The scope of my blog seems to change every time I write a new post and the truth is the following has little to say about data, but it does concern fundraising and it was actually a series of data-led discoveries that motivated me to read up on the following subject. It’s a tenuous link admittedly, but then the only one holding me to account is myself and I’m prepared to give myself a pass on this one.
In 1992 Ken Burnett first published his now-seminal book Relationship Fundraising: A Donor-based Approach to the Business of Raising Money. It’s actually the 25th anniversary of the book’s publication this month, and Ken has written a piece here reflecting on the ways in which the ideas he set out in the book have influenced the industry – as well as the ways in which they haven’t. It’s a book that has profoundly changed my perspective in a number of ways that I won’t delve into right now, though what I will say is that the idea of relationship fundraising has occupied my thoughts a great deal in recent months and I wanted to explore those thoughts a little further here.
A lot of my current thinking on the matter has focused on the meaning of the term “relationship fundraising”, partly because I’m in the midst of creating the first Wikipedia entry on relationship fundraising. Ken himself has stated a preference for his book’s subtitle, but there’s no doubt that what precedes that subtitle has stuck in the minds of many fundraisers. Ken defined it succinctly in his book:
Relationship fundraising is an approach to the marketing of a cause which centres not around raising money but on developing to its full potential the unique and special relationship that exists between a charity and its supporter. Whatever strategies and techniques are employed to boost funds, the overriding consideration in relationship fundraising is to care for and develop that special bond and not to do anything that might damage or jeopardise it. In relationship fundraising every activity of the organisation is therefore geared towards making donors feel important, valued and considered. In this way relationship fundraising will ensure more funds per donor in the long term.
In spite of Ken’s clear explanation, in their recent academic study of relationship fundraising, Adrian Sargeant et al. nevertheless posit that there are “different approaches to relationship fundraising on either side of the Atlantic”, and that in fact no real consensus exists on its meaning. With that in mind, I’ve tried here to arrive at my own understanding of the term based on reading Ken’s book and others (you can check out my sources at the end of this piece).