Breakthrough Fundraising Strategies – Creating a sustainable future for your charity

The need for breakthrough fundraising strategies to create sustainable futures for charities delivering vital services at home and abroad is imperative.

John Sutton

John Sutton

The time for logical incrementalism is running out.

The need for transformational fundraising strategies is now.

You’ve probably heard of “Good to Great.”

Good to Great is the title of a book based on research conducted over five years by Jim Collins*and his team. The research was based on 11 American companies that appeared on the Fortune 500 in the years 1965 to 1995 that met specific research criteria i.e. companies that had a history of being nothing special that managed to outperform some of the best led companies in the world, based on a company shift and not an industry event.

The main conclusions from the research were that it was possible to turn good companies into great companies in the most unlikely situations by applying the framework of ideas their research uncovered, i.e.

  1. Hiring the right people
  2. Confronting the reality of the situation you are operating in and addressing it head on
  3. Understanding what you can be the best at and equally what you cannot do well
  4. Having a disciplined organisation culture
  5. Pioneering the application of technology that works for the organisation and avoiding technological fads
  6. Consistency of effort – transformations were not the result of one defining action or programme but rather a sustainable activity generating enough momentum to create the breakthrough.


I’m sure you have heard these principles applied in the context of fundraising too.

And I’m sure you will have found them useful.

But as you know our sector has its own unique characteristics distinct from the world of American Fortune 500 companies.

So based on my 25+ years of experience built up from working with a wide variety of organisations in the not-for-profit sector in Ireland, I thought I would share five tips on how Irish charities can build breakthrough fundraising strategies to create a sustainable future.

  1. Take a multi-year view: Build a long-term fundraising strategy. Building fundraising targets around a twelve month calendar is an incremental approach. To have a truly transformational fundraising strategy a longer-term view is needed
  2. Evaluate what you are measuring and what behaviours these measurements are creating:   You may be familiar with the story of the pizza delivery company that decided to improve profitability by rewarding their delivery staff for faster deliveries.  Faster delivery times were achieved but reaching this target meant reckless driving and ultimately the death of one of the company’s pizza delivery drivers.  What KPI’s and metrics are you measuring? What behaviours are they creating? Short-termism? Silos? Missed opportunities?
  3. Conduct research: Know who your top supporters are. Invest in nurturing these relationships. Find out what it is they want from your charity. Ask their opinions. Listen.Just as in the “Good to Great” companies face your reality head on. Take your head out of the sand. In building transformational fundraising strategies there is no room for ostriches. When it comes to fundraising, deep dive to find out what your strengths are (e.g. a committed network of volunteers), know your weaknesses (e.g. poor donor comms, poorly trained staff). Be clear on the challenges and opportunities created by the external environment and develop strategies to maximise or minimise them as appropriate.
  4. Communications: Test your supporter communications to ensure they are effective, tailored and appropriate. Say thank you. Tell donors and supporters what impact their donation has had/is having. Build genuine relationships. Treat your donors as you would like to be treated.
  5. Invest in staff: Change your perspective, view training as an investment rather than a cost. Well trained fundraisers are an essential element in ensuring excellent supporter relationships are developed and maintained. Well trained staff will ensure you get the basics right. First time. Every time. Transforming your supporters’ experience. Transforming your fundraising income.


John Sutton is Managing Director at Persuasion Republic, the leading communications agency specialising in the Irish not for profit sector, offering expert services in research and training, brand and design, fundraising and donor communications, PR and media relations and advocacy.


*Reference: Good to Great, Jim Collins, 2001