Rethinking the Ask, Part 3: Changing the Wrong Mindset

MicrophoneWhen is too much simply too much? For donors, it is too many asks from too many fundraisers for too many causes.

Relationship fundraising has become the foundation of successful fundraising, with many development professionals worldwide hard at work finding new and interesting ways to engage people with the causes they care about. However, a report released late last year in the UK is forcing fundraisers there to rethink how they define and build relationships, and the implications of those changes are likely to spread far beyond national borders.

Regulating Fundraising for the Future: Trust in Charities, Confidence in Fundraising Regulation, also called the Etherington Report after the chair of the panel that wrote it, was published in response to public concerns about fundraising tactics employed by some UK charities that many people felt were overly aggressive. The issue received extensive press coverage — some of it highly sensationalized — and sparked an often-heated public debate over whether nonprofits had crossed an ethical line.

Concluding that fundraisers and the public alike had lost confidence in the UK nonprofit sector’s ability to regulate itself, the Etherington Report made several sweeping recommendations that, if enacted, would have the force of law, including the establishment of a national registry for people who choose not to be solicited by charities. The major fundraising bodies in the UK, the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association and the National Council for Voluntary Organizations, have endorsed the report’s recommendations. Nevertheless, some commentators have predicted that such a registry would effectively starve nonprofits of new revenue.

Ken Burnett, managing trustee for the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII) and author of Relationship Fundraising: A Donor Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money, disagrees. He argues instead that the “do not solicit” list is an inevitable outcome of a fundraising mindset that assumes that the best way to get more money is to simply ask more people more frequently.

“In taking regulation out of the hands of fundraisers in the UK, the review body, while chastising British fundraisers for being overly aggressive, has insisted that fundraisers must put donors, not financial targets, at the heart of fundraising practice,” says Burnett. “We’re going to have to review how we do asking.”

Nor is donor dissatisfaction with oversolicitation limited to the UK. The Burk Donor Survey 2014, for example, found that in 2013, 64 percent of U. S. respondents and 71 percent of Canadian respondents reported that they had reduced or even canceled their financial support of nonprofits that had oversolicited them.

The proper course of action in response to this donor backlash should be clear, Burnett believes. As he wrote in a recent blog post, “The upshot of the past horrible half year is that in future fundraisers are going to have to be a whole lot less persistent in asking. Which seems to suggest, logically, that we’re going to have to get a whole lot better at inspiring.”

This post was adapted from “Inspiring Better: How Relationship Fundraising Can Win Back Skeptical Donors and Change the Way Fundraisers Think about Approaching Them” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Spring 2016 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Author: Paul Lagasse

Paul Lagasse provides expert-to-expert communications services to nonprofit, business, and government clients in the metro Baltimore-DC area. Specialties include science and medical writing, technical report editing, and content marketing.