As an organisation, how do you manage risk in your fundraising activities? Do you focus on financial or reputational risk, or both, or other things too? Do you keep going until you’ve eliminated every possible risk from your plans? If so, are your activities still worth doing by the end?
I recently popped along to the Arnolfini for the latest Bristol Fundraising Group talk about risk management in fundraising. The speaker was the excellent Ed Wyatt, an experienced Compliance Manager for multiple big charities and long-time fundraiser and trustee. Ed has kindly given us permission to share some key learning points here…
Conversations about risk in fundraising can be frustrating and unproductive. It can feel like natural risk-takers and risk-averse people are speaking entirely alien languages, and often the loudest voice in the room wins.
This can have several consequences:
Reviewing your current fundraising portfolio, and where you might find The Next Big Thing
In his talk, Ed demonstrated a simple way of reviewing your current fundraising portfolio and defining your activities using four categories:
Low risk, high reward activities are the obvious sweet spot to aim for. Most of your fundraising probably falls into this category already but, since everybody else is thinking the same thing, the growth potential or uniqueness of these activities may be limited.
Low risk, low reward activities might've been very easy to get approval for, but they may not be worth the effort. And in the unlikely event that you have any high risk, low reward activities, you should flag these up urgently. In both cases, terminating these activities could be a good way to free up capacity for something else.
That leaves high risk, high reward activities. Scary territory, but if you’re looking for The Next Big Thing in fundraising, you may need to creep beyond your comfort zone into this space.
To do this, first you need to define your organisation’s risk appetite (the blue line above) - the line you're willing to creep up to, but not cross. ‘High risk’ and ‘low risk’ are likely to mean very different things if you work for an international conservation charity with a history of provocative campaigning activities, compared to a local community library.
Your risk appetite should depend on the nature of your mission, your beneficiaries, your financial position and the characteristics of your existing fundraising activities. It’s crucial to avoid being guided by anybody’s personal judgement, even management and trustees – we recently explored this same topic in our blog about ethical fundraising policies.
It’s vital to remember that ‘high risk’ must never mean breaking the law, fundraising regulations, your internal guidelines, your ethical fundraising policy or your gift acceptance policy.
Identifying risks in new fundraising opportunities
Before you decide what level of risk you’re prepared to live with, you need to identify all possible risks associated with your activity or event. Ed suggested using your own ‘risk library’ of common categories that most risks fall into, for example:
This works best as an energetic debate, not a dreaded tick-box exercise for one person alone behind a desk. Try to ask a few different personality types to sit in a room together and discuss - both natural risk-takers and risk-averse people have a key role here. You need to create the right atmosphere and reassure people that there are no right or wrong answers at this stage.
This was illustrated nicely by a group exercise at the end of the talk. Ed asked us all to imagine we were the Fundraising Team at a local animal park, who had been approached by an events company with a new idea: a series of late-night parties at the animal park for 18-30 year olds. This would be a new and potentially lucrative audience for the charity, but hardly risk-free.
My group had five minutes to consider all possible risks, and came up with the following:
As you can probably guess, this was a light-hearted attempt at risk assessment. But Ed said that humour is a useful tool in real-life scenarios too. ‘Eaten by a bear’ might have been a joke, but it helps to highlight a real risk (injury inflicted by the resident animals) that the organisers of this event might otherwise have forgotten to flag up.
Discuss how to manage risks but decide what level of risk you’re ultimately comfortable with
When deciding what to do about each risk, use the Four Ts:
It’s crucial to adopt a varied approach. Tolerating everything would be reckless, but treating everything is likely to be exhausting and impractical. Transferring everything would be prohibitively expensive, and terminating everything would leave you with a vanilla fundraising activity, or no activity at all.
By taking ownership of your risks, and making sure they’re all within an acceptable level, you can move to a more Zen-like state with your fundraising. Most lucrative fundraising activities carry some level of risk, so you need to think back to your risk appetite (the blue line below) and decide what level of risk your organisation is prepared to accept given the circumstances:
Contrary to popular belief, compliance and risk management shouldn’t be about saying ‘no’ - it's more a case of ‘not like that’. Risk-free activities are rarely financially or commercially realistic, but that’s not an excuse for failing to take responsibility of the situation or control of your risks.
In other words, don’t let your participants get eaten by a bear, but don’t let compliance bears eat up all your good fundraising ideas either.
Huge thanks to Ed Wyatt for giving us permission to share his learning, including his diagrams, and introduce bears into the story for no particular reason.
“Have you got a good template for developing our fundraising strategy?”
