Opinion Piece by Rob Edwards, CEO, Fundraising Institute Australia
Heraclitus, the 4th Century BC Greek philosopher, once said: “there is nothing permanent except change.” That’s certainly true of the Australian fundraising landscape which has been evolving dramatically in recent years.
The challenge for our sector is to remain sustainable and treat donors respectfully whilst keeping pace with this change. How much organisations and their staff make professional development a priority will be a crucial factor in survival.
Changes in the fundraising toolkit are testing the sector’s skills, with the growing use of technology generating new fundraising channels to learn and manage. With the rise of big data and analytics, charities must learn to act on massive volumes of information to stay relevant and connected to their donors – donors who are increasingly sophisticated and expect communications to be tailored to their individual needs when they want it.
There are other factors creating a pressure-cooker environment for fundraising. There are now 54,000 registered charities in Australia – more than ever before. This makes it harder to stand out from the crowd.
At the same time, there is an increasingly critical media and public scrutiny of our sector. The tumultuous events in the UK charitable sector last year have added fuel to the fire. Greater attention is being focused on ethics and professionalism as a result.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission’s Charity Register is becoming an increasingly popular source of information about Australian charities. In just over three and a half years, it has received over 1.5 million views, which tells me people are interested in how charities are conducting themselves and are increasingly using that information to help them make informed giving decisions.
Now is the time to improve the public’s image of our sector by learning from the UK experience. Our counterparts there are currently facing a new and expensive regulatory regime. By moving quickly to ensure Australian practices and the enforcement of our self-regulatory framework are up to date, we can avoid a similar crackdown and the prospect of a costly and complex new regulatory regime.
Currently Australia remains one of the most generous countries in the world. It’s the behavior of the sector and the way they treat their supporters in future that is going to determine if they stay that way, so time to work on best practice skills.
To stand out and improve credibility, professionalism will be critical when approaching donors and prospects. Professional development is the obvious answer. However, budgetary constraints are yet another issue for charities to navigate.
The good news is that there are a number of cost-effective professional development options available, catering to both small and large non-profit organisations.
Among the myriad of educational options available, FIA offers courses that ensure fundraisers have the opportunity to learn and grow, whether they are new to the sector, a mid-level manager wanting to progress or consolidate their skills, or a leader wanting to broaden his or her influence.
As the peak body for professional fundraisers, FIA provides training for the sector through formal education, state events, a national fundraising conference and our mentoring program. Our Fundraising Essentials short course for new fundraisers gives practical knowledge and tools to effectively manage their fundraising programs. The Certificate in Fundraising provides formal training for people wanting to consolidate their hands-on learning and a new online Diploma in Fundraising is for senior practitioners who are committed to best practice fundraising.
To meet the sector’s needs for specific skill sets, FIA also holds regular short courses on topics like copywriting for fundraisers, data analytics and digital and social fundraising.
Ultimately it is those organisations and fundraisers who commit to best practice and personal development who will be better prepared for the future.
At the end of the day, despite the application of new technologies to fundraising, one thing hasn’t changed: donors and customers want to be recognised and treated respectfully.
I started with a quote and will end with another: Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, writing in the journal The Wasps, noted: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That still holds true today.