Updated: Apr 3, 2020
We need to fight against financial measures as the benchmark of performance.
A recent Audience Thinks blog very seductively suggested that item one on the agenda of a trustee meeting needs to be that the fundraising team should spend more to raise less.
Too many charity strategies and plans still include something that sounds a bit like ‘double net income in five years’. (shamefully wrapped up in some emperor’s new clothes of ‘doing things differently’ when in reality it’s just doing the same things all over again).
From within each charity, this scale of aspiration and ambition can be inspiring and energising. In fact, the different departmental and team plans and tactics do seem to stack up with some good evidence. And sure, with a good tail-wind and some luck along the way it might even be exceeded.
When you consider that ‘every’ charity has similar plans and when you add them all together, there is something rather unrealistic about it all.
And then when you look at overall trends in giving over recent years, anyone doubling anything seems like nonsense.
In fact when you look only a tiny bit deeper at the underlying models that are still supporting this stagnant giving culture, you can see quite clearly that the cost base is continuing to go up, when income really isn’t moving much at all.
And in this reality, any hint from trustees that fundraisers should raise more by spending less is utterly absurd.
So the Audience Thinks blog certainly struck a chord with me.
And as with all good things, it got me thinking.
It reminded me of a statistic I heard in a presentation that declared the average UK household spends more on cheese than it does on charity donations.
Now I’m all for a good bit of strong Cheddar or oozy Brie (should they be capitalised?), but also shouldn’t the aspiration to ‘double net income in five years’ (or whatever) be utterly achievable?
What could possibly be wrong or flawed in aspiring to build a stronger, more cohesive society, with more people putting more back in to their local communities and those less fortunate than themselves?
And there it is. Where is the purpose in short, medium, or even long-term financial targets?
Yes it’s important to measure the finances. Indeed trustees have a legal obligation. They have to. Of course some do it better than others and (I have another piece in progress called something like “How many of your trustees still fall asleep in meetings?”. I’ve seen it more than one occasion.)
And of course how we grow support shouldn’t start or finish with the financial targets. We should be looking understand, measure and report on how well we have contributed to building a stronger, more cohesive society, with more people putting more back and to those less fortunate than themselves.
In this context of course return on investment means something different all together. But wouldn’t that be good?
Supporters, donors, people do not give to charities, they give to charity. So when they do give, we must understand why they give and understand what works to build their loyalty. We must help them continue to be the people who give back.
Joe Biden said “Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.”
And at the moment, cheese is valued more than charity.