Is Fundraising Dead?

Maybe, maybe not. At the very least, in this climate of limited resources and jittery giving, traditional fundraising techniques are not serving well. We in the social issue community are rethinking how we ask, how we give and how we generate both funds and impact. The exercise of reevaluation is revolutionizing the field-- and traditional fundraising techniques are starting to look outdated.

Larry Keeley of Doblin spoke a few weeks ago at the Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) at the Ontario College of Art and Design, about the role designers play in innovation. He called on us (designers and non-designers alike) to engage in platform thinking to conceive and prototype new futures. Within the context of design and innovation, Larry defines platforms as integrated offerings that create a unique and holistic user experience only loosely controlled by the platform owner. And even in the midst of a recession, Larry argues, there's never been a better, more dynamic time to engage in innovation and platform thinking, given both the widespread availability of tools and the current societal will to collaborate.

I've been thinking about platforms ever since that conversation. In the context of sustainable social change generally, the most effective platforms are integrated offerings that scale globally and across sectors, creating movement toward a just and equitable future shaped according to local values. Those platforms need supportive platforms that allow for dynamic and sustained resource generation and community engagement (through communication, storytelling and demonstration of impact). The following platforms look like they will emerge as the strongest ways to move the needle forward:

1) Donor engagement: Creating donor-centered infrastructure, in which donors' expectations and goals are directly integrated into the core of an initiative's mission and programs. This applies most often to high-level donors, requires active stewardship and communication-- and is akin to a partnership model.
2) Peer-to-peer fundraising: Funds are raised through grassroots networking, individual to individual. Twestival (Twitter-based fundraising for charity:water) is the most recent example of this. (Beth Kanter presents a thorough look at this effort on her blog.)
3) Open source activism: This is a phrase used by musician, activist and filmmaker Justin Dillon (Call and Response) to describe his efforts to increase participatory action and idea generation for social change.
4) Open source philanthropy: Increased availability and sharing of information in and among key stakeholders. GFEM has created a media database to connect media projects with funders on an open platform. Larry Keeley has also worked with the Rockefeller Foundation to innovate philanthropic giving and due diligence.
5) Impact investing: Creating global investment portfolios that maximize both financial return and non-financial benefits of scalable solutions to social and environmental problems. (A more grassroots example of this is, which creates micro-endowments that generate interest on capital.)

(Thanks to Michael Dila and Robin Uchida of Torch Partnership, a brilliant strategy and innovation firm and a sponsor of sLab, for inviting me to attend the sLab series. The exposure to Torch's work on cross-sector collaboration has enriched my own strategy practice. Thanks also to Jill Finlayson of the Skoll Foundation and, who has inspired our cross-site dialogue about issue fatigue, fundraising, media engagement and donor engagement platforms.)


grimwomyn said...

Actually there are a lot of people who have the money for charity and are continuing to give. It just takes proper prospect research to determine who you should be approaching for gifts.

I recommend looking at to find out more. I found out this week that we took at $1500 donor to $100k in part because of the research I provided. Not all donors are going to tell you the vast resources they have (or the generations of wealth behind them) but once you know what they are likely capable of, then make your ask accordingly, the gift will come.

In my work (prospect research) I have learned about many families that made their fortunes DURING the 1930s depression and the 1970s recession.

It just takes targeting the asks to the right individuals and foundations.


Lina Srivastava said...

Thanks so much for the comment. While I'm happy to hear there are many donors with access to resources and the ability and willingness to give (and congratulations on such an amazing accomplishment with you work), I do predict general trends moving away from traditional ask/donate models, even at major gift levels- and particularly in the realm of social innovation and progressive engagement. But prospect research and the "deep digging" you've described seams perfectly with donor engagement and is an invaluable part of that platform.

Penny said...

For almost 30 years i was a Fundraiser but in January I was Madoffed.I think it's a whole new ballgame, and until the economic bottom is hit we will not know who or what will survive from banks to charities. All of us will have to develop new mindsets and ways of work. It will be interesting to watch the metamorphosis.

As an aside, the middle class always gave in a disproportionate numbers to their wealthier counterparts.

Lina Srivastava said...

Thank you for your comment. I'm so sorry you've been Madoffed- the level of destruction wreaked by that man and his ilk is dismaying. But I agree with you that it will be interesting to watch how the third sector transforms through this crisis and how we finance social change in the future.