This is one of the most common questions we're asked, but one that we don’t have a very helpful answer for. Which is another way of saying that our stock answer is “No”.
There’s a very deliberate reason for this. A fundraising strategy template puts the emphasis on writing – it fuels the common myth that your fundraising strategy can be written by someone in isolation, with just a handy structure to help pull out and shape the information in their head. But I’ve seen plenty of beautifully written fundraising strategies that ended up in the bin or a dusty drawer within six months.
Writing isn’t the most important part of creating a fundraising strategy – it’s talking. To create a really good strategy, first you need to assemble the key people who understand your organisation and your previous fundraising efforts. Then you need to discuss your key opportunities and challenges, and make difficult decisions about how to use your limited resources.
This is why, instead of a fundraising strategy template, we have a series of exercises and processes that we can help you work through to arrive at some key decisions and conclusions. Yes, we can ultimately help you to write up those decisions and conclusions in a structured way, but – cheesy as it sounds – our emphasis is on the journey as much as the destination.
Of course, just saying "No, you can't have a template - go away and do loads of work instead" feels a bit mean. So here are a few reasons why developing your strategy needs to be a collaborative process, and what to focus on:
No one person has all the right answers
Even in a very small organisation, it takes more than one person to create a great fundraising strategy. You’ll benefit from involving your wider fundraising team, project staff, trustees, even key volunteers, supporters or donors. Often these people won’t have the right answers either, but they can ask the right questions to help you get there. Sometimes they’ll even have the wrong answers, but a successful strategy relies on bringing them along for the journey (more on that shortly).
Of course, involving lots of people in the process can feel unnerving – what if certain voices dominate the discussion, or nobody has anything to say and there’s an awkward silence?
When we support an organisation to develop their strategy, we work through a series of processes and structured exercises to help everybody contribute objectively to piecing everything together. This includes:
You need to debate, make and document difficult decisions
Some organisations mistakenly think that creating a fundraising strategy involves listing out all the conceivable types of fundraising you could do, with an action plan and an income target for every area.
The big issue here is assuming that you have the resources to do everything, and that all types of fundraising are equally valuable. For smaller organisations, this usually results in spreading yourself too thin, and doing many things badly rather than a few things well. Even for bigger organisations with capacity to try everything, it still ignores the reality that spending twice as long on Activity A might be better than doing equal amounts of A and B.
So Challenge #1: Making Difficult Decisions. If we focus on an individual giving programme rather than trying to do an annual event too, can we expect a better return? Do we need to prioritise some quick wins from trusts and foundations in Year 1 to safeguard our key service activities, before we try to tackle corporate fundraising?
It takes more than one person to answer these questions – you need a collaborative process, built on the processes and exercises described above.
That still leaves Challenge #2: Documenting Difficult Decisions. What if you’ve decided to discount a type of fundraising that some of your staff enjoy and have good previous experience with? What if a new trustee joins tomorrow who loves major donor fundraising, and can’t understand why you’re not doing it?
A good fundraising strategy doesn’t just explain what decisions you’ve made, but why. Crucially, this applies just as much to the things you don't do. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for deciding not to do certain types of fundraising – for example we don’t have the right expertise, the organisation isn’t ready, it’s too risky. Documenting these choices builds confidence in your strategy, and makes it less likely that people will challenge it in the near future.
Fundraising success depends on the whole organisation
Successful fundraising requires a lot more than a good fundraising team – management need to know how to support your efforts and set realistic targets, project staff need to provide the right information to help you write convincing proposals and report back on grants, and you’ll need cooperation and a joined-up message across your social media, newsletter and at events.
However, all staff are busy and they’re not going to drop everything to prioritise fundraising, particularly if they don’t understand the significance. So taking a collaborative approach to developing your fundraising strategy – and involving the wider team – helps people to appreciate any challenges that are blocking successful fundraising, and the often small things they can do to make a big difference.
Creating a fundraising strategy is a dynamic and different process for every organisation
We’ve successfully helped dozens of charities and social enterprises to create their fundraising strategy, but it’s never been exactly the same process twice.
Depending on your focus and circumstances, you’ll need to do bespoke bits of extra work. This could include anything from analysing why you keep losing out to similar organisations for key grants, segmenting your database to analyse how many people are donating at different levels, or creating an ethical fundraising policy to help you decide when to accept – or reject – donations from companies.
If you involve a broader range of people in developing your fundraising strategy, you have more chance of identifying any weak spots where you need to do extra work, then getting everyone on board to fix them.
