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A new ambition


Thursday, 4th April 2019 at 8:41 am
Wendy Williams
Alan Clayton, chairman of Robejohn and Alan Clayton Associates, speaks to Wendy Williams about a new ambition for fundraising and why fundraisers are awesome people.


Thursday, 4th April 2019
at 8:41 am
Wendy Williams


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A new ambition
Thursday, 4th April 2019 at 8:41 am

Alan Clayton, chairman of Robejohn and Alan Clayton Associates, speaks to Wendy Williams about a new ambition for fundraising and why fundraisers are awesome people.

Fundraisers are awesome.

Fundraisers are the people who bring the ambition to the charity sector.

These are the words of Alan Clayton, chairman of Robejohn and Alan Clayton Associates.

Clayton, who specialises in “great fundraising” – defined as large scale, sustainable growth from truly mission driven donors – was in Melbourne last month speaking at the FIA Conference about what he describes as the “new ambition”.

“Perhaps the best way to describe it is to say what’s the difference between ambition and activity?” Clayton says.

“You can treat a disease or you can eradicate it. Treating it is an activity and eradicating it is an ambition. And the importance for fundraisers is, you need annual revenue to fund an activity, to treat something. But to eradicate it, you need a huge amount more money, like thousands of times more. So, therefore, the ambition for the money, is how you solve a problem rather than treat the symptoms.”

This new ambition is founded in two principals: that the most emotionally engaged donor gives the most, and that the most focused and energised organisation raises the most.

At the heart of success is that organisations must know their why, and dream big.

According to Clayton, whenever anyone has solved one of the big problems, which takes a huge amount of money, then “no surprise” that’s led by the fundraisers.

Great fundraisers are those who can inspire their whole organisation.

But, while it may sound simple, it is far from easy.

“Because you have to do it over and over and over and over again,” Clayton says.

“In fact, one of the most difficult skills to master is how do you make the complex simple. And it’s difficult because it takes a certain skill set and a certain ability to have insight to take the big picture view.

“And it’s also difficult because it’s exposing. In complexity people can hide, in complexity people can avoid accountability, when it’s simple you’re exposed, you know what the problem is and you have to solve it. So it is simple but it’s far from easy and it’s difficult to make it simple. It is even more difficult to keep it simple.”

Clayton says successful fundraising is not just about having “the why” but having “the best why”.

Perhaps somewhat controversially, Clayton says it is not possible for everyone.

“Some organisations are just not good enough,” he says.

“They don’t have the leadership required to achieve that level of ambition. There are some people that just want a lot more money without having to do the simple but difficult stuff.

“In an ideal world, every cause would have two or three organisations competing to try and solve the problem and they would all be awesome. But the reality from my experience is some organisations just don’t have the leadership. And that’s sad.”

Clayton also points to a culture clash taking place in most organisations – one that he argues “must and should exist”.

At its heart, the culture clash boils down to non-fundraising departments having an ethical, intellectual culture, compared with fundraisers who have an “ambitious achiever” culture.

Clayton maintains that for the non-fundraising departments, the definition of professionalism is to be rational and to be able to detach yourself emotionally from the problems you have to deal with.

In contrast, fundraisers are “in the emotions business”.

“It’s the same ethics, we’re trying to solve the same problem. But the behavior required to be a great fundraiser is different to the behavior required to be a great doctor or health care professional or vet,” he says.

“So you recruit people with different values because they will naturally perform different behaviors. You can have someone who is a natural salesperson who believes in making the world a better place. Different value set, different behaviors, but the ethics are exactly the same.”

But he says, while the two cultures “don’t get along that well”, both are needed for an organisation to be successful.

The concern, is that fundraisers are not always getting the respect they should.

Fundraisers are surrounded by ALOOF people – amateurs with a lot of opinions about fundraising.

Clayton says it is up to fundraisers to both earn respect and demand it.

“You earn it by being extremely good at what you do and demand it by saying if you want the money but you don’t respect the profession, quite frankly, I’m just going to go and work somewhere else and solve the problem with another organisation,” he says.

He says the reason fundraisers leave organisations is because the rest of the organisation doesn’t respect them.

“It’s not the salary, it’s not the coffee machine, it is arguing or being criticised by colleagues.”

The great fundraising organisation is the one that manages to keep both these cultures separate but get them to work together.

For Clayton, that job falls to the fundraiser, by providing the big goal.

“The fundraiser has to be a truly awesome person because what in effect they are doing is running a private sector culture business, inside an academic, medical or public sector culture organisation,” he says.

For fundraisers to stay connected to their mission they need to talk about it, something Clayton describes as “going to church”.

“Just get together and talk about it. Tell stories, sing songs if you have to. It is about connecting with other human beings, or animals for the RSPCA. Not all the time, it would be exhausting and you’d never get any work done, but whenever you need to be refreshed,” he says.

“We call it going to church. Which is get together in the same emotional space, remind yourself why and tell inspiring stories. Face to face is the only way to do it right.”

Looking to the future, Clayton says legacies are the biggest opportunity for fundraisers at the moment.

He says organisations need to educate their boards to be able to maximise on this.

“I think the fundraising community now get it, the population obviously get it because legacy giving is booming. And it’s going to continue to do so. It’s boards,” he says.

“You can’t expect boards to make long-term investment decisions based on investment now leads to legacy income in three to five years time, unless someone has trained them, and 48 out of 49 organisations haven’t trained their board.”

He says it is a long-term game.

“If the job of the fundraising department is to manage cash flow give up,” he says.

“It is the job of the finance department to manage cash flow. Fundraising is to drive long-term growth and profit.”

It is the fundraisers who will drive the new ambition.


Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.


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