Sound as a pound: how robust fundraising practices will increase your charity’s success

Charity Health Check series part 7


It may seem a cliché, but fundraising is the lifeblood of charities. Small-to-medium charities have to be good at it to survive, but they can sometimes struggle with understanding both the regulations that apply to fundraising as well as best practice for internal management of fundraising activity.

Success in fundraising not only relies on the quality of the fundraising work itself, but also connects directly with both regulatory compliance and organisational effectiveness. In my work with small-to-medium charities, I have found a number of common problems with fundraising that pop up time and again. I have considered four of the most common ones below.

1. Ignoring fundraising regulations

Fundraising is the most regulated aspect of charity work, and charities are under an obligation to abide by these regulations.

I’m not going to go through the intricacies of the Code of Fundraising Practice here, but it is important for smaller charities to be aware that the code exists, and not make the mistake of assuming that it only applies to the bigger players.

It can be tempting to ignore the regulations entirely, and trust that you are small enough to slip under the radar.

This is hugely risky.

Amongst many other potential dire consequences like fraud, fines, and damaging legal action, the most immediate effect is that failing to follow the regulations will make your charity look unprofessional. This will affect your charity’s attractiveness to new donors, trustees and staff, and can end up having a detrimental impact on your charity’s fundraising success.

Spend some time learning about the regulations and how they affect your charity – whether internally or with external help. This will build your professionalism as well as reducing the risk of alienating potential supporters.

2. Data is not adequately protected or is misused

When you only have one filing cabinet and it doesn’t lock, keeping up to date with the latest data protection rules might seem a little overwhelming. It is important to understand, however, that data protection rules are becoming tighter and charities are under strict obligations about what they can and can’t do with personal information. Failing to protect data can leave your charity open to complaints, annoy or offend your supporters, and could risk information being used by other organisations inappropriately.

The data protection rules are detailed, so you should make sure you understand what you need to do and you put the right measures in place – not just writing a policy, but also arranging the training you give to anyone who handles this kind of information. Again, bring in informed external help if you need it.

You can make a start by thinking about how you’d want your own personal information to be treated. Permission is central to data protection, so make sure you are always asking people if they agree to be contacted, and how. For example, supporters must opt-in to email communications, and you must give people a choice about future marketing contact in everything you send. Keeping records about who has opted out is also important, and checking these before adding someone new is a good idea.

While we’re at it, make your opt-outs and opt-in options consistent. Don’t make some tick boxes ‘do not’ and some tick boxes ‘do’. Tricking someone into signing up is never going to convert them into a supporter.

3. Inefficient fundraising

Many small-to-medium charities don’t keep track of how much fundraising costs them, and fall into the habit of running events because it is traditional, and not because it is profitable. The charity then morphs into a quasi-events company, and begins to lose sight of its purpose.

The costs of fundraising include both the direct costs, such as room hire, as well as staff time. Staff who run your fundraising work should be recording the time they spend on each activity, so that a complete picture is achieved. If, once you’ve added everything up, you aren’t bringing in at least £3 for every £1 you invested, it may be time to rethink your fundraising strategy.

4. Trustees are not involved

Trustee involvement in fundraising depends on the number and nature of staff in your charity. However, even in an organisation with a fundraising team in place, Trustees are accountable if mistakes are made, so they need to ensure they are sufficiently involved to discharge their duties.

This may include overseeing and monitoring a fundraising plan, managing fundraising-related risk, and checking on the performance and nature of fundraising activities. Bigger questions such as whether certain fundraising methods are appropriate to your organisation should also be discussed at the Board level.

What does good fundraising look like?

Good fundraising will differ between organisations but, at its best, it will be strategically planned, diverse, compliant with the regulatory framework, embedded in the values and work of the organisation, and overseen appropriately by the Board.

Making sure you are meeting your regulatory standards and that your fundraising is robust isn’t just a box ticking exercise. Those standards have been created to make fundraising more effective and to ensure that the public is protected and respected. Aligning yourself with these standards will increase your fundraising success, which will positively impact on your charity’s health.


If you need practical and affordable assistance with ensuring your fundraising approach is up to scratch, or are interested in my comprehensive Charity Health Check tool, which includes a review of fundraising as well as many other key areas of charitable governance and organisational effectiveness, please get in touch with me, Felicia Willow, at Willow Charity Consulting.



Part 1 Is your charity fighting fit?

Part 2 Nowhere to hide: How your Charity Commission Annual Report may be undermining your charity’s success

Part 3 Heading in the right direction: Organisational effectiveness for small-medium charities

Part 4: Your greatest asset: why charities need to meet best practice HR standards

Part 5: Locking Horns: How to avoid conflict between the Board and staff

Part 6: Risk and reputation: are your charity’s finances in order?