Howard Lake talks to Arts Fundraising about fundraising in a digital world

Howard Lake talks to Arts Fundraising about fundraising in a digital world

Howard Lake is a fundraiser and digital entrepreneur with more than 30 years of experience. Since 1994 he has published UK Fundraising (, the world’s first web resource and community for professional fundraisers, and he wrote the world’s first book on digital fundraising in 1995.

Safe to say, Howard Lake has always been at the forefront of thinking when it comes to using the digital to enhance fundraising. So, Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy had a chat with him about just that, ahead of his Digital Tools for Fundraisers training with us next week.


Sarah: What does the world of fundraising look like in 5/10 years?


Howard: Certainly recognisable, with some of the same challenges as now, although those issues will probably be on a larger scale - increased demand for charities' services, competition from for-purpose brands and social enterprises, declining statutory grant funding, efforts by right-wing media to denigrate and diminish an independent charity sector, and difficulty to recruit and retain experienced fundraisers.

Other pressures will of course include increased awareness and evidence of climate crisis affecting all charities, donors and beneficiaries, and a UK that will not have returned socially to a pre-2016 'harmony'. Arts and cultural organisations are unlikely to have risen any higher up the public's list of most deserving causes. Some reliable sources of income and methods of fundraising will more clearly have reached the end of the road.

Perhaps we won't be using the term 'digital fundraising' by then, given its ubiquity. Or perhaps those of us who do still use the phrase will easily be identified as that disappearing band of fundraisers who can remember working in pre-digital times.

More positively the combination of entrepreneurial creators and arts organisation staff with digital tools will continue to hold out hope of greater impact and opportunity; as will the creativity of artists, audience members and some members of the public who will continue to surprise us with ways of helping arts organisations. But even this will be unevenly distributed amongst arts organisations, reflecting the current situation.

We can hope too that the fundraising profession looks and acts a little differently to the way it does now, as a result of the various efforts underway to make it more diverse and inclusive - and therefore more resilient and effective



Sarah: What methods of digital fundraising do you expect to see the most growth in? Are there any you think won’t catch on? 


Howard: Those that serve a genuine and widespread need amongst people – for involvement, social contact, entertainment, and a sense of impact. Doubtless, the successful tools will have some element of machine learning baked in, to ensure a truly relevant, personalised experience that supports the donor’s needs better over time.

The sense of involvement, of being part of a movement, is likely to be a key element for successful digital fundraising. But digital-only tools are, as now, unlikely to be successful without some in-person element as an option – meeting people with a shared interest in person and attending events/performances are still going to be at least as important.

Methods that are unlikely to catch on are those that get in the way of what people want to do, or which continue to offer a standard and increasingly out-dated range of options for involvement with a charity or arts organisation. And ‘out-dated’, like now, is only ever going to mean an ever-shortening time ago.


Sarah: How could use of digital be developed further to support the fundraising efforts of organisations?


Howard: Now? 

1. Asking donors and audiences want they want and expect and acting on that. Then doing that again. OK, that is easier said than done, but listening is an essential skill for future success, or even simply surviving financially.
2. The sharing of digital (but also other related) expertise amongst charities and arts organisations. There’s a great deal of hard-won knowledge and understanding, and that is a perennial challenge to distribute to those who could benefit from learning about it.

3. Training and professional development, and in a range of formats to match fundraisers’ needs.
4. Recognition that digital blurs the divide between an organisation and supporters/audience and the public.
5. Finding, inspiring and retaining leaders and boards who can support an organisation with all the above.


Sarah: Do you have any advice for those hesitant about engaging with the digital fundraising world?


Howard: The fact that it is clearly not going away can be alarming if one doesn’t feel equipped to deal with it. Just expect not to understand it all, or even a large part of it. Apply what you’ve learned about people, giving and inspiring support from all other channels and methods you’ve encountered. And surround yourself if you can with people who understand a bit more of it than you do. Whilst recognising that talking to, meeting and spending time with people will remain an essential element of some types of fundraising for all organisations.


Thank you so much to Howard for taking the time to talk to us.

If you’re feeling inspired to think more digitally you can learn more from Howard in person on Thursday 12th at Digital Tools for Fundraisers in Manchester. If you can’t make it, find out more about his work here or follow him on Twitter @howardlake.

Let us know your thoughts (digitally of course!) by tweeting us @artsfundraising