Return on investment in fundraising – riding the highs and the lows

How being an ‘objective fundraiser’ can reduce stress, improve wellbeing and make you great at your job

Guest post by Cat Perrin

Last month I shared on social media ‘What Good Looks Like – UK Fundraising Benchmarking 2019’ produced by Caroline and Tony of LarkOwl. I had the absolute joy of working with Caroline when I was Head of Fundraising and Communications at Broadway (which later merged with St Mungos). I commend her and Tony for taking on the challenge of providing updated figures on the Return on Investment in fundraising.  These are woefully lacking in the fundraising sector since 2013’s published Fundratios. However as part of the discussion, I think we need to be mindful of the pressure fundraisers can put themselves under when it comes to ROI.

As a fundraiser there is no better feeling than when your hit rate is skyrocketing. Conversely it can be really hard, when you are applying yourself as best you can, and yet the results are not tracking your efforts.

When this happens, it is really important to be able to take a step back and see the bigger picture. There are so many influencing factors. The challenge is to be able to articulate these, shine a light on where an organisation can make changes and, if your role allows, support them with these changes. For me that is one of the magical things about being a fundraiser, you are in a unique role to help shape an organisation for the better.

What to do when your return on investment is through the roof! 

I have had the privilege of experiencing this a few times in my career. In one organisation (on joining turnover under £400k) in a 12-month period we raised in excess of £1 million from Trusts and Foundations in revenue funding, tracking a 90% success rate and returning a crude ROI of £28 for every £1 spent on fundraising. In comparison with LarkOwl’s 2019 figures for Trusts and Foundations we were knocking it out of the park. When this happens ride the wave, enjoy and celebrate your success but also try and understand what has put the organisation and therefore your fundraising efforts in such a fortunate position.

Fundraising success is a team effort; it requires an organisation to be operating mindfully in turn providing the fuel for a skilled and competent fundraiser to bring in the money.

The example provided above was a case study in relationship fundraising. The Chief Executive had cultivated excellent relationships with key funders over a number of years. We listened very carefully and addressed their ambitions and concerns. There was a really good fit, an equality to the relationship, the coveted true partnership.

What to do when it feels like it is going wrong

Conversely when you are experiencing a string of rejections it can be hard to not take things personally. The pressure can be real and the outcome of our work matters. As a senior fundraiser I have been painfully aware that a failed bid can result in staff losing their jobs or a much-needed service is cut. In these situations, it is important to take a step back, analyse what is going on and see the bigger picture.

Take responsibility for the things you can change

Ask for feedback from your peers and line manager. Are they happy with your work? Are your systems and processes up to scratch, is the quality of your bid writing on point? Understand your role and the skills and competencies needed to be effective. Are there any gaps or blocks to achieving your potential? Look for ways to address these gaps (training, coaching, on-line resources and books). In a great organisation, such as Broadway under the leadership of Howard Sinclair and HR Guru Helen Giles, these things will be taken care for you as part of an effective performance management programme. If you are not lucky enough to be in such an organisation, be pro-active, take responsibility and develop where you can.

Understand the things that are outside of your control

As fundraisers we are in a privileged position to talk to funders on behalf of the organisations we represent. We get a unique insight into how an organisation is perceived and why a funder may choose to support or not support the work. Ask the right questions and listen carefully. You will start to build up a picture of the challenges that your organisation is facing (the intervention is too short, the impact measurement too weak, there is change / uncertainty in the senior leadership team). These things are ultimately out of your control but you can articulate this feedback, shine a light on where an organisation can make changes and, if your role allows, support them with these changes.

In my experience going through this process, for example by producing ‘A key-findings report on rejection’ (for want of a better title) has two key benefits:

It demonstrates that I am doing my job

It helps me to take a step back, see the bigger picture, and remove some (but not all) of the personal burden that comes with rejection

Often the challenge will be beyond your scope. For example, re-examining an organisation’s vision, mission and values to ensure they are fit for funding in the 21st century is ultimately a task for the Chief Executive and Trustees. Conversely, in one of my first ever fundraising jobs I wrote the charity’s Equality and Diversity Policy and Action Plan – a key piece of the jigsaw that was preventing us from applying to the then National Lottery Charities Board. We went on to secure three multi-year regional grants and a further UK wide multi-year grant benefitting young people from all corners of the United Kingdom. When these types of successes come along make sure you keep a record (you will be amazed how much you will forget 20 years down the line) and use it to boost your morale when you are feeling low.

On ‘rejection’ days remembering the feeling of securing a big or important grant puts a smile on my face and reminds me that I am good at my job.

Takeaways

LarkOwl’s report ‘What Good Looks Like – UK Fundraising Benchmarking 2019’ is a great discussion starter. It illustrates how different areas of fundraising activity yield different results. It highlights that ROI will depend on how well set-up a charity is for fundraising and the impact of the fundraising lifecycle.

Listen carefully to your funders and supporters you can learn as much (if not more) from a ‘no’ as you can from a ‘yes’.

Keep a record of your fundraising successes and positive feedback. When you are having a bad day, dive into your record and remind yourself ‘you’ve got this’!

 

Cat Perrin owns Breathe Fundraising and has over twenty years’ experience in the sector with specialisms including trusts and foundations, grants and Lottery fundraising and strategic planning.  She lives in Hampshire with her family. 

 

 

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