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How to be an intelligent customer – the critical role of a modern fundraiser

How to be an intelligent customer – the critical role of a modern fundraiser

For fundraising professionals in regular giving the environment has never been more complex. There are multiple channels to manage in a rapidly changing world and a never ending parade of new shiny things publicised loudly by people with something to sell. Why aren’t you trying bitcoin (despite it destroying the planet)? What about this latest piece of half understood pseudo-science (despite there being no actual evidence)?

But what is the core work of a fundraiser these days? Our main insight – it’s not actually fundraising. For most fundraisers responsible for large scale regular giving programs their key role is actually as a user of outsourcing. Most regular giving fundraisers are first and foremost customers.

To be good at your job, you need to be a good customer. You need to make the right decisions for your organisation on how best to spend an outsourcing budget and how best to manage suppliers. It sounds like a passive role – merely receiving services and paying out when invoices come in. But it is not a passive role. To be the best possible regular giving fundraiser we believe that it is essential to be an intelligent customer.

The concept of the “intelligent customer” is borrowed from another high risk profession – the nuclear power industry. The risks involved there are whether you can avoid a Chernobyl in preference for a mere Three Mile Island. For fundraisers the stakes are similarly scary – will you be able to raise enough to fund programs that save lives or our planet?

These are the core elements of what we see as the role of the intelligent customer:

  1. Having a thorough understanding of the different outsourcing markets.

  2. Clear oversight and understanding of how outsourced programs are running, including real time monitoring.

  3. Having the skills and knowledge to manage outsourcing programs from inception to completion.

  4. Being able to make good decisions based on accurate, relevant information.

This means that the skills required of a fundraiser are maybe slightly different from the average job description:

  1. Being able to assess suppliers for their quality, compliance, and suitability before they are engaged.

  2. The ability to manage a complex supply chain, often with many layers and competing stakeholder needs.

  3. Contract and program management skills – being able to design a contract and run a contract management process that holds suppliers accountable for their work whilst rewarding both parties for a job well done.

  4. Knowing what to monitor, how to access information and how to analyse it.

  5. Negotiation skills to be able to manage relationships and reach acceptable compromises that build strong partnerships.

Most regular giving fundraisers spend more time talking to suppliers than they ever spend talking to donors. Understanding the context is still crucial but being a good fundraiser these days has nothing to do with being good at asking someone to donate.

What are the action points, assuming you agree with our take on this? We suggest:

  1. Reflecting on your team’s purpose and role – are job descriptions fit for purpose?

  2. Asking whether the team’s skills and knowledge are suitable for the work they’re being asked to do?

  3. Spending some time and money on training – but in the right areas. Generic “fundraising” training may not be suitable for someone that spends their days in supplier management.

  4. Getting help to fill gaps and build capacity (did I mention watching out for people trying to sell things?)

If you’d like to become a (more) intelligent customer get in touch:


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