This is another reason why a fundraising strategy template is misleading – because it implies that every organisation can just work through the same content, whereas in reality everyone’s circumstances are different.
For more info on how we help organisations to develop their fundraising strategy, click here.
Alternatively, check out our fundraising strategy training courses and free resources.
In the world of fundraising, I can't think of a more anticipated and talked-about date than 25 May 2018. It feels like the countdown to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into place has been going on forever, but now we're barely two weeks away from the big day.
Don't worry - this isn't another blog telling you how to get ready for GDPR. There are plenty of them already. I'm interested in the longer-term view - how could public fundraising fundamentally change as a result of the introduction of GDPR, and what should charities be doing now to stay ahead of the curve?
A friend of mine, who works in fundraising compliance at one of the big charities, set me the challenge of writing a blog about 'Public Fundraising 2.0' in the brave new world after GDPR. So I've dusted off my crystal ball and shared a few ideas...
Successful charities will focus on better relationships with fewer donors
There's no getting away from it - opt-in consent will make it harder to capture usable donor data and mean fewer contacts on your database. Gone are the days of adding big batches of contacts to your newsletter list gathered through business card drops, event contact lists and via your supporters' own fundraising efforts (arguably many of these methods weren't compliant pre-GDPR anyway, but many charities are only now clarifying their obligations in relation to existing Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)).
It's easy to see reduced data capture and fewer contacts as 'A Bad Thing'. After all, the traditional donor pyramid approach is very clear - capture enough new contacts at the bottom end and do a few clever things to nurture them, and you'll eventually have more high-value donors and legacy givers at the other end:
Although this approach is often accused of being outdated and fundamentally flawed, I think it has its merits (but that's a topic for another day). However, there's no doubt it's been working pretty badly for most charities. There's too much focus on quantity over quality - why keep building a database of passive contacts who rarely or never engage with your charity, when you're not investing in the capacity to communicate with people on a personal level or the analytics to evaluate what approaches are actually working?
Soon you'll find it much harder to build up your mailing list - or maybe you won't even have much of a mailing list at all, if you've been seeking fresh consent for GDPR - so you may as well start focusing on quality instead.
This means taking the time to use the data you have to personalise your communications as much as possible and segment your contact list more intelligently, making your mailings more relevant and targeted. You're only allowed to store personal data that you use anyway - so if you're collecting it, you ought to be acting on it.
Smaller charities may finally unlock the potential of major donors and legacy fundraising
A smaller contact list means two things - more time to focus on the supporters you do have, and fewer opportunities to get things wrong.
Retaining donors will become even more important, so charities have to be able to delight and inspire their donors. This should mean better thank you letters, more personalised follow-ups after events, and CEOs and trustees dedicating more time to meeting and cultivating high-value prospects.
Major donor fundraising and legacy fundraising have long been undervalued by smaller charities, who are often put off by the lead time and initial legwork involved. Now this might start to seem like a more obvious route, as high-volume individual giving starts to feel like a more difficult and less profitable pipe dream. If smaller charities start to realise the benefits of investing more time (and senior management time) in cultivating donors, I suspect we'll start to see an increased focus on major donor and legacy fundraising.
The value and popularity of communication channels will gradually change
If you do still want to focus on mass marketing, you may need to reconsider which channels work best. The high bar set for the level of consent you need means that email marketing could become a fading force - mailing lists are shrinking, people unsubscribe at the touch of a button, and emails are increasingly being caught in intelligent spam filters.
Meanwhile, unaddressed mail requires much less in the way of consent - so while this is a blunt instrument and the precise opposite of a personalised approach, it's likely to become more popular. It won't become an effective tool overnight, but could start to look more attractive to charities struggling with email marketing. As a result, more cost-effective and creative approaches to unaddressed mail will start to emerge over time.
Social media fundraising will also finally start to take off. Successful charities will focus less on trying to capture email marketing consent from followers, and more on engaging with these people meaningfully within that platform. The new Facebook fundraising tools mean that people don't need to be on your mailing list or even visit your website to spontaneously donate. So why spend time on your dwindling mailing list when you could be mastering these tools or making sure you reply to every single follower quickly and personally?
These changes will happen gradually, so you'll need to keep your ear to the ground and not assume that what worked best yesterday will still be the best option tomorrow. Which brings me to...
Charities will have to collaborate more to make sense of a tricky new world
With the whole sector taking a battering for its fundraising methods, charities need to work together to find the best way forward.
