Zombie Fundraising Techniques – Part 1

Coffin handIn today’s Zombie blog, IFC CEO, John Baguley asks whether you have noticed how dead-on-their-feet zombie fundraising techniques lurch on from year to year their income falling, their costs often rising and their ROI heading south; but for some inexplicable reason they neither die nor wander off and cease to trouble the professional fundraiser.

I once tried to kill an events programme that had got completely out of hand, growing till it was so huge there was no chance of the events even repeating the profit it made several years before. The staff loved attending, the Director loved the limelight and the Board liked the prestige all of which made the events stagger on with the ‘fail’ light wildly flashing.

Whilst any technique still returns a semblance of a profit it is often hard to get Directors and Boards to agree its demise. If the event has a budget line all to itself you may be expected to increase its profit each year, and often to provide a detailed description of how this will be done. Sounds familiar? I practised saying “No” and tried it out quite a few times at all stages of the process, explaining exactly why this was not a good idea; and I found to my horror that people who keep zombie techniques going often really do not understand fundraising or indeed how business works – when is a loss not a loss? When it is written up in the evening paper apparently…

Sometimes the power of well-expressed reasons can change minds, but this often requires both persistence and the belief that persuasion is an effective tool in the face of great odds, and I have found that the inertia of many civil society organisations combined with sheer ignorance means the dice are stacked against you.

All of which begins to show how zombie techniques get the illusion of life. Such zombies may require a huge amount of maintenance on your part taking time and energy from techniques whose performance could actually be improved – the dead gnawing at the living. Often I have found that the maths behind zombies is suspect and the real ROI hidden in ‘off budget line’ costs such as meeting times, other parts of the organisation providing support and agencies cross-charging for work to maintain their percentage on supplies. Doing the maths seriously, and very carefully, can really help in burying zombies.

We all know direct mail is not quite in the land of the living dead, indeed it provides much of the core income and new prospects for a large part of the sector, and will I suspect for years to come; but it has progressively staggered closer and closer to the border giving everybody the heebie jeebies. This type of proto-zombie requires very careful observation too as huge parts of it may become unprofitable and need to be axed, so increasing unit costs and thereby increasing the pressure on the remaining parts. At some stage the astrologers take over and your estimates of its flat-lining tendencies become dependent on the arcane rituals of lifetime value, legacy potential and volunteering value. The moment you detect you are no longer listening to comprehensible, if complex, pure maths but to the entrails being read sharpen the axe. You may only need to cut the programme down to size to see the ROI spring up out of the ground.

In part Two of Zombie Fundraising Techniques find out how to spot zombie techniques that are bringing an organisation down.

Fundraising and Zombies was first published on UK Fundraising.

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This entry was posted in Fundraising, John Baguley, Zombies. Bookmark the permalink.

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