17 June 2010
Kidney Research UK
Peter Storey demonstrates how a fundraising charity can put fundraising centre stage.
Five or six years ago, Kidney Research UK, or the National Kidney Research Fund as it was known then, was a very different animal. We had a corporate image better suited to a dull building society, a dependency on trading activities and a culture of ‘raise a pound, move on and raise the next pound’. We had an active fundraising department, but the idea of supporter acquisition, retention and development of lifetime value was some way off. Fundraising – that’s collecting cans and 'guess the name of the toy', isn’t it?
The business plan was disarmingly simple; we wanted to double our income and treble our impact on kidney disease. To do that we would need to implement large scale organisational change, to keep adapting to the environment and adopt strategies that give us flexibility and scalability.
What we did
Large scale change was needed and we set about making it happen in 2005. Over the next few years, we were to undergo radical change at an organisational level, becoming a fundraising charity with no fundraising division and no director of fundraising. The charity regards itself as a fundraising organisation whose raison d’etre is to plough as much money as it can into lifesaving research, education and patient welfare.
How we went about it
We implemented the changes in a series of phases. Tthere was a certain amount of trial and error along the way as closely monitored what worked and what didn’t.
We began with the senior management team scrutinising the accounts to understand product profitability. Bottom line became king. We abandoned number of field-based trading activities, moving towards a supporter-relationship strategy. We absorbed the communications department into the two main fundraising departments.
The supporter database, hitherto a mysterious secret accessed only by the inner sanctum of fundraising, was catapulted centre-stage. Practically overnight, all fundraisers, including all our field-based community managers, got access and were schooled in the arts of acquisition and supporter development. Supporter stewardship reared its head and ‘acquisition, acquisition, acquisition’ became our Blairite mantra.
This is where we made our first mistakes; we moved from a transactional fundraising methodology to one of product management. The trouble was that having product managers results in a product, not a supporter focus. The database was segmented into product campaign lists and supporter fatigue set in as we kept asking the same people for the same things. We talked a lot about supporter journeys, but struggled to implement them in practice.
Taking the plunge
We adjusted the structure to align organisational behaviours with the aims of growing our supporter base and maximising lifetime value. Now, the Chief Executive has the ultimate overall responsibility for fundraising, because that’s what we are about as an organisation. We wanted to drive an integrated approach so that we made the right ask, of the right supporter, at the right time.
We made the commercial distinction between marketing and sales so that responsibility for database growth, supporter focus and supporter communications sat in the marketing division. Meanwhile, routes to market (or ‘sales’) moved to the new community giving division.
Major giving and legacies got their own division, insofar as the direct dialogue with supporters sits there, but the marketing division supplies the data co-ordination and agency management. Grant-giving and charity services were combined and given the responsibility for raising restricted funds for specific projects.
Because we have a flat structure, we can clearly focus on the areas that will drive growth and remove inefficiencies that come with silo structures. People are empowered to make decisions, take risks and give their input to the business development process. This means we can drive change quickly and bring staff and volunteers along with the plan. Continual change has become a fact of life. I call it a ‘Just Do It’ culture in which staff are encouraged to make it happen’, not write position papers.
The culture here could be described as commercial and, inevitably, not everyone has come through these changes. We believe our responsibility is to do the right thing for the charity’s mission and we expect people’s focus to be on that. Our business plan is based upon some very clear principles:
- No passengers; be prepared for the tough decisions
- Showing responsible management in our operations and decisions
- Invest in a few real opportunities
- Sweat our assets
- Keep it simple and focus on what makes it happen
We have another principle: “If you’re not a fundraiser, you’re a cost”. All employees and volunteers are encouraged to participate in the supporter and income-raising process.
From 2004 to 2009, Kidney Research UK doubled its research funding. In one year we increased the profitability of our fundraising from individual givers by 35 per cent. Our current supporter base has increased dramatically and the quality of our supporter engagement and communications is in a completely different place than five years ago.
We now have 1546 members using our tick.Search members