Of course there's naturally competition between charities, but we'll all raise more if we help each other to win back the trust of an increasingly sceptical public and deal with the challenges of GDPR. Large charities have access to more supporters - and therefore more meaningful test data - than smaller charities. Charity A might be more experienced with a specific audience than Charity B. One of your fundraising campaigns may have backfired spectacularly in a way that other organisations could learn from.
Some fundraisers are already collaborating to great effect - the immensely useful Fundraising Chat group on Facebook has topped 6,000 helpful members, but that's the tip of the iceberg for the sector as a whole.
Choosing the right third party platforms will be vital
Your Data Protection compliance and data capture methods are only as good as the third party platforms you use - whether that's Facebook, Mailchimp, Justgiving or any other system.
With data security high on the news agenda, people are becoming more cautious about sharing their data online - so platforms that are trustworthy and creative in how they gather data will be worth their weight in gold. Choosing the cheapest option may be a false economy, and free platforms are often free for a reason.
I recently worked with a charity running their first ever crowdfunding campaign. Despite setting an achievable fundraising target, they knew a lot of work would be involved - so the true value of the campaign would come through the long-term value of the donor relationships they built, more than the short-term income.
They successfully hit their target, but their crowdfunding platform was tricky to use and hadn't given much thought to donor consent. As a result, the charity felt unable to add the donors to their database, or even email them again to seek consent. A different platform, even with higher fees, would've resulted in a much more valuable campaign.
More fundraising will become product-based, and maybe not really fundraising at all
Without a sizeable supporter database, we'll become more reliant on profitable one-off interactions than repeated asks - but maybe that's no bad thing.
With charities increasingly picking up the slack for spending cuts and social inequality, an increased number of appeals feels inevitable. But fundraising is arguably reaching saturation point in terms of how much it interrupts our daily lives - in the streets, at our doors, on TV and through our letterboxes.
One way to address this is to make fundraising a more welcome part of people's lives - through gamification, collaboration with retailers or social media stars, or events that are profitable based solely on selling people a good experience rather than capturing their data for long-term fundraising. This focuses on the product instead of the ask. It blurs the boundary between fundraising and broader income-generation, and sometimes isn't really fundraising at all.
We recently published this blog on the need for more non-disruptive fundraising, which is only going to become more important after the introduction of GDPR. Have a read now to get some inspiration if you haven't already.
It’s tempting to think that the recent fundraising crisis came out of nowhere – that public resentment was just whipped up by the media and a few horror stories – but the reality is different.
Frustration and dissatisfaction had actually been simmering away for a long time. In 2016, nfpSynergy reported that the charity sector had one of the lowest complaint rates across seven sectors, but the highest level of people wanting to complain but not doing so. Given that the other sectors included pensions, mortgages and broadband providers, that’s a sobering statistic.
So why have people been growing increasingly unhappy with charities? Specific cases of bad practice haven’t helped, but I think there’s a broader issue.
Most of our public fundraising methods seem to rely on interrupting – rather than complementing – our everyday lives. We get stopped in the street. People knock on our doors. Charity appeals pop up on TV and through our letterboxes.
In a world marred by spending cuts and growing inequality, this may feel inevitable. More and more people are being denied happy and healthy lives, and charities are stepping in to pick up the slack. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if these fundraising methods work and people have the money to donate, what’s the problem?
Unfortunately, many fundraising methods seem incompatible with a changing society. Digital technology has given people an unprecedented level of choice and flexibility. We stream music that we want to listen to, instead of sitting through songs we don’t like on the radio. We watch our favourite programmes on catch up TV, rather than 'seeing what’s on'.
We increasingly live in our own bubble where we do things on our own terms. So when we perceive that we’re being interrupted unnecessarily – whether by a company, a charity or an individual – we often feel harassed or angry.
So street, door-to-door and television fundraising – while hugely successful financially, particularly for household name charities – are often negative experiences for the public, stirring up feelings of pressure and guilt.
I’m not saying that 'traditional' forms of fundraising are fundamentally wrong, or that negative media coverage is always justified. However, in these tough times, many charities need to raise increasing amounts from the public to keep supporting their beneficiaries. For this to be sustainable, we need to be more creative and varied in our fundraising efforts.
A popular buzzword today is ‘disruption’ – the concept (originating in Silicon Valley) of smaller companies unseating market leaders in an industry with an innovative or simpler solution. But when it comes to fundraising, perhaps the most effective form of ‘disruption' is actually to be as non-disruptive as possible.
We need to find more ways to fundraise that fit in with or add value to people’s lives, rather than interrupting them.
