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Health-check: How to fast track your fundraising strategic planning

Health-check: How to fast track your fundraising strategic planning

— Written by Dan Geaves, Strategy Director at Marlin Communications.

Many organisations face the end of the financial year with the added stress of planning next year’s activities alongside ensuring this year’s finishes with success.

Marlin has been helping many organisations take a refreshing look at their approach by running a “health-check.” Here Dan Geaves, our Strategy Director describes the ethos behind this approach and the obstacles that it overcomes.

Back in the late 1990s it was suggested to me that “strategy is a simple game made complicated by idiots.” It was a sticky riff of the revered Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankley’s comment that “football is a simple game made complicated by idiots.”

It stuck with me because it seemed so bold for professionals to admit that identifying “where are we?”, “where do we want to get to?” and “how will we get there?” was not something to be especially daunted by.

My appreciation for the statement is two fold. First there’s the question of “who are these idiots?”

I’ve always been grateful to work in cultures that encourage a low-hubris style. One of my favourite pieces of advice was that if I went to a lawyer I would expect them to be able to link my legal case to others they had practised or at least studied the precedents of. So it is right for clients to expect their agency partners to have a good understanding of what has been tried before, and how it worked… especially if they are proposing something new.

Secondly there is the question of “how are things made complicated?”

I’ve often marvelled at how lucky I was to discover the two fields of psychology and direct marketing. Each has helped me see the power of storytelling.

At times I‘ve seen brilliant people in each profession become so desperate to prove their legitimacy that they turn to data analysis as a tool for showing evidence of what is or even is not occurring. And as wonderful and amazingly accurate data is… data can make things very complicated because it has to be interpreted. Analysing data should be about telling a story. But sadly that is often the step left unexplored, leading to complications.

If data is analysed without an accompanying log of the circumstances and activities that created the phenomena being measured and identified, the question of ‘how did we get here?’ and ‘where do we go next?’ becomes a little less specific and more prone to the kind of sensible generalisations that probably could have been offered quickly and efficiently by someone with the courage to keep things simple.

Consider the following examples:

  • If you haven’t run a supporter survey for three years… Do you really need a lengthy planning workshop to identify that you’re missing out on leads for your Gifts in Wills program?
  • If industry benchmarking reveals that the mid value segment is the fastest growing in Australia, and yet you’re doing nothing in particular to identify and inspire this group of your donors… Do you really need an expensive data analyst to tell you it is time to crack on with that, or would your precious time be better spent identifying if you can actually provide the special opportunities to give that this group loves?

The reason fundraising strategy is complicated, despite an abundance of amazing data-analysis being available, is because humans often get caught in the desire to make the perfect decision. For fundraisers this is exacerbated by: the enormous responsibility we feel to make use of budgets and resources wisely; the temptation stakeholders experience to help brainstorm new ideas and innovations; and the expectations set to educate our organisation to what fundraising success is.

Like most forms of procrastination, planning paralysis can be simplified by breaking it down into steps. Here are the three phases of strategic planning you will need to be successful:

  1. Making a diagnosis of where your fundraising is at, and why. This may require you to define the obstacles and barriers you face.
  2. Assembling a list of opportunities available and identifying the degree of difficulty associated with each, alongside the potential gain.
  3. Using data evidence and other credible sources of the critical success factors required to make a go of things, to decide the order of prioritisation with the available resources.

Marlin has refined a methodology for the three steps which we refer to as a Fundraising health-check. Our steps feature:

    This has been developed to ensure that what a charity has available, is shared. From cultural alignment to fundraising, to transactional data trends, this helps reveal what may be the most important explanations for the current performance of an organisation.
    At the workshop our client partners can bring anyone they wish to influence, and anyone who they believe will have answers. An assigned Strategist leads the discussion as an opportunity to make “matches” between what a charity has the potential to do, and what she/he/they recognises are the factors that influence good fundraising performance.
  3. REPORT (ten pages)
    The report helps a charity see the “matches” that have been made, and those that Marlin recommends are pursued. These are provided in a strategic context using tools, data, and research insights to provide clarity and credibility.

If this still seems complicated, or you are struggling to prioritise with the limited budgets you have available, or are looking for a new way to influence decision makers as to why they should invest in fundraising, then Marlin’s approach and the approach and the report will help.