Ok, the boss has asked you to rally your team mates to formulate a three year fundraising strategy. What a task! Where do you start? How do you go about it? Help!
There’s no two ways about it. Strategic thinking can feel like treading water in a deep ocean. It can be a real headache. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
For those who like to swim in shallow waters, the best option is to just clone what’s been done in the past and expect the best to happen – often this means that they’re hoping large legacy donations will make up the short fall.
For those who really want to push the boundaries and fulfil their fundraising potential, they’re sensible enough to prepare for the positive and negative uncertainties that will happen in the short to long term future.
Like boy scouts, it’s always best to be prepared for the unexpected. For example, most international development charities haven’t prepared for the high attrition rates from their committed givers caused by the recession. If they had anticipated that this could be a likely scenario two years ago, they would have had a stronger retention strategy in place today.
The bottom line is things do change in the future. No charity is immune. We just can’t continue to do all of the same things yesterday tomorrow. It’s just madness. So how do we create fundraising strategies that anticipate for uncertainties?
What is scenario thinking?
Scenario thinking is a creative process through which stories (yes stories!) are developed and then used to inform fundraising strategies. It’s a way of thinking about and managing change, a way of exploring the future so that fundraisers greet it better prepared.
For example, a social welfare charity was well prepared for the introduction of free mobile fundraising by Vodaphone. Two years ago, they had created a scenario that this technology would become accessible to all charities, and in the last two years, they have been building their supporter base with mobile telephone numbers. They now have a responsive mobile communication plan which is yielding excellent returns.
The scenario thinking process begins by identifying forces of change in the world, such as new technologies i.e. mobile fundraising or the shifting role of government i.e. public spending cuts, that may have an impact on fundraising.
These forces are combined in different ways to create a set of diverse stories about how the future could unfold. Once these futures have been created, the next step is to try to imagine what it would be like for a charity’s fundraising to live in each of these futures.
1st step: Objective finding
As mentioned. scenario thinking is a creative process which requires plenty of imagination. In the coming weeks, we’ll walk you through each step of the process starting with the first today: OBJECTIVE FINDING.
The goal of Objective Finding is to clarify the issue, and to use that issue as a compass throughout the remaining four stages.
The process begins with learning more about the fundraising challenge that is facing the charity, and the underlying assumptions that members of the fundraising department hold about the nature of the challenge. How it will play out in the future. The most effective and efficient way to surface assumptions, which may be deeply held by members of a team, is by using a creative thinking technique called “Predict Next Year’s Headlines”.
Creative thinking technique “Predict Next Year’s Headlines”.
Each member of the fundraising department is invited to project their fundraising into the future, identifying how they want to develop and sustain supporter relationships.
Each member imagines that they are reporters for a newspaper asking open ended questions to each other about the external and internal environments.
These could be along the lines of:
- If you could have any question about the next three years answered, what would you want to know
- What do you believe is predetermined for the next three years? If you looked back from three years from now and told the successes of your fundraising, what would be the story? Why?
- If you looked back from three years from now and told the failure of your fundraising, what would be the story? Why
- What are the most important strategic issues/decisions for your fundraising on the immediate horizon?
- As a fundraiser for this charity what do you want your personal legacy to be? What do you fear it might be? What do you aspire to?
You get the gist.
Why not get down to B&Q and grab two rolls of lining paper. Roll it out along the office wall, and draw a vertical line in the middle which represents today. Left to the line divide the paper into three equal sections by drawing vertical lines again. These represent the last three years. Do the same for the right hand side which of course represents the next three years. Use this simple tool, to capture each member’s thoughts and insights. Get into a generative dialogue and start to build on patterns that the information reveals.
The interviewing process may confirm that the challenges and issues thought of were the most important at the outset and the most pressing. Or you may find that it is another issue, one not so obvious at the beginning that frames what really must be addressed.
This process enables the group to view a challenge from different perspectives rather from one angle and therefore creates choices (see my earlier post: what is divergent thinking?). This enables the group to debunk assumptions and direct their thinking on the right track. Often fundraising managers work on strategies on their own. In our opinion, this is suicide because one person can fall into the trap of seeing the future through ‘tunnel vision’ eyes. When this happens strategies and tactics can lead to constant revisions which often is a sign that it’s flawed!
Once the group have learned more about the nature of the challenge, issues, and underlying assumptions, they are ready to frame the focal issue or question—the issue or question that will direct their scenario thinking process.
When creating a focal question, it is important to make it as objective as possible and set it within a chosen timeframe. For example, we facilitated a cancer charity whose focus was: “Over the next three years, should the charity focus on its small percentage of wealthy supporters to generate the majority of its income or focus on large percentage of less wealthier supporters?”
Next week, we’ll go through the next step: Problem finding in which we’ll explore the focal objective thoroughly. Before we send you this, you might like to read our earlier post “why problem finding?”
If you’d like to learn more about LIFE Fundraising and how it can help develop your team to use scenario thinking to prepare long term fundraising plans then contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8643 8224.
Thank you for reading this post.