I’ve seen a few great examples recently – and while many are being implemented by large charities, there’s plenty that the whole sector can learn:
1. Rounding up in shops
Recently, staff in my local Tesco in Bristol were fundraising for Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation. To support their efforts, Tesco added a prompt to their self-service machines asking customers to make a small donation to round up their bills:
Over about a month, I must have donated ten times (I’m not a very strategic shopper, and Tesco is a one-minute walk around the corner). Never more than 10p – but with so many customers and transactions, you can imagine how this small but frequent giving can add up.
While this did involve adding an extra screen to the self-service process, I could choose to donate or decline within two seconds. It didn’t feel obtrusive at all, and there was no awkwardness in saying no. Many people will have supported two charities that they might not have thought of giving to before.
Smaller charities may find it near-impossible to forge a partnership with a major supermarket. However that doesn’t stop you approaching local shops or restaurants about a similar arrangement, or applying to supermarket community schemes like Waitrose’s green token scheme. You can also look at joining nationwide schemes like Pennies.
2. Good old-fashioned community fundraising
Community fundraising is brilliant because it performs a social function as well as raising money. It's something positive to do and provides an opportunity to meet new people, which can be really important for some.
While most people immediately think of the Macmillan Coffee Morning – which raises almost £30million annually – personally I love Mind’s Crafternoon fundraiser. This promotes mental health and mindfulness, while encouraging people to come together and focus on making something.
Any charity – no matter what size – can design an attractive community fundraising idea for their own supporters, whether that means a database of a thousand people or a small group of friends and family.
The key is to develop your idea in consultation with your target audience, start small, gather feedback and gradually scale it up. Ultimately, community fundraising works best when it's led by volunteers, with minimal input and support from paid staff.
3. Social media collaboration
Building an audience for fundraising is tough for smaller charities, so getting a leg-up makes a huge difference.
I’ve always loved this example of how the popular Humans of New York photoblog raised over $100,000 in less than an hour, by combining a powerful ask for a local cause with an inspiring story. Founder Brandon Stanton had already built a huge audience that enjoyed glimpsing other people’s lives and hearing their stories, so appealing for help was a logical next step.
Winning the trust of an audience that are already passionate about something, and making a related ask on the platform they already use, is another great way of weaving fundraising into the fabric of everyday life.
Building a relationship with - for example - a blogger or YouTube star isn’t easy, but might be a better bet than approaching major companies, particularly if there’s a reason why they’d support your cause. Try looking out for rising stars and make contact with them before they hit the big time.
Ever been through Stockholm Airport and seen these charity arcade machines?
I love this for two reasons. Firstly, it takes something that’s already popular and adds a fundraising twist. If people like arcade machines in airports, why wouldn’t they love using them for a good cause?
Secondly, this is a brilliant example of the gamification of fundraising. This increasing trend uses games, challenges and adventures to give people an added incentive to support a cause – and it really works.
You’ll probably struggle to get arcade machines placed in major airports. However, you can still use this as inspiration: can you ‘gamify’ any of your existing fundraising efforts, or add a fundraising twist to something your local supporters already enjoy doing?
5. Making donating easy
When people decide they want to donate to you – no matter how or where – it’s not the end of the story. The physical act of donating has to be intuitive and convenient – if it’s too complicated, you’ll lose donors.
As technology moves on, people expect the organisations they interact with to keep pace. The use of contactless cards is booming – contactless payments now account for a third of all card purchases, up from 10% just two years ago. Cash is a fading force, and charities are losing out by still relying too much on it – by as much as £80million per year, according to this report.
It’s worth exploring options now for taking card and contactless payments, as the cost and barriers to entry will continue to come down for smaller charities. Also, make sure your donation and registration forms (both online and paper) are as simple as possible.
Trustees’ Week is a great opportunity to celebrate the amazing contribution being made by over one million voluntary trustees in the UK – and rightly so. But are trustees doing as much as they can to support their charity’s fundraising efforts – and is your organisation missing a trick?
The UK is the sixth most giving country in the world and has a proud charitable tradition, despite plenty of negative media coverage in recent years. This simply wouldn’t be possible without the work of trustees, who dedicate their time to making vital decisions about a charity’s work and strategy.
On average, trustees give almost five hours per week of their time – based on the median hourly wage, this is worth a staggering £3.5bn a year to the sector (source: Civil Society). However, in our experience, often only a small amount of this time is dedicated to supporting fundraising. Generally, the charities that we work with have few (if any) trustees with fundraising expertise or knowledge.
