Kathryn Worthington was Arts Fundraising Fellow for the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford until September 2016, and is now Alumni Relationships and Database Officer at Mansfield College, Oxford.
As we are all aware‚ the current funding climate is competitive. Take the Paul Hamlyn Foundation as an example. They give £25 million in funding each year but are still only able to fund 1 in 10 applications that are submitted to them.
In this tough environment it is easy to feel pressured into being led by what we think funders want. This pressure can manifest itself in many ways, not least in our use of language when we describe ourselves and the value of our work.
Relying on fashionable ‘buzz words’ to describe what we do‚ who we do it for‚ and why we do it may seem like it would make us more attractive to funders‚ particularly in the case of trusts and foundations. However‚ scratching the surface reveals the opposite.
For instance‚ having watched the video that the Esmeè Fairbairn Foundation provides for its prospective applicants‚ it is clear to see that they value ‘distinctiveness’‚ with Director of Funding Development John Mulligan simply telling us to “cut out the fundraising jargon.”
In the case of major donors‚ who fund projects and organisations that personally inspire them‚ this type of language also becomes completely obsolete as it risks diluting the character that sparked their interest in your organisation the first place.
Besides‚ as the world in which we operate changes‚ so too do the ‘buzz words’ that we use to describe ourselves. Where does this leave us as organisations?
It is vital that we understand what we do and why we do it. What is our mission and what is our vision for the future?
Our organisation’s mission statement can be an invaluable tool when communicating this both to funders as well as on an internal basis. They can also be a useful stick to measure ourselves against‚ giving us the opportunity to gather the evidence of our success that both we and funders need.
According Patrick Hull in his article for Forbes.com‚ our mission statements need to be able to answer the following four questions
- What do we do?
- How do we do it?
- Whom do we do it for?
- What value are we bringing?
In his article‚ Hull warns us never to underestimate the value of a mission statement. “Your company’s mission statement should be concise and specific so your customers understand your purpose and how you provide value.”
Although Hull is writing for the corporate sector, the principles are still the same for us. As charities, we need to know what our usefulness is and be able to articulate it clearly without resorting to ‘buzz words’ to describe ourselves and what we do. We need to prove that we are (as Sharon Shea‚ Director of Funding at the Esmeè Faribairn Foundation says) “an organisation who knows what it’s about.”
What do you think? Do we create problems by trying to bow too much to the requirements of funders? We’d love to hear your views.