Lessons from Down Under

By Heather Hill

I’m preparing for Fundraising Institute Australia’s 2020 conference, where I’ll be presenting two sessions. This will be my third year participating, so it shouldn’t be a big deal but it is. It’s a big deal because I realize it wasn’t just luck on my part that I ended up in mind-blowingly impressive sessions in past years. Every year’s sessions have been equally brilliant. Here’s the reality—our colleagues in Australia are outpacing those of us in North America on many counts. Especially digital strategy.

Fundraising in the US may be more mature in terms of years of practice, but what it lacks in age it more than makes up for in agility and innovation in Australia. Because progress isn’t always linear. If you’ve ever traveled to regions in Africa that are still developing, you’ll see an example of this. The power lines and telephone lines that criss-cross many parts of the world are noticeably absent. Instead, you simply see cell phone towers and an abundance of generator-powered charging stations. Technology progressed in a leapfrog fashion. Rather than investing time and resources trying to catch up on previous generations, focus was given to building in the present. Starting from where things are with an eye cast to what’s on the horizon, not wasting time on recreating everything else that was already done. 

This is the best analogy I can think of for the state of fundraising in Australia. The risk-averse, “we’ve always done it this way” mentality that can so often hold us back from investing in new approaches or channels is far less pervasive there. No forcing of old methods into today’s technology but, instead, exploring fresh approaches and possibilities it makes available. A cursory review of the award-winning campaigns recognized at the conference only serves to affirm this. Act for Peace was repeatedly called to the stage for its “Ration Challenge 2017” acquisition campaign—a digital-driven campaign that skillfully leveraged multiple sites and streams. I’m not talking about what I often hear referred to as “slacktivism” in the States. These were individuals who became followers and then engaged as activists, donors and peer-to-peer recruiters of more supporters! 

Listening to Kaz McGrath, the campaign coordinator, describe the planning and rollout was akin to listening to a fundraising poet laureate. Most incredible was the balance struck between advance planning and surrendering of control. Not one post or video hit the internet prior to a thoughtful journey through content being fully mapped (with built-in testing throughout to inform direction in real-time—be still, my heart!), but once this brilliance was unleashed, the team empowered its constituency to own the content and create conversation. Letting community form organically. Allowing space for dialogue. Coming alongside donors. Finding shared stories.

You know what they didn’t do? Follow traditional models because “that’s how it’s always done.” 

You don’t need to follow the yellow brick road when you’ve got a perfectly good pair of ruby slippers.

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