HomeNewsInterview mit Krizna Gomez: «Why not try to game different possible futures, and work backwards from there in determining our strategies today?»

Interview mit Krizna Gomez: «Why not try to game different possible futures, and work backwards from there in determining our strategies today?»


Krizna Gomez spricht am SwissFundraisingDay 2021 über «The FutureS of Fundraising». Als Expertin für Zukunftsforschung arbeitet Krizna mit NGOs auf der ganzen Welt zusammen, um deren Wirkung und Innovationsfähigkeit zu steigern. Wir haben Sie zum Interview getroffen, das ihr hier im Originalton (Englisch) lesen könnt.

You will be one of the main conference speakers at our SwissFundrasingDay. Do you know Switzerland or NGOs from Switzerland?

Just a couple of weeks ago, actually, I was speaking to the entire staff of a Geneva-based international human rights organization, who works with human rights defenders from all over the world so they can effectively access the UN and the different mechanisms under it. They, like many non-profits in Switzerland I assume, have a very peculiar context, being located in a key location in the world in terms of international advocacy. But other than that, I am largely not familiar with the NGO landscape in Switzerland, although I imagine that apart from its peculiarities (which I hope to learn more about during the conference), it has a lot of similarities with non-profits in other Western European countries like the Netherlands (where I currently reside).

You will give a speech on the topic of „Of crystal balls, pandemics, and resilience: why foresight should be in the DNA of the social change field“. What exactly does this refer to?

It refers to what I think is the urgent need, made starker by this pandemic, for the social field to stop constantly „adapting“ to change but instead „engineering“ it. The way that many non-profits, where I have worked all my career, operate is that we have come to take pride in our unique ability to quickly respond to emergencies and to sudden changes. But as this pandemic has shown us, this constant „emergency mode“ can get exhausting, draining, as if everyday work is an uphill battle before a force (that is, the future) that we have no control over. But in fact, the future is not a mere force that is coming at us, as if it is a given fact over which we have no control, but we can actively shape how it ends up looking. But to do this „engineering“ of change effectively, we need some skill sets where we don’t just look three or five years out, as we often do when we do strategic planning in our organizations, but we game the future 10, 20, or even 30 years out, and in doing so, scanning the horizon not just for the things that everyone is talking about, but also the things that lie beneath the surface, and are the at margins that everyone else is missing.

Also, the way we have been wired to do our strategies is that we base them on that one future that we predict is going to happen, or even worse, we base it only on what we see happening around us today. But the key to being ahead of the curve is to not bet our strategies on that one future, but to build competencies so we can thrive in a number of futureS. So, we don’t need a magic crystal ball to predict the future. What we need are foresight skills to go past prediction and into resilience, regardless of what scenario actually comes to pass (including a global pandemic or something similar).

And what do you think that has to do with fundraising?

Fundraising is the lifeblood of social change work. I have seen this everywhere in the world, including in Global South contexts — from grassroots movements to national NGOs — and having worked for a global funder myself that works with non-profits from every country you could imagine. In my old jobs in NGOs, I used to be tasked with writing funding proposals and managing relationships with donors. I thus know for a fact that raising money and getting people to support your cause, and to sustain that for a long time, is a whole science. So, if fundraising is such a critical lifeline and skill in any non-profit work, why shouldn’t its „science“ be brought to the top of its game, where every fundraiser has laser focus on everything that is going on the horizon and bionic ears to what is happening on the ground, using the indispensable skills brought by a deep knowledge of foresight?

We also know that many NGOs have disappeared overnight when funders they had always relied on suddenly changed priorities and cut their funding. I know that, for example, Finnish NGOs suffered from this a few years back, when significant government funding was cut. Many of the smaller ones had to fold. It took them „by surprise“. But as I was speaking to a colleague from there who has been at the forefront of foresight practice in the nonprofit sector in Finland, they all knew that it should not have been a surprise — there were precursors to that they were all aware of. So since then, Finnish NGOs have understood so well the centrality of foresight in their strategic thinking. Foresight equals resilience, so fundraising, which is one of key variables to resilience of non-profits, should be practicing foresight as well.

