Nigel Harris & Associates


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Relativity of Time

The Relativity of Time

I was back in Adelaide at the beginning of the year.

I say back, as Adelaide was where I was born and raised, and my home up until 30 years ago. Visits can mean connecting with the familiar and exploring the unfamiliar. There is a different perspective in being a visitor to a place where you once lived. You tend to look at things with renewed interest and curiosity.

While I have managed to spend a lot of time in South Australia’s wine regions over the years, there is always somewhere new to visit. This trip, I took the opportunity to explore the d’Arenberg Cube for the first time. Apart from being a fascinating building, with some great wines to sample, the Cube also hosts an exhibition of Salvador Dali artwork.

I’m no expert on Dali, however I enjoy the discovery in art, and I was particularly taken by Dali’s melting clock images which originally feature in his painting ‘The Persistence of Memory.’ Interpreted as evoking concepts of the relativity of time and the fluidity of reality, the images got me thinking about how we relate to time as we engage in fundraising, and what assumed realities we accept, and what we challenge.

Time, money, and purpose

We certainly talk about time. When will we get that gift? Will we get enough donations to meet budget by the end of the financial year? Can we just find some donors to help meet our needs now?

Applying a donor lens, these really aren’t great questions. Understandable in part, but really not conducive to serving philanthropy or purpose. However, they do reflect an uncomfortable reality in our sector that’s exposed when we place an inordinate focus on money over relationships and outcomes.

Of course, money is a vital element in serving purpose. There’s no ambiguity about that.

When we consider the relativity of time in the way that money, and other gifts of time and voice, can serve purpose, we can form a different understanding, a different reality, around fundraising practice.

How we think about time changes the way we plan, execute, resource, measure and sustain fundraising as it serves philanthropy and purpose.

Time and fundraising

So how might we think about time in the context of fundraising? And what can we do to leverage the relativity of time in fundraising?

Here are five steps that you might take time to explore further.

Taking a long-term view in fundraising planning and execution by creating a strategic plan that addresses multiple time horizons. And being integrated in a broader organisational strategy would also be enormously beneficial.

This also means avoiding the temptation of short-termism and being driven by more immediate organisational needs. By taking a long-term view, and inviting people in to your organisation, you stand a better chance of aligning interests and needs and serving your purpose.

Taking time to invest in and build relationships to create authenticity and true partnership. Real relationships can’t be rushed, and philanthropy is based on real relationships. Invite people in, be interested, create meaningful experiences – all of which takes time.

This means challenging expectations around revenue planning and timing.

After all, why would we think that people will give money to meet an organisation’s timing imperatives just because we ask? Or that people are waiting for the next appeal to drop, or the next event to attend?

If money is your primary focus, relationships can be hard to build. Inversely, focusing on relationships creates an environment where gifts are more likely to be given, and given over a longer period of time.

Taking a time-based measurement approach. Which also means taking time to understand the limitations using financial metrics alone, especially using simple profit and loss based data. And also taking time to create longer term measurement frameworks that consider financial, relationship and program metrics in a systemic context.

A robust and complete measurement approach will inform and guide an effective and sustainable fundraising program that serves purpose. And our responsibility to serve purpose as optimally as possible should be unambiguous.

Taking time to develop staff and to value tenure.

With the reported tenure of fundraising staff being 18 months, there is a fundamental issue for a relationship business. Quite simply, effective fundraising is made a whole lot harder when there is insufficient time for genuine relationships to form.

There are a number of reasons for this reported fundraiser turnover, including expectations, support, resourcing, and preparation. The responsibility is not singular, however organisational leadership has a clear role in ensuring the environment is in place to support fundraising staff, as that will directly impact on donor experience and long-term engagement.

So, focusing on recruitment, development, and retention of people best serves purpose. And that takes time and will be most effective when a long-term view is adopted and where tenure is valued.

Fundraising is a vocation in which long tenure should be encouraged and celebrated. Providing of course that the tenure is productive.

There is anecdotal evidence that links longer term tenure and sustained growth in fundraising results. There is also anecdotal evidence that donors notice staff turnover, and may even be influenced by it, to a greater extent than is acknowledged.

The idea of regular movement between roles may seem like good career progression but it can also be an impediment to building a career in fundraising. Relationship building, organisational understanding and meaningful results are potentially compromised by the illusion of advancing a career through rapid movement between roles.

Taking time to be curious and explore evidence.

This is critical for fundraising practitioners in a vocation where learning pathways can be inconsistent and even haphazard. It is also a vocation where trust and confidence are core collateral, so an evidenced based approach built on defendable knowledge is especially important.

It is also important for organisational leaders, in executive and governance roles, to challenge assumptions and take time to build an understanding of philanthropy and fundraising practice.

Seeking information, pursuing enquiry, challenging, and testing will take time, but it is a sound investment in driving fundraising to serve philanthropy and purpose.

Time is relative in fundraising practice. It is relative to relationships, resourcing, and results, all of which are key to serving purpose. Considering the relatively of time in fundraising will influence the outcomes achieved and impact created.

Take some time to explore these steps further. It may change the realities of your fundraising experience.

Nigel Harris AM