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Why fundraisers should employ alternative marketing techniques to stand out from the crowd

2 Sep
charity donor snoring

How can charities and individuals overcome fundraising fatigue?

At the end of this month I am running Berlin Marathon to raise money for charity (Whizz-Kidz).

I’d like to say I’m doing this for completely altruistic reasons, but I’ll be honest: I’m not. I didn’t wake up and decide to raise money for charity; I woke up and decided to run a marathon…why? Because I love running.

Of course, I didn’t need to raise money for a good cause, but the fact remains that doing so, while positive, is still just a by-product of my love of running and the choice of a cause that is personal to me. The question is, should I be admitting to this? Well yes, I think I should. In fact, I think more people should. And here’s why.

Charity fundraising is changing

Time was, raising money for charity by running a marathon, having a workplace cake sale, eating a 70 pound steak – whatever your poison – was noteworthy enough for people to sit up, pay attention and dig deep to donate. While running a marathon is still an impressive feat of endurance, a greater feat still is the wider world’s endurance of people’s pleas for charitable giving. The ease of setting up a fundraising page online and using Facebook and Twitter or company intranets to promote oneself has made fundraising something more akin to charity mugging (or ‘chugging’) than doing a good deed.

In short, people are suffering from fundraising fatigue.

I’ve been really lucky and had many generous donations from friends and colleagues already, but I’m also painfully aware that I’ve had to pester them a lot to get here. I know how tiresome it can be to receive ‘please donate to my worthy cause’ emails, and I’ll be honest; they’re not great fun to send either.

This got me thinking… If I find it this hard to raise just £1,000 for Whizz-Kidz, the challenge for charities themselves must be exponentially more difficult. So how can I or other fundraisers (and charities – big or small) stand out from the crowd and get people to part with their hard earned cash? It seems that making a heart-wrenching plea for donations is no longer enough. So how can we shake things up?

Employing different approaches

At its essence, charity fundraising is the same as any form of promotion or marketing. Although we can claim to donate altruistically, if we’re given the option to give money to charity A or charity B, aren’t we more likely to donate to the one who stands out, whether by offering a prize, or even just making us laugh? There are many discourses out arguing that true altruism can never really exist. I won’t get into these here, but for the sake of argument, let’s take the cynical view that there is no such thing as a truly altruistic act. This is when things potentially start to get interesting.

Many people will donate to a cause in which they already have a stake. But I imagine most, like my own donors, are the recipients of pleas from their friends and colleagues. While some not-for-profits are tentatively trying new approaches, it seems to me that many others are still trying to find a way to produce effective fundraising campaigns that work on a limited budget and with minimal resource.

In addition, most fundraisers aren’t marketers. Even those who are may believe that using mainstream marketing techniques will undermine the work that they do. For example, I recently went to a talk by a medium-sized UK charity who said they could not use humour in their marketing because it risked undermining their solemn cause. I understood, but I also had to disagree – of course, humour is a tricky tactic, but it is also an effective one when used carefully, and the same can be said of many ‘off-the-wall’ marketing techniques. In the private sector, quirky marketing campaigns have been used to great effect in relationship marketing, building brand loyalty and giving followers something they can truly engage with. So why shouldn’t this work for charities too?

Social media (a relatively cost-effective tool) provides an excellent way for not-for-profits to implement relationship marketing. Done well, it’s a great way to stand out from the crowd. However, while a lot private companies have it down, many not-for-profits haven’t yet dared (or had the resource) to pull out all the stops and try something a bit different.

The experiment

Over the next four weeks, I’m going to undertake a little experiment, employing a range of alternative fundraising tactics that don’t rely purely on people’s good nature and willingness to donate.

With no budget and limited time, I’ll attempt a variety of methods including humour, targeted marketing and blatant self-promotion to see if I can hit my £1,000 target by the time I run Berlin marathon on 29th September. I won’t lie… this will be shameless. However, by posting updates of my progress along the way, hopefully I can kill two birds with one stone – go some way towards hitting my £1,000 target, and deduce what sorts of fundraising tactics might work for other fundraisers out there; whether they are individuals or companies.

If you’ve got any quirky ideas, I’d love to hear them. Otherwise, I will do what I can… stay tuned for more.

On 29th September, Will Hillier is running Berlin Marathon for Whizz-Kidz. Click here to donate.

Or perhaps you’re short on time? In that case…

…simply text ‘WKDZ99 £1’ to 70070 to donate just £1 to Whizz-Kidz.

It’s just a pound; that’s less than a chocolate bar and a fizzy drink!