5. A Conversation with The Godfather of Relationship Fundraising

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About this episode

Ken Burnett is an international fundraising legend. He quite literally wrote the book on relationship fundraising. He's the founder of SOFII. That's the showcase of fundraising innovation and inspiration. Ken has been a career fundraiser for 45 years, first as the UK director of ActionAid and later as a consultant, prolific author and lecturer. I wanted you to hear from Ken because he's an innovator, he's a visionary and he's charming. I believe we still have a lot to learn about relationship fundraising. As Ken says, we aren't in the money business, we're in the inspiration business and I think you'll get a heavy dose of inspiration in this episode. 


Our guest

Ken Burnett, The Godfather of Relationship Fundraising, Trustee at SOFII Foundation, and Author


"We're not in the money raising business, we're in the inspiration business and if we inspire people properly, then the money will follow as a natural reaction from the donor."  

- Ken Burnett, The Godfather of Relationship Fundraising


A quick peek

Ken Burnett (00:12:17):
"To get relationship fundraising into context, when I started planning to write a book, I had done a book on charity annual reports before then in 1982, actually believe it or not and so there was a great gap in the UK. There was no good book on fundraising so it started life as a how-to book and it was just going through the process of how to, the two things that I, the two messages I really wanted to get across were to focus on monthly giving and on bequest legacy, legacy giving. So those were the kind of core, and I had seen that in ActionAid, which had grown from nowhere to become a top 20 British cause, British not-for-profit, through monthly giving, particularly and less so legacies, but legacies was also... We get, in the UK, one third of all not-for-profit income comes from bequests."

Ken Burnett (00:16:27):
"I always say to people, 'We're not in the money raising business, we're in the inspiration business and if we inspire people properly, then the money will follow as a natural reaction from the donor.'"

Ken Burnett (00:18:31):
Which brings me to another major issue that I've been espousing over recent years, which wasn't high on, wasn't even on my agenda in the early days of relationship fundraising, and that is that it's becoming increasingly apparent that giving is good for you. It's good for your mental wellbeing."

Tammy Zonker (00:35:52):
"One of the many things I love about SOFII is that it really does showcase concepts and campaigns and ideas that are so innovative and truly inspiring and I love that fundraiser, fundraising professionals, nonprofit professionals are so generous to showcase that work."

Ken Burnett (00:46:16):
"I think I was talking earlier about empathy and empathy is a really good word to really understand. Empathy and rapport, I think you have to have that ability to get the best out of people. It's not an easy thing to be a really effective campaigning fundraiser. You have to have likability and you have to have passion."

Ken Burnett (00:47:55):
"One of the things I was told is that you need to write to people and talk to people where they are and not where you want them to be."

Ken Burnett (00:50:34):
"If it is to be, is up to me."

Ken Burnett (00:56:56):
"He asked me why I was walking the Camino and I said, 'well, I'll be 71 next birthday, which is just next month and I thought this might be the last thing of any substance that I attempt in my life.'"


You can also download the full transcript

Download episode transcript



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