F&P asked four leading fundraisers, “What are the 3 main challenges that confront fundraisers today”? This is what they had to say.

F&P asked four leading fundraisers, “What are the 3 main challenges that confront fundraisers today”? This is what they had to say.

Graeme Bradshaw is a partner at DVA Navion and has been part of the not-for-profit landscape in Australia for 25 years, mostly as a consultant. He was the deputy general manager for the Royal Blind Society, and is currently a board member of the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children. He is a past president and fellow of FIA, and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (USA).

Committed, regular donors are the lifeblood of the organisations we support and acquiring new donors for any organisation has never been easy. Twenty years ago however, direct mail using well researched lists and creative packages could produce break even results or better.

Not so today, and replacing lapsed or finding new donors for your cause is a difficult and often costly exercise even with new (old?) techniques like face-to-face asking and ePhilanthropy. For those lacking an easily identifiable or captive constituency the investment or cost can be insurmountable. A ready solution is not evident.

Attracting business support for major projects or programs is still seen by some agencies as easier than soliciting major gifts from wealthy individuals. This is quite contrary to my experience with business philanthropy or “sponsorship” rarely providing more than 10% of the “donated” funds for any not-for-profit.

Michael Chaney, CEO of Wesfarmers, board member of BHP Billiton, and three-times winner of BRW’s “Most Admired CEO” award, believes there is growing evidence that social responsibility improves a company’s competitive advantage. He states unequivocally that we cannot expect government to provide all the funding for the programs we need to be a civil society.

“If it’s adding to shareholder value and it’s enriching the community, there can be no convincing argument against business philanthropy” he states. This message does not seem to have reached the chief executives or boards of the majority of Australian companies, and the job ahead is to see that it does. The PM’s stated objective of doubling philanthropy still appears a long way off!

Our wonderful success at the Athens Olympics was only achieved with significant government and corporate support, in particular for our elite athletes. In the lead up to Beijing in 2008 this is predicted to continue.

By contrast the arts in this country hardly figure in any analysis of individual or corporate giving. Surprisingly, Australia continues to produce some outstanding actors and artists whose performances receive critical acclaim on the world stage. The challenge here is to influence government, individual benefactors and the corporate sector to increase their support and to show that the arts are not the poor cousin of sport.

Kitty Hilton opened her fundraising consultancy 15 years ago in New Zealand. She jumped “the ditch” three years ago and now calls Australia home. Errol Pike and Dwyllis Brown, senior fundraisers in New Zealand, also provided input for this story.


Fundraising is struggling to grow in professionalism and acceptability. There is little or no long-term commitment to the profession. Too often it’s seen as a stepping stone, not as a career in itself. Expectation is enormous – as fundraisers we’re expected to have a range of skills, to work long and arduous hours and to sacrifice much for “the cause”. Our challenge is to ensure appropriate professional training, compensation and recognition.

Of the Sector

State versus federal government regulation of the sector in Australia and the advent of the Charities Commission in New Zealand is a key issue. Our challenge is to ensure that bona fide charities keep accountability and transparency. It’s up to us.

Of Costs

Why do we continually try to kid ourselves and the public into believing that there is little or no cost to raising those dollars? We tried it, it doesn’t work any more (if it ever did) and we know that we have to spend money to make money. As charitable organisations we must be allowed to spend enough to succeed.


Are we truly philanthropic, giving to the greatest need, or do we give to those causes that capture our imagination? Have the best marketing profile? Are currently the most fashionable? I’ve been working on a project to support homeless people in Sydney – one of the richest cities in the world! There are 30,000 homeless people in New South Wales. You see them on every corner of the CBD. Half of them are under 25 years of age! The fundraising challenge is daunting. Where’s the return on this gift to donors? No one will see a plaque on a doorway here. This seeks the truly philanthropic gift.


We are all committed to the principle that the most successful asking comes from those who have given. Are we as fundraisers demonstrating that leadership? The challenge is to really believe that when we give it makes a difference. When we are convinced, we convince others. We’ll ask more often and better, and we’ll thank more often and better.