You wrote a foresight guide. Why do you think foresight skills are essential in the social change field? To what extent can such skills be useful for fundraisers?

See above. And adding: When we do strategies for our work, and a big chunk of that is a non-profit’s financial planning, we often base that on trends we see today or ones that have shaped reality in the recent past. But that is as if saying that the future will be a mere extrapolation of the present or the past. To a certain extent, we know that the present and of course history will influence the future, but the future is such a complex animal, being a mingling of so many unknowns and knowns. It just is impossible to predict in its entirety.

BUT that doesn’t mean that we should just throw in the towel and completely give up on grappling with the future, because the fact of the matter is, our strategies and the actions we will undertake based on it will inhabit not the present or the past, but the future. So why not try to game different possible futures, and work backwards from there in determining our strategies today? Especially in fundraising, it’s so tempting to keep doing the same thing that has always worked over and over until it no longer does, but that basically means you will be scraping the bottom of the pan so hard that you will end up ruining the pan and you will also find it hard to climb out of it after. Why not thrive in what works today, but also be ready to transition to the next best practice even before your old ways become stale? Why not shape fundraising trends than just keep jumping on the bandwagon everyone is in?

«Be the narrative» – that’s the title of one your blog entries. What does this mean, or, in other words: How can we be the narrative?

When people think of narratives, they often equate it with communications. When non-profits want to win hearts and minds for their causes, they bring in communications specialists to put some nice spin to their work, expecting that the comms folks can make those boring 100-page reports we like to publish suddenly read by the people we aim to reach (and who in fact never have the time to read our long reports). Being the narrative means not just using comms to doctor the surface of the story we tell but changing the very story itself by us embodying the very values we say we are about. Non-profits say they are about equality: do they manifest that in their hiring policy, the make-up of their staff, and in the way they engage with the partners they work with? They also say they are for the people and work for their communities: how often do they put those communities at the front and center of the conception, design, implementation and iteration of their projects? Do they have members of the community in their staff, or are the barriers so high that one needs to have multiple graduate degrees to even make it to an interview? Being the narrative means living out the narratives of kindness, equality, sense of community purpose and justice that they trumpet they are about. Then narratives cease to be just about comms — narratives become part and parcel of everything non-profits do, from high-level strategy, financial strategy and donor relations, comms, research, and programming.

How can changing the narrative help fundraisers and/or their organizations?

Fundraising is about telling a compelling story that can get people to support you. You cannot tell a compelling story if you do not live out the story you seek to convince people about, because people are smart — they can see through you and the actions of your organization.

Changing the narrative also means changing fundamentally the way we talk to people, away from technical jargon that our own parents cannot understand to a language that embodies authenticity, simplicity and human connection. Fundraisers, to be able to convince people, need to know what makes people tick, and what works with the human brain. How many fundraisers study the neuroscience of convincing people to determine their strategies? If we all did this, I am sure that we will begin to see very different narratives coming out of the non-profit world. Because the truth is, many of our narratives don’t just not work. They even backfire.

What can participants expect from your presentation? And why should they be there?

I will share perspectives I have learned from working in the non-profit world in different parts of the world and working with funders who fund them. I will share provocative ideas, make them question their long-held assumptions, but most importantly, share my own journey of what I have done wrong in my own work. This is really an attempt at trying to inspire the participants to find hope in an uncertain time, and humility in accepting that hey, there is a whole world of things out there I can still add to my toolkit! I know that because I went through that journey myself. So, if they want to leave with inspiration and a ton of questions and ideas on where to get started, they should sit comfortably in the auditorium then 🙂

And what do you expect to achieve in Bern?

I hope to learn from what Swiss fundraisers have been doing and learn about their landscape that I do not know much about. My background and a lot of the work I have done is focused on the Global South, being from the Philippines and having lived in different places and worked with activists in very difficult contexts outside of the US and Western Europe. So being at the Swissfundraising Conference will be a new experience for me, and I hope to leave with fresh eyes, a whole set of new learnings, and some inspiration myself.

Interview mit Krizna Gomez: «Why not try to game different possible futures, and work backwards from there in determining our strategies today?»