Ken Burnett interview: “our organisations were founded in anger”

Ken Burnett

Ken has won many accolades, including the Institute of Fundraising’s ‘Lifetime Contribution’ award, and being named, in 2011, the most influential person in British fundraising.  He has also acted as a Trustee of ActionAid and the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), as well as writing many books and articles on fundraising, including the classic ‘Relationship Fundraising’.  He tweets at @kenburnett1, and his website, featuring ‘Relationship Fundraising’ and new book ‘Storytelling Can Change the World’, is here.

Ken’s passion is using communications to build strong relationships with supporters.  For more on this, see Ken’s recent blog posts, and series on ‘The Future of Fundraising’, available here, which describe some of the barriers facing charities in building enduring relationships with their donors.  Some of those covered in the interview, are:

  • Underinvestment: Ken highlights the long-term lack of investment in fundraising products and appeals, as well as the relative neglect of customer care compared to the commercial world.  This may have been understandable in the past, but with the revolution in customer service lead by firms like Amazon and Zappo’s, poor or average customer service is just not acceptable, and is indeed not being accepted by the majority of charity supporters, who move their support between charities while staying within the same sector with great regularity 
  • On this, he says that “almost all of the [big questions] are examples of underinvestment…because of the nature of our business we think money will come to us…if we’re losing donors at the rate we’re losing them…that’s a recipe for disaster”
  • High staff turnover: from Trustees to admin staff, most not-for-profits have average turnover rates of up to 20%, making it difficult to build lasting relationships with supporters and reducing the institutional memory of many not-for-profit organisations
  • Short-termism, which is, in Ken’s opinion, “the major thing that holds our sector back”, with a lack of long-term thinking allied to the fact that “we do not have R&D budgets”, a “blinkered approach [that] holds us back”

Ken calls his “greatest heresy” the assertion that the CRM revolution which swept through fundraising in the 1980’s and 1990’s was a mis-step.  He says: “we’ve become very professional…but donors want to be inspired by people who are every bit as passionate as they are”, adding that many charities struggle to build lasting relationships with supporters as, while “our organisations were founded in anger”, many have become slick and professionalised, sometimes losing, in their communications, the sense of outrage which moved their founders to create them, and which drives donors to support them.

Lots more in the interview.  Hope you enjoy it.

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