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Charity is Dead

publication date: Jun 7, 2018
author/source: Trevor Zimmer, CFRE

Painful truths are often ignored in the beginning. It’s just too comfortable to stay where you are. Why rock the boat? Well, maybe if the boat is heading for an iceberg. This was the sobering theme of a recent speech given by Caroline Riseboro, CEO of Plan, at the Digital Leap conference.

She opened with a very attention- grabbing story. In the early 2000s, Blockbuster turned down the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million. Blockbuster did not see the iceberg coming and has since sunk. Netflix is now worth over $100 Billion. One company saw the future and the other was clinging to the past. Caroline is strongly encouraging fundraising in Canada to look to the future. But not just the future that our sector imagines, look at the future that the business world is banking on.

RBC published a big report, Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption on the future of work, where they say automation and the disruption economy will impact at least 50% of Canadian jobs in the next decade. Influential consultancy McKinsey & Company has dedicated their landing page to how AI will affect industry.

The corporate world knows that things are changing. And of course things are changing in the fundraising world too. There are credible reports that say charitable giving is declining and the number of donors is going down. Perhaps doing what we have always done is not the solution in a rapidly changing world?

Caroline listed some truths: The sector is being majorly disrupted. Disruption will continue to be driven by technology. As a result, traditional charity is dead.

Fundraising is being disrupted. Corporations are taking market share with their own charitable endeavours (Bell Let’s Talk) and traditional philanthropy is further affected by the rise of non-traditional actors (GoFundMe).

Luckily, she laid out some key criteria for the future of charity:

1. Take a digital first approach - this is how most donors will be coming to you.

2. Pursue social enterprise and unlikely partnerships - think out of the box and take chances on new revenue streams.

3. Philanthropy is increasingly female - what is your strategy for engaging female donors?

4. Re-embrace acquisition - invest in new donors for all the ones that are disappearing.

5. Courageous leadership - make tough decisions and convince your board to take a chance on some (or one) of the ideas she mentioned.

She ended on a hopeful note – “we have the power to define the future of charity.” If the old ways are not working as well as they used to, then trying new things will be the way forward. Don’t be Blockbuster!

Trevor Zimmer, CFRE, has been fundraising for some of Canada's top charities for over a decade, and is concerned about the future of fundraising.

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