Voluntary sector fundraising – how it used to be, and how it must be now

Some years ago I used to run fundraising courses and although I can’t find my notes, I can still recall the information I used to give on sources of funds. This plus the quickest way of accessing these funds was, quite understandably, all that delegates were really interested in.

To quickly recap, funding sources were:

European Union: Mainly for larger players with the resources to fund cash flow, find matched funding and have the infrastructure to deal with considerable bureaucracy.

UK Government: National projects in general, but with such a variety of funding sources available, local organisations also had a reasonable chance of accessing some substantial funding streams.

Local Government: Funding from local and county councils plus unitary authorities was the mainstay of many voluntary organisations. Funding for 3 years was not unusual and although subject to annual review, this never seemed to cause many problems.

Health Authorities: Health based projects but would sometimes contribute to organisations where health was only part of the work.

Lottery: Arrived carrying pots of cash (when I was first involved with them, they had more cash than people who wanted it) and were easy to deal with. In my experience then, only serious no-hopers stood no chance at all.

Grant-Making Trusts: Mysterious, stand-offish and frequently telling you not to apply to them, if you could put up with the rejections, within their ranks there were some absolute gems. For the smaller trusts, the art was in writing a good letter. After the arrival of the Lottery, the larger trusts started to organise themselves along similar lines.

Corporate: Getting money out of companies was always difficult (except where staff raised money for a chosen charity). Sponsorship was a possibility, but required a lot of organising. Companies were good for resources: office equipment, printing and staff time were always a good bet.

Trading and events: Trading on a commercial scale needed a separate trading arm as charitable funds could only be used for charitable purposes. This proved to be too risky for smaller organisations. Events could be good fun but took an alarming amount of time and never really raised as much as expected. Most fundraisers could raise more money sitting at their desk writing letters, filling out grant applications and making calls.

Money from real people: At the time I’m referring too, asking someone for money was strangely out of fashion. Large charities would write to you enclosing a free pen and could still find enough people to do street collections, but smaller organisations had no interest in developing a supporter base. This was the complete opposite to US charities whose very existence depended on recruiting and retaining supporters.

But what happens now? Now we have “chuggers” aka charity muggers who approach you in the street and ask for regular donations to their cause via direct debit. Intrusive and sometimes offensive, but amazingly successful. We also have social enterprise plus the advantages of social media – and there is, of course, the Big Society; but what should the forward-looking voluntary organisation do? In my opinion, follow the US model and start engaging with real people again. The golden days of generous funding are gone and may not return; now is the time to start rebuilding the foundations and you will do this with a committed supporter base.


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