Smaller charities inevitably tend to have few paid staff, so it’s essential that their Boards bring expertise related to governance, financial management and their specific area of work (for instance, education or social care). As a result, fundraising can seem a lower priority – charities may never get around to looking for trustees with fundraising experience, lack the contacts to find the right people, or not have a vacant space on their Board.
Many trustees therefore feel they lack the knowledge and confidence to support fundraising – but with a bit of encouragement, there’s so much they could do.
Leading the way on a whole-organisation commitment to fundraising
Fundraising relies so much on contacts and having a captive audience. However, for obvious reasons, smaller charities rarely have the large supporter bases, volunteer networks and marketing budgets enjoyed by household name charities. As a result, they need as much help as possible from all the people already involved in their work.
Charities raise more money when all their staff and trustees recognise the value of fundraising and the importance of supporting it however they can. That doesn’t mean people need to put their hands in their own pockets, or feel under pressure to always help in the same way. There are so many small things that trustees and staff can do that help to make a huge difference:
Developing the right culture for fundraising
As well as leading by example and providing hands-on support, great trustees can also shape the entire working culture of a charity, creating an environment where fundraising – and fundraisers – are able to thrive. Here are five ways of doing this:
Developing a whole-organisation commitment to fundraising, and creating the right culture for fundraising to thrive, is of course easier when you have fundraising expertise on your Board. However, in a tough financial climate, you can’t wait until tomorrow to start. While most trustees won’t be able to help with all of the above, we guarantee that every trustee can do something - and staff will appreciate it more than you may expect.
“We really want to create the next Ice Bucket Challenge / No Makeup Selfie / <insert high-profile viral campaign here>.”
In my experience, this is one of the most common aspirations voiced by well-meaning staff and trustees. But here's the truth: almost every attempt to emulate this kind of campaign is destined to fail. It's not just that creating a viral campaign in such a busy market is difficult. It's that most people miss the very thing that makes these campaigns successful in the first place.
The best campaigns aren’t dreamed up in a boardroom or on flipchart paper. They begin organically - someone shares a personal update which resonates with a few other people who share it. If it's simple, seems genuine and, crucially, doesn’t have any obvious branding or marketing message, then it might gain traction from there.
It’s the organic messages, the simple supporter stories that aren’t put through a brand filter, that really have the potential to capture people's imaginations. So when charities are eager to raise awareness about their organisation and “get their message out there”, all too often they manage to achieve the complete opposite.
Of course, I understand the urge to tell your message and story in your own voice. It's definitely a trap I’ve fallen into myself. Particularly for small charities, the chance to shine in the public eye is all too rare. So if you ever get an opportunity, you feel the need to “polish” your message as much as possible. If you’re anxious about measuring the return on your efforts, you're naturally keen to link to your website, ask for a direct donation etc. The problem is, it very rarely works.
When your clever marketing people - or staff with expert knowledge of your work - get their hands on your message, they can inadvertently make it sound much drier, and strip away that all-important authenticity.
Most people aren't actually very passionate about specific charities, they're excited by causes and by stories of the people they want to help.
So when you try to reframe your message using the words that matter to you, and put your charity front and centre, you usually miss out on those all-important shares as a result.
A couple of weeks ago I went to SOFII's I Wish I Thought of That, an annual event where 17 experts showcase the best and most inspiring fundraising campaign they wish they'd come up with. This year, one theme kept popping up again and again – charities can really gain from being braver about taking a backseat, instead letting the people they help 'own' their own voice.
One amazing example of this is Emmy and Jake’s tandem fundraising challenge for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. When Emmy Collett received the heartbreaking news that she had thyroid cancer, she embarked on a 2000km tandem cycling challenge with her childhood sweetheart Jake.
Their poignant, inspiring and authentic personal story quickly gained publicity, but The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity made a conscious decision to remain in the background and let the young couple speak freely to the media and ‘own’ their story. People wanted to give these two amazing people, but it was the charity that really gained - to date, Emmy and Jake have raised over £100,000.
And this wasn't a one-off, as shown by the unique fundraising efforts of Paul Trueman, inspired by a hard-hitting domestic abuse storyline in BBC Radio’s long-standing The Archers:
This unique fundraising campaign – using a fictional storyline to highlight the plight of real women – captured the imagination and empathy of the public. Refuge, the beneficiary charity, could have jumped on this and taken the opportunity to tell their organisational story, sell their work and 'polish up' the message. Instead, like Royal Marsden, they trusted the creator of the story to be its best ambassador. £170,000 later, it seems like a pretty good decision.
Christmas 2016 provided some great inspiration too.