On a final note, hats off to us! We’re passionate about fundraising, and without this profession the world would be a poorer place.

To quote Canadian fundraiser Ken Wyman:

“Charity is no longer a holy calling, it’s a profession.
Fundraising is no longer a hobby, it’s an industry.
Doing good is no longer an option, it’s a necessity.”

Andrew Barnes heads up World Vision’s public fundraising in Australia, a position he has held for almost six years. This year, World Vision will raise over $160 million in public donations, an increase of $26 million on the previous year. Prior to this he spent seven years with World Vision in the UK, where he held the position of marketing director.

In essence, the main challenges remain the same – the solutions just change in response to shifts in consumer behaviour and attitudes.

With regard to harvesting latent demand, the big three are the challenges of reaching the most responsive audiences, with a compelling and inviting message, for a giving proposition that delivers the greatest long-term return on our fundraising investment.

Let’s deal with these in reverse order.

For World Vision, the driver of predictable and sustainable funding is our range of monthly giving programs, primarily child sponsorship. Events, appeals and bequests just don’t cut it when it comes to long-term income security.

We then have to make what is a timeless proposition (give to help the poor) new, fresh and inviting. Gone are the World Vision TV ads that employed emotional strangleholds, with the message ‘sponsor this child or he/she will die’. Flourishing are the ads that invite everyday Aussies into something positive, like giving a child a brighter future – and you’ll feel good too.

Some say that members of the public are charity-weary, or suffering from ‘compassion fatigue’. That’s not so – people are not tired of you asking for their help, they just get tired of the way you ask for it.

The third challenge is to develop an effective channel strategy – and keep refining it. And it’s not just about reaching a target audience, you also have to provide them with appropriate environments that allow them to explore your proposition and overcome barriers to involvement.

TV, the internet, email, face-to-face and a wealth of other channels all work in different ways and fulfil different functions within the decision-making process. The challenge is to work out what to do with each of them.

In short, we need to reach people where they are, with a compelling yet inviting message, to engage them in long-term support. Simple? Yes. Easy? No.

But when it comes to cultivating fresh interest from people who have so far been indifferent or active rejecters of our proposition to help the world’s poorest people, the challenges are very different.

An example of an initiative to stimulate fresh support is our new campaign with purely attitudinal change indicators as the measures of success. This public influence campaign aims to attract one million unique visits to our new One Big Village website (www.onebigvillage.com.au) and is gathering enormous momentum.

In the first week of the campaign we recorded an average of 20,000 visits every day. These visitors came to explore the idea that everyone and everything in our world is connected, and how our lifestyles and decisions affect the lives of people we’ll never meet.

Dennis O’Reilly is the manager community relations and fundraising for the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, a position he has held for nine years. Dennis commenced his fundraising career in 1970 and has been involved in management and marketing for non-profit organisations as an employee and as a consultant. He is a Fellow of the Fundraising Institute Australia.

It is important to remember when we start reflecting on challenges confronting us as fundraisers, that the single biggest challenge we face is ourselves. We must continue to believe passionately in our cause, retain an unquenchable desire to advance its mission and be determined to persevere with our efforts until we achieve success. We must also believe that out there in the community, are many others who share our dream.

Although fundraising may require high level business skills, considerable organisational talent, and outstanding promotional flair, at its heart is one person engaging in an act of generosity to advance the well being of another. We ignore that at our peril

But there are external challenges as well. High on the list is the serious challenge of identifying and enlisting new supporters. Competition for the attention of potential donors is extremely fierce. Traditional acquisition strategies have become increasingly expensive. Newer approaches such as telemarketing and direct dialogue offer some hope, but are invasive and less likely to lead to long-term relationships. They are also coming under increasing scrutiny by regulators.

Another challenge is to build a marketing perspective into all of our operations. Some not-for-profits, particularly those with global affiliations, have managed to do this with great effect. They have established business systems in which marketing, service delivery and financial systems are fully integrated. These global charities have developed their systems in bigger market places and are looking to implement them in other countries around the world. Australian fundraising organisations need to recognise that the future will pass us by if we do not take heed of these developments.