“Ask more, make more” is a direct marketing truism and the unyielding approach employed by the vast majority of fundraising charities.
How do we reconcile this with another truism; the reality of little or no growth in the sector and, in many cases, decline. There is one UK charity – a large, well established brand – that has lost more donors that it has gained every month except 8 over the last 96 months. This is not unusual; it’s the norm for most large and mid-sized charities. As for the small ones, the vast majority either go out of business or never even approach mid-size.
To recap: “Ask more, make more” is the philosophy that drives today’s fundraising apparatus despite the fact that the sector hasn’t grown in a long time. Most charities are barely staying flat. How to reconcile the two? After all, if the ‘truism’ is true and charities are asking more why no growth?
Albert Einstein said: “There could be no fairer destiny for any physical theory than that it should point the way to a more comprehensive theory in which it lives on as a limiting case.”
David Sackett, the father of evidence-based medicine said, “Half of what you’ll learn in medical school will be shown to be either dead wrong or out of date within five years of your graduation; the trouble is that nobody can tell you which half–so the most important thing to learn is how to learn on your own.”
How long has the “ask more, make more” physical theory and practice of fundraising been around? Decades. Why hasn’t it evolved into a more comprehensive theory? Do we honestly believe our handle on the world is that much more firm than the medical profession? So much more solid that it should live on for decades because it is so accurate, so fundamental? Maybe we’ve nailed it--- maybe. Or perhaps, we need to get better at learning how to learn differently.
As a final, summary footnote, describing outdated or discredited theories as "wrong" misses a major subtlety in all sciences – physical or social: discarded theories aren't really wrong, they just fail to explain new evidence, and more often than not the new theory to come along builds on the old with some extensions, caveats or alternatives.
A warning to readers: Don’t stop reading if you’ve prematurely decided this paper is all theory and idle speculation.
To cut to the chase, there is data and evidence that there is more to the story than just “ask more, make more” and we lay it all out in this paper. We also offer a specific alternative – with proof - and take aim at “engagement” and “donor centricity” as empty, albeit well-intended, terms offered as an elixir to the problem of over-communication. An elixir that creates a false sense of progress or worse, accelerates the donor exit out the back door.