The festive adverts were a great reminder of the power of storytelling, lingering longer in our minds than the leftover turkey. We’re all familiar with the heart-warming Christmas advert stories by John Lewis and Sainsbury’s – but have you stopped to think about how little the companies feature in their own adverts? By deliberately staying out the limelight, they make their adverts feel less 'salesy' and more authentic, so people are far more likely to share them.
My favourite Christmas 2016 advert actually came from Poland, in the form of this lovely tale about a man learning English so he can visit his new family:
It’s been viewed nearly 13 million times and widely shared by countless people have fallen in love with the simple, human story. The people behind it, an online auction company called Allegro, barely feature in it at all – yet they’ve gained loads of column inches and seen a big spike in searches and website hits as a result.
So why not enlist others to help tell our stories?
In today's world of spontaneous online interactions, I think that too many charities underestimate how well others can tell their story for them.
I was listening to a social media expert answer questions from charities recently and one of her answers really stuck with me. She was asked how to balance the need to be nimble and react quickly on social media with the need to have ‘brand control’ and sign-off procedures for less experienced staff.
Her view was simple: when you take on new staff, they automatically become your ambassadors. You trust them to represent your organisation to their friends and family, to talk about you at parties, in the pub, or over a cup of coffee, and often this leads to really useful introductions – so why not do it online?
As you consider your New Year’s Resolutions for 2017, do you think your organisation is brave enough to take a step back and let your supporters tell their own story too?
This undoubtedly requires courage, faith in the people who represent you, and a willingness to relinquish control. But get it right, and maybe someday people will be talking about your viral campaign and wondering how they could replicate it.
With so many compelling causes, great fundraising campaigns and quirky events out there, it's harder than ever to stand out from the crowd. With changing fundraising regulation and declining public trust in charities, we're going to need to be more creative than ever if we're to appeal to the general public and convince people to support us.
1. Be clear on the core purpose
Why do need a new campaign or event anyway? The obvious answer is ‘to raise money’ but it’s not always as simple as that. Sometimes charities organise events to raise awareness about their work or a specific issue or engage with a particular audience. Some campaigns can be a low-cost way of acquiring new supporters who may contribute in other ways in future - this can be more important than the immediate fundraising return.
Establishing one clear purpose is better than trying to tick lots of vague boxes at the same time. It'll make it easier to evaluate your ideas then measure success later. It may even help you decide whether to go it alone or sign up to be part of a third party event or campaign.
2. Decide whether to link to your mission
Campaigns like Sleep Out for Centrepoint and Live Below The Line have the double benefit of raising money for a good cause and encouraging participants to empathise with people in need. This is something that you might want to replicate, but it's not essential.
When I worked at Link and we first discussed Sumo Run, some trustees were sceptical – why would an African charity want to organise a Japanese-themed run? But the event was so fun and visual that it got wide press attention and introduced us to so many new supporters, despite not being directly relevant to our work.
Think carefully about how closely you want to link to your mission. Bear in mind your core purpose (see above) – for instance an awareness-raising event is more likely to require that direct connection. However, sometimes linking to your mission can seem tenuous or even crass - Live Below The Line has been heavily criticised by many - so don’t be afraid to try something radical instead.
3. Involve your supporters
Charities often ask me ‘what new event should we sign up to?’ or ‘how often would our supporters like to receive our newsletter?’ but don’t ask their supporters the same question! I think smaller charities should try to engage supporters more with their tricky decisions, rather than always trying to present a polished, professional face.
Your supporters are the best people to tell you what they do and don’t like. Try organising a focus group, creating a quick survey with a site like Survey Monkey or inviting trusted supporters to join your team brainstorming meeting. You not only get valuable insight, you’ll create ambassadors who are naturally invested in seeing you succeed - if only so they can prove their idea was right!
4. Examine the market
Before you try to come up with your perfect idea, look at what's out there already. Which fundraising events have been particularly successful? Which campaigns have really got people talking? Equally importantly, what can you learn from activities that have gone badly?
Don’t just look at competitors’ websites. Phone them and ask questions or sign up yourself to experience things as a participant. This helps you to understand what people are likely to get excited or unhappy about, meaning you can learn from the mistakes of others. For physical events, this can give you an invaluable insight into specific issues like how to ensure that on-the-day registration runs smoothly or deciding what music to play at the finish line.
5. Generate lots of ideas
With a clear core purpose, a sound knowledge of the market and insight from your supporters, it’s time to start brainstorming ideas of your own. You’re likely to want to identify at least ten initial ideas, then pick out at least three to explore in detail.
