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Transformational Giving: A Different Approach to the Fundraising Case For Support

Resource Center - Foundation

by Mena Gainpaulsingh

Mena GainpaulsinghSo you have your programs and know what they cost. You also know what your impact is in your community in terms of your delivery: sending kids to summer camp, feeding the homeless or treating the sick. Donors are clear on what you do, and you are positively affecting the lives of the people that benefit from your work. You can also tell great stories about how your work (and therefore your donor’s money) makes a difference in people’s lives. 

While this approach to fundraising has had—and continues to have—great success, donors are increasingly looking to do something more transformational or on a larger scale. Donors want their contribution to drive a more permanent change.  As a result, organizations have to find other ways to talk about their work and their impact. They are creating messages that are more visionary rather than mission-driven. For example, an ask may be targeted towards changing a situation in society that has been around for far too long, rather than focusing on a shorter-term symptom fix. 

Campaign case studies

There have been some ground-breaking campaigns that have demonstrated the success of this approach very well.  The Full Stop Campaign in the UK began in 1999 and ran for 10 years, focusing messaging on ending child cruelty for good.  It was a huge success from a fundraising perspective, raising millions to fund a range of initiatives, from providing downloadable child protection resources to funding Childline, a telephone support service aimed at children.  Make Poverty History was also very much vision-focused. Although it initially was not marketed as a fundraising campaign, it mobilized millions of people around the world to take a stand against a prevalent global problem. 

Common elements in both campaigns included their effectiveness in inspiring people to imagine a different world where the problem had been eradicated and—crucially—how donors could play an important part in making that happen.  These campaigns also sought to unite people and organizations in a common vision that they could feel passionate about and proud of their involvement.  Who, for example, could possibly argue with ending violence against children or making poverty a thing of the past? 

These campaigns were large, long-term and aspirational, driven by powerful marketing and fundraising machines that were able to engage huge numbers of people, in some cases on a global scale. While their goals and resources may have been substantial, there is still a lot that we can learn from their approach and methodology. Here are just a few tips on how you can bring this learning to your smaller organization.   

Focus on the end game

It can be tempting to think that donors want to hear about all the processes that you undergo to drive towards a particular solution.  While in some cases the way that you go about your work may be important in defining what makes you unique, donors are typically more interested in the change in society that you can bring about.

By making your campaigns goal-oriented, rather than output-oriented, you can begin to connect with donors in a different way. You can inspire them to be part of a solution that, once upon a time, they might not have seen as possible.  In these campaigns the focus from the very beginning is on the end game, rather than the activities it takes to get there.  That’s not to say that donors are not given the opportunity to learn how an organization makes that difference, but it is not the driver behind the messaging.

Inspire people’s imagination    

So what about the question of whether the goal is realistic?  Are we really going to end poverty or child abuse by making a donation? Ultimately, probably not, but the success of such campaigns demonstrates the need that many donors have to feel that their support is moving the needle.  By the very nature of the organizations’ ambition, people are invited to sit up, take notice and ask the question: “With all of us coming together in this way, I wonder how far we can get?” 

A clear campaign plan

While visionary goals can be inspiring and catch people’s attention, messaging alone will not drive success. A key factor to making these campaigns work is having a campaign plan that focuses all activities and attention upon the campaign goal over a certain period of time.  A strong, multi-faceted and strategic approach across all funding streams will ensure that the momentum of the campaign is maintained and that your donors feel (and believe!) that you are all working together to achieve something amazing. 

Mena Gainpaulsingh is a fundraising professional with more than 17 years of experience in the sector.  As director of the International Fundraising Consultancy, she has worked with many organizations, including WaterAid Canada, Starlight Children’s Foundation and Virgin Unite. She currently sits on the boards of the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Ottawa Chapter. For AFP she chairs Fundraising Day, an annual conference dedicated to the professional development of fundraisers in the region. 

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