Put the Future First in Fundraising

Chris MiddletonAnticipating the changing business landscape is critical to effective fundraising strategies, says IFC associate and business futurologist Chris Middleton.

 

“The fact is, the future is unknowable. So why bother trying to predict it?”

I’ve heard variations of this view expressed across my career. Most often it’s trotted out in companies that fear change, don’t change and are likely headed to the wall. Once upon a time, Kodak was the biggest name in consumer photography. But it failed to anticipate the rise of digital photography and then of smartphone cameras and ended up bankrupt.

The more enlightened approach, the one challenger brands take, is to say: “The world will continue to change around us and we need to be ready. We need to prepare today in order to survive tomorrow.”

This is where I come in. I help companies seize tomorrow’s opportunities today by working alongside them to co-create the future. It’s about building the best possible assumption base about the world to come, and then analysing the opportunities and threats that this ‘likely’ world represents.

This enables management teams to put their arms around the future and anticipate, then intercept, the evolving business landscape. For instance, work with Tesco a decade ago pointed up its corporate vulnerability as sector big boys, highlighted shoppers’ move back to the high street and anticipated that superstores were likely too big and too remote in a world of emerging authenticity and rising fuel prices. As the world has unfolded since this futuring study, Tesco has indeed been pummelled by ‘Tescopoly’ accusations. In response to the high-street opportunity, it has opened 1,600 Tesco Express convenience stores in Britain. And it is now facing up to its over-spaced Extra stores that are no longer fit for purpose.

Another example: Work with Michelin a few years back highlighted the potential for peer-to-peer car share. Subsequently, we’ve seen the emergence of blablacar, liftshare and catcharide.

But there are still organisations that seemingly turn their backs on the future and so miss out on seeing how developments in their industry will play out and impact their brands and performance. All too often, they go into denial about the challenges of the future because meeting them inevitably demands change – and change can be scary and threatening.

This is where IFC can come in; through fundraising campaigns that have the full wind of social trends in their sails.

Future-gazing and fundraising

One of the key ways to ensure that any fundraising campaign is as successful as possible is to be clear about which social trends it is activating. Is the initiative building on people’s quest for emotional engagement? Does it give people permission to have fun and escape? Is it virtuous and serious? These questions are vital filters.

Beyond a given initiative, future-gazing is essential to any charity wishing to review its long term strategy. There are so many unanswered questions that will impact an organisation’s future viability:

  • How long will donors feel the economic squeeze?
  • Will longer living patterns lead to reductions in charitable giving?
  • How resilient are regular giving practices in a more spontaneous world?
  • What can we expect from Gen Y who work for charities?
  • Will we see the emergence of American-style philanthropy in Britain?
  • Which digital platforms will grow fastest and be worth investing in?

The firm intention of any futuring study is to identify the pivotal strategic questions and then to deploy a tried and tested methodology to provide best assumption answers.

To give a real life illustration, global real estate player Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) lacked differentiation versus its competitors and wanted to set itself apart by delivering thought leadership. Providing inspired insights about the future of retailing to its retail clients would drive client meetings and generate more strategic dialogues.

I carried out a Retail 2020 analysis that anticipated the move to omni-channel models, forecasted the end of ‘silent retailing’ and indicated how far retailers would go in communicating directly with customers using mobile apps. The study anchored the new JLL strategy, and its insights were cascaded to the company’s 2,000 employees through a wide-ranging employee communication programme. This ensured that staff understood and bought into the predictions, believed in the vision and started talking the right language with each other and with JLL’s clients.

Subsequently, JLL was able to secure access to the boardrooms of 50 key clients and demonstrate the leap forward it had made in understanding the industry and anticipating the future of retailing.

The IFC wants to encourage companies to be future facing so they can develop more relevant and impactful fundraising strategies and individual campaigns. Applying a robust methodology to anticipate the trends in the marketplace not only enable a future-proofed strategy, it also paves the way for more effective fundraising within the organisation.

IFC associate Chris Middleton is a trends expert who inspires brands to rejuvenate and profit from future opportunities. Away from his work with IFC, Chris operates independently under the banner of futurescoaching.

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