CDE project 17 sec­tion 2.3: your organisation’s purpose

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 25, 2017

Your organisation’s purpose –  focus attention on why changing the way you work with supporters is something you must do, not just something you should do.

In his excellent book Start with Why, Simon Sinek demonstrates that making your underlying purpose very clear makes a huge difference to your chance of success. He explains that the major thing that Apple, Martin Luther King and The Wright Brothers had in common was their relentless focus on their underlying purpose. He shows that others who achieved less success in their respective fields had focussed most of their energy on ‘the how’ rather than ‘the why’.

In fact, during one early interview, Steve Jobs was asked why he thought he had already achieved more than most business people much older than him. He answered that he truly believed that everything around us was not created by people who were smarter or more talented, but rather by people who were clearer on their purpose than the rest.

The reason it is so important to focus attention on your purpose is that if you don’t, you and your colleagues will not find the energy and drive to consistently work to the best of your ability. When you are focussed on something that really matters to you, you find a way to solve problems and keep persevering in a way that otherwise does not happen.

As a leader, there are three key elements to harnessing the power of your purpose.

  1. You must find your reason why change must occur.
  2. You must help others find their reasons why (which may be different to yours).
  3. You must create an environment in which this sense of purpose is continually reinforced.

Louise McCathie, Director of Fundraising at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, explained that the vision for fundraising at her charity stemmed in part from her own disappointment at what the charity was then able to do for the families using the hospital. As she looked around, the fundraising level was way below what she felt the patients and their families deserved. For example, ‘if you turned left as you entered the hospital you could get an experience that was completely different compared to if you turned right. It was unacceptable that some children would have to wait years for the department they were treated in to receive the improvements that fundraising could bring…’

Sara Whiting, Director of Fundraising at Hope and Homes for Children, explained that for her, both as a fundraiser and as a leader, everything starts with knowing why you are here working for this charity. At Hope and Homes for Children, the organisation’s senior leadership team have clearly answered this question. Their stated purpose, which affects the way everything is done, is ‘to catalyse the eradication of institutional care of children globally.’ 

Wise leaders recognise that this clearly defined purpose is a powerful start, but it is not enough. They recognise the need to create an environment that continually reinforces the charity’s purpose in as many tangible ways as possible. There are several ways to achieve this goal. The most fundamental is to give fundraising colleagues as much access to the work on the frontline as possible. Another powerful tactic is to promote rituals that ensure people regularly share stories about the work of the charity.

Sara Whiting described one technique that is less common, but which is so helpful to prime her daily focus that she does it every day. In the morning before she starts work, she writes on her notepad that ‘today is for…Agnella’. The name she is dedicating her work to might change from day to day, but she has found that taking a moment to remember a particular child she has met through her work for Hope and Homes for Children has a powerful effect on her day.

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About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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