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Tips & guides 5,382 views Mar 27, 2019
Back to the Future.

When I started my career as a fundraiser 30 years ago, many of the things we now take for granted did not exist.  We did not have the internet, mobile phones, smart phones, e-mail or social media. A shared computer sat, neglected in the corner of the office as we struggled to use its counter-intuitive software and retreated to the familiarity of our desks, telephones, Rolodex, pens and paper. 

I was a Community Fundraiser.  We had the best jobs in fundraising.  We could not compete with the glamour of the High Level Donor teams, or the prestige of the slick, suited Corporate Fundraisers. But we didn’t care because in our hearts we knew that we practiced the art of building relationships in all their human, unpredictable, chaotic, grassroots glory.  The community was the place to be.

Then, one day my boss arrived and with great fanfare installed something called Windows. From that moment, the world changed quickly.  We saw unprecedented mass marketing and data crunching. Words like acquisition, retention, attrition and segmentation became part of our fundraising vocabulary. The rise of the database meant that big charities cultivated direct marketing teams who mapped out donor journeys and, in turn generated work for a vast number of creative agencies and fulfilment houses.

In the mid-1990s we could feel the tectonic plates of fundraising shift.  In the big-charity world community fundraising became the poor and noisy relation of teams that delivered a better, faster, more clinical return on investment.  Technology meant that significant funds could be generated quickly at arm’s length. Suddenly there was no need to get down into the messy grassroots, or engage with challenging, complex, emotional people.

Since then I have worked my way up through the fundraising ranks, to middle manager, Department Head and Director of Fundraising.  I’m no luddite, but there have been times during my career that I have hankered after the days when fundraising was about communities, not segments. When we valued the quality of relationship above the in-year return on investment.

To my delight I feel the tectonic plates shifting once more. I see global and local hashtag communities coming together to demonstrate, march and fundraise in all their messy, noisy glory.  I see the arm’s length direct marketing one-way traffic slowed by legislation, regulation and reputation.  And I see emotional and passionate people and communities back at the heart of fundraising and activism. Ironically technology has helped us to come full circle and given a voice to communities once again. 

There was a point when I thought that technology would kill off Community Fundraising. But now I have hope, because they are two sides of the same coin.  So, my message to all those fantastic, entrepreneurial, innovative local charities and groups is embrace technology. Not to send one-way, direct marketing, envelopes through doors asking for £2 per month. Embrace technology to find your voice, tell your story and build your community, whether it’s on your doorstep or another continent. This is a new, reinvigorated, generation of community fundraisers.