan to goal, the strategy to cultural.

Looking at and working with the fundraising sector in the UK and across the world, I am struck by some huge challenges. Firstly, we need better leadership at all levels. It’s not a hierarchical issue –It’s about finding an ability to lead yourself from where you are now. The truth is that the difference between funds raised and not raised is not a lack of a channel, or proper spend, or poor creative (though all these play some part!). It’s about leadership.

There are some big opportunities ahead if we can connect with purpose. Firstly, in finding ways to unlock the real talent we have across the sector so they are free from constraint and can create, innovate, learn and aspire. We need a new bold generation to go forward and lead. Secondly, we are reinventing our relationship with the donor. The techniques we have used have started to become detached from the donor’s trust and experience. A new relationship needs to have much more about the donor’s needs. Thirdly, legacy fundraising. We are at the crossroads for the biggest generational transfer of wealth ever. Yet, the reality is that despite more people leaving gifts in wills, the vast majority don’t and we need to learn how to inspire and engage them on a scale we have never before encountered. Moving to a world where legacy giving is a normal thing to do is a challenge and opportunity in every developed market. Lastly, we need to find and connect with the emotional power of fundraising, helping people deliver amazing things they feel fantastic about.

Answering why in a way that emotionally connects us is a gift we seldom give to ourselves.

Here are 5 key challenges to ask yourselves:

1. Do I have, understand and can communicate my organisational purpose – the why we are here, the problem we aim to solve and what we need to do to solve it?

2. Do I have personal purpose? Am I serving that purpose?

3. Does my team understand and buy in to why we are here, why we are together and why we need to perform and deliver?

4. Do I have a donor facing fundraising programme that has them at the front in my head and in my heart?

5. Do I have a legacy programme that can inspire and connect and that everyone can engage with?

I will be sharing some ways to connect with this inspiring challenge when I visit the IoF Scotland Conference in Glasgow on 3 & 4 October 2017. So join me at the closing plenary when I will be talking about how to build and lead a great fundraising team.

If we find purpose in you and your fundraising, we can truly change the world.

Stephen George, Fundraising and Leadership Coach, and former IoF trustee

Stephen specialises in helping charity leaders become more entrepreneurial leaders who change behaviour and raise more money. He is currently working on global legacies strategies for international NGO’s and runs a leadership and coaching programme. He has over 30 years’ experience at all levels in the UK and internationally at NSPCC, UNICEF, RNIB, Action on Hearing Loss, Maggie’s and Scope and is a speaker, writer, podcaster and contributor to NGO’s. He was chairman of Remember a Charity, a consortium promoting gifts in wills. 


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