Why we should prioritise ‘the how’ over ‘the what’
Louise Morris, Founder and Director of Summit Fundraising, takes a look at why fundraisers need to be able to influence up, and says that if we can have fundraisers who can create powerful change internally, who knows how much more money could be raised.
Fundraisers only spend on average 18 months to 2 years in their roles before leaving a charity. There are many reasons for this, but it can be in part because they lack the skills to manage the inevitable internal challenges and frustrations. And at the current time, so many charities and fundraisers are feeling incredible pressure to raise income, it is worth considering if fundraisers have all of the skills and support they need to navigate internally in their organisations, so they can open up all the fundraising opportunities externally.
From the Fundraisers’ perspective
Many fundraisers and fundraising leaders I have worked with or mentored are stuck, frustrated or demotivated because they are unsure how to influence internally to get what they want and need. Or they are so busy they haven’t considered if or how they should try to influence.
Many mention that the CEO, or the Board of Trustees don’t ‘get’ fundraising. They feel their ideas to invest and grow a fundraising stream are ignored; or particularly with major donor fundraising that the trustees won’t open up their networks. Fundraisers normally know the things internally that are stopping them fundraising better - more efficiently, more innovatively, providing a better experience for the supporter. But there can be a feeling of powerlessness to change things.
From the Leadership’s perspective
In my consultancy work with CEOs and Trustees across charities of all sizes, and from being a Director of Fundraising and trustee I’ve seen many senior leaders, CEOs and Boards who are equally frustrated or demotivated with fundraising in their charity.
They think money ought to be coming in faster, or they don’t agree with the focus and priorities of fundraisers. Sometimes they have ideas they don’t think have been listened to or acted on by fundraisers. Sometimes they just don’t think it’s their role to be involved in a particular type of fundraising. Often they want to help and don’t know how!
Looking at how we are working
Roll back 15 years and I’m sitting in Unilever’s Surrey office, an eager member of the sales graduate scheme, waiting for my appraisal to begin with my manager.
What did we spend 90 minutes discussing? My performance against sales targets? How effective my promotions in stores had been? The world of BOGOFs v 2 for 1s? If my Dove soap forecasts were accurate? Well some of that. But we spent the majority of the time discussing how I’d been working.
How we had been going about our roles and achieving things was prioritised. It meant phrases like “Strategic Influencing” and “Passion for the Future” were incorporated into our objectives and development plans. Although that last one still makes me cringe, they were so central, I still remember them! They were central to Unilever’s recruitment. Unilever knew that ‘the what’ – calculating a sales promotion, or learning their marketing ABC – could be taught; but that they needed candidates displaying ‘the how’, such as effective influencing.
When I come across the challenges listed above, I’m regularly reminded of the importance of ‘the how’, and in particular of “Strategic Influencing” .
Of the mentees I’ve worked with through the Institute of Fundraising's Major Donor Special Interest Group mentoring scheme, all have either cited influencing internally as the main area they want to work on, or it becomes apparent through conversation that it’s central to the challenges they are facing.
One of the dictionary definitions of influencing is “to affect or change how someone or something develops, behave or thinks”. Apply that to any of the situations that fundraisers, or indeed charity leadership, regularly face and it seems a magic bullet. But there’s no magic about it. Influencing is a skill that can be learnt.
Practiced over time, with support, it can make a fundamental different to how you operate as a fundraiser:
- It stops us becoming static and frustrated with internal blocks and situations
- It forces us to put ourselves in others’ shoes and genuinely approach people as individuals
- It debunks the negative myths around “internal politics”
- It means we need to slow down and consider how we reach a goal
- And it teaches us that if we want something to change, we need to plan which people directly and indirectly we need to influence, and be patient.
We all know some highly effective and successful fundraisers who are incredibly strong at influencing. I would argue they are successful in a large part because of their influencing.
Of course there will always be situations with leadership or peers that even the most skilled influencer will find hugely challenging and hit a wall.
Still, in five years’ time I hope that influencing is as high a priority for fundraisers and their managers as their financial targets. I hope we are recruiting people with great influencing skills into fundraising from outside the third sector. Because if we have fundraisers who can create powerful change internally, who knows how much more money will be raised.
Louise Morris is Founder and Director of Summit Fundraising, helping charity leadership develop a confident, sustainable and less stressful approach to major gifts fundraising.