White paper highlights fundraising skills needed in 2030

A new white paper by Blackbaud Pacific spells out where fundraising is likely headed in the next decade.  

The cloud software company interviewed nine experts for The Future of Fundraising: 10-Year Lessons and Predictions for 2030Among the findings: the sector will have to invest in technology and leaders will have to be open to new ways of doing things. Fundraisers will also have to diversify their funding portfolios, not treat donors as transactions, be more authentic when it comes to donor relationships and embrace artificial intelligence. 

Here are the perspectives of four experts interviewed in the white paper. 

Execute, lead and be agile 

Kevin Sher, president and general manager at Blackbaud Pacific, said one of the significant challenges for the fundraising sector in the next 10 years would be generating real income from generations aged under 35. 

He suggested the answer was in high quality, well-executed leadership at board level. 

“Successful organisations’ boards will be applying the same commercial rigour and standards that they might if they were on a commercial board,” he said. 

Sher added that 2020 would have provided critical lessons for boards worldwide, arguing that through the pandemic, charities were forced to adapt and try new strategies. 

“It comes back to leadership, CEO and board culture. Those that invested more through COVID-19 made rapid learnings and built strong, resilient businesses for future success,” he said. 

He felt that not enough sector leaders were willing to “fail fast,” arguing that those who did quickly found agile solutions to big problems. He urged leaders to be rigorous, data-driven and agile to pull ahead of the pack in the coming years.  

Invest in trust and technology 

Those in the fundraising world know that charities face a unique burden: “a notion not to spend any money,” according to Katherine Raskob, chief executive officer, Fundraising Institute Australia. 

She told Blackbaud there was a well-intentioned desire to build trust and transparency in the sector by ensuring that as much of the fundraising money as possible is spent on beneficiaries. But she worried this aim could lead to a lack of investment down the track. 

“Many charities haven’t made the required investments over the last few years. Luckily, most charities now have websites. However, the 2019 Global NGO Technology Report found that while 95 per cent of Australian non-profits have a website, just 62 per cent can take donations online, compared to the US and Canada where it’s 85 per cent,” she said.  

While those statistics suggest a lack of investment in technology, Raskob is confident that in 10 years, the long-term effects of 2020 will be greater investment, especially in technology. 

“Charities have founded innovative ways to reach donors because of COVID-19,” she said. 

Raskob also emphasised that meeting expectations of transparency – building trust and confidence – is another form of investment in the future and one that charities shouldn’t underestimate. 

“Constant awareness about best practice, ethical methods of fundraising, and adhering to the FIA Code will ensure that our work is absolutely to the highest standard,” she said. 

Create relationships, not transactions 

Annabelle Chauncy OAM, chief executive officer at School for Life Foundation, warned that the increasingly transactional nature of digital interactions might undermine the most valuable resource fundraisers will have over the next 10 years: relationships with their donors. 

“Your relationships are the most important things fundraisers have. Donors are not ATMs; they need to be thanked and appreciated,” she said. 

The priority for fundraisers over the medium term, she said, is to ensure that the digital spaces provide greater opportunities for relationship building, not less. More and more, digital fundraising offers donors connection not only to the organisations they’re supporting but to the beneficiaries of their generosity, too.  

“VR and AR technology may help connect the donor to the cause more quickly, and video communication and Zoom will make it easier to create virtual events. But the important thing is that new modes of operation must always be geared towards higher, deeper levels of relationship and engagement.” 

Chauncy also noted the temptation for people to “hide” behind an email rather than using the tried-and-tested interaction methods, like in-person and phone.  

“The most successful fundraisers will communicate, with personalisation, where they pick up the phone instead of hiding behind emails,” she said. 

Embrace artificial intelligence 

AI technology represents a paradox for fundraisers in the next 10 years: on the one hand, it marks a shift away from traditionally personalised forms of communication; on the other, it opens up a far greater number of relational avenues.  

“Achieving that second goal depends on how willing fundraisers are to lean into AI technology,” noted Tim Paris, chief executive officer at Dataro. 

“AI has the power to massively improve the way charities raise funds and engage with their donors,” he explained. 

In the next 10 years, Paris predicted that all charities would be using AI to better engage with and support their donors. 

For Paris, AI isn’t just about putting robots on the phone. Often it could help refine the process of putting donors in connection with the organisations they support for maximum efficiency. 

“A client ran a retention campaign to their recurring givers who were most likely to churn – with the list identified by AI. One donor said: I was thinking of cancelling, but because you called me, I’ll keep supporting your organisation. This shows the power of using AI to talk to your donors at the right time,” said Paris.  

Beating the AI paradox will be a challenge for fundraisers, but once the sector has a handle on this technology, it will transform how relationships are managed and nurtured. 

The white paper concluded that while we’re heading towards a world dominated by new tech and AI, it would be a mistake to move towards that world while letting go of fundraising basics like relationships, authenticity and strong leadership. 

Other experts interviewed for the report were Abby Clemence, founder and CEO, Infinity Sponsorship; Stephen Mally, director, FundraisingForce; George Hawwa, growth director, Attention Experts; James Goodridge, CEO, Evergiving; and Celeste Harrison, enterprise account manager, Blackbaud Pacific.  

Want to find out more? You can download the Blackbaud white paper here