What does impact mean for fundraisers?

By Louise Richards 15 June 2010

This guest blog comes from Louise Richards, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the Institute of Fundraising.  In this post she gives her views on the relationship between fundraising and impact, and calls for charities not to be defensive about their investment in fundraising.

In today’s crowded market and faced with the effects of the economic downturn, charities are under increased pressure to raise income whilst at the same time needing to deliver more frontline services to those most in need. A key factor in all of this is the ability of those charities to inspire trust and confidence on the part of donors. To do this, they need not only to show accountability and transparency in terms of where money is being spent, but also increasingly to show what impact they have made. Look on any charity’s website today, and you are likely to find that the traditional ‘annual report’ has been replaced by an ‘impact report’. But what exactly does impact mean, and more specifically what does it mean for fundraisers?

First and foremost, impact is about showing that your charity has made a difference. It’s no longer enough just to talk about what activities have taken place – it’s also important to show that those activities have made a substantial change to someone’s life. In the case of international development charities for example, it isn’t enough to report how many wells have been dug– what’s important is how many communities now have access to clean water which they didn’t have before. For campaigning charities, it’s not about how many meetings with Government there have been, nor about how many signatures there are on a petition – what’s important is whether the charity, through its actions, has been able to bring about changes to law which benefit society and those affected by the law in question. And it’s important not to forget beneficiaries – what do users think about the services a charity is providing, do they feel they are being listened to and their views taken into account in future plans?

All of this means that fundraisers cannot work in isolation. Fundraising must be seen as an integral part of any organisation, from the Chief Executive downwards. Fundraisers need to work closely with programmes and campaigning staff so that they are fully aware of the impact their charity is having. It’s fundraisers who connect donors with beneficiaries – so it’s important that they not only build a relationship with an organisation’s funders and potential funders, but they also get to know the beneficiaries and what needs to be done to make a real difference to their lives. Many organisations now ensure that fundraisers themselves, not just programme staff, visit projects on the ground, so that they themselves meet the beneficiaries of those projects and are able to present donors with real examples and case studies of the difference their organisation is making. Fundraisers also need to work closely with marketing and public relations departments, so that the messages being conveyed about impact remain consistent and clear.

Fundraising is a valued profession. So it’s important to recognise this and not to feel the need to be defensive about investment in fundraising. Attitudes and behaviours need to change so that instead of focussing on how much a charity spends on fundraising, donors ask how effective that charity has been in making a difference through projects, campaigning or the services it provides.

The income generated through fundraising can save and change lives, cure illnesses, protect the planet and make Government change the way they operate. At the end of the day, it’s fundraisers who give ordinary members of the public the chance to make a real difference and achieve the impact they desire.