Research shows that people tend to be afraid of sharing 'bad' ideas and that we're psychologically resistant to having too many options to choose between. This can make people reluctant to contribute. For a powerful brainstorming session, summarise your initial research (1-4 above), explain the importance of generating lots of ideas to evaluate and foster a relaxed and creative environment where everyone feels able to contribute in the knowledge that no ideas are wrong.
6. ...then evaluate and prioritise the strongest ones
One great approach is to come up with a shortlist of key questions to test each idea against. These may include ‘Will our supporters be excited about it?’, ‘Does it help us achieve our core purpose?’ and ‘Do we have the resources to make it happen?’
This stage can take the form of an open discussion or a much more scientific approach where you score ideas based on different criteria. Either way, it will help to focus people on what really matters when making a decision. Check out Lucy Gower’s brilliant book The Innovation Workout for in-depth advice on brainstorming and filtering ideas.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, but you should again seek supporter feedback at this stage to ensure you haven’t got things wrong. Even the best known charities can misjudge their ideas – Samaritans Radar was an ill-fated app that was cancelled within 10 days due to a public backlash.
7. Create a clear launch plan
Turning a great idea into real-life success requires a strong plan. Pull together a launch team with the range of skills required, but avoiding involving 'too many cooks' at this stage as it can hold you back. Be clear on the main tasks, people responsible and key milestones – and be firm about staying on schedule. Basecamp is a great project management tool for planning campaign launches.
A good launch plan isn't just about logistics. You need to sound your best supporters and friends of the charity in advance so that they’re primed to sign up, donate or share content immediately. This is crucial for launching with a splash - people will naturally be more excited about getting involved with activities that already seem popular. This is particularly important for crowdfunding campaigns.
This may be a great time to consider external support as you'll benefit from specialist expertise, extra resources and independent, unbiased perspective. Take a look at how we work with charities.
8. Perfectionists – just get it launched!
You can go round in circles forever fine-tuning your idea, but at some point you need to launch it and find out what the world thinks. It’s too easy to spend ages fussing about your website copy, timetable or registration form, only to launch and find out that the core idea isn't right anyway.
In business there's a concept called the minimum viable product (MVP). This is a simplified, scaled-down version of your idea that you launch and continue developing later. Early feedback will help you to sharpen up the concept and initial demand will justify putting more time into development. So get your event or campaign out there ASAP and worry about scaling it up and perfecting it later.
This blog is based on a version that was first published on Eventbrite in February 2016. If you've enjoyed reading it, please sign up to our mailing list for more blogs and advice.
I recently had my first taste of I Wish I'd Thought of That, an annual event in London organised by SOFII where 18 fundraising experts share the innovative fundraising idea they wish they’d had in a seven-minute presentation.
This is a great concept at the best of times – asking people to wax lyrical about somebody else’s work, rather than promoting themselves, is instantly engaging. Coming in the wake of the intense media scrutiny about fundraising practice and low public trust in charities, it seemed a particularly interesting time to hear people’s views on fundraising ideas that the sector has got right.
It was fascinating to gauge the collective mood of some of the sector’s most passionate and imaginative fundraisers. Clearly many people have been bruised by the criticism of a profession which at its best – a way of connecting altruistic people with life-changing causes – should be something to celebrate and treasure.
While some have been warning of a crisis for a while, even those who passionately advocate fundraising are using this as a welcome opportunity for self-examination and change. Overwhelmingly, and encouragingly, the mood was far more pensive than defensive.
Of the 18 ideas shared, my favourite ones focused on inspiring donors, connecting them to the cause and making them feel great about the difference they make. Intentionally or otherwise, this was a welcome antidote to the clinical, pressurising type of fundraising that we’ve seen exposed recently.
While some of the ideas showcased at IWITOT are evidently tricky for smaller charities to implement, I think we can all learn something from the concepts behind them. Here are my six take-away ideas for inspiring and captivating your donors, which conveniently (and with a little help from a thesaurus) all begin with I…
Alexandra Aggidis used the Jack Draws Anything campaign to show the value of creating individual experiences for donors. Jack, whose little brothers had spent time in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, wanted to help raise money for other children in need. He offered to personally draw a unique picture for every donor. He set out to raise £100 but, 536 drawings later, had raised an astonishing £64,700.
This was a campaign with a difference, based on a touching story with a healthy dose of nostalgia. In today’s world of technology and mass fundraising, Jack offered donors a simple and incredibly personal experience. Using some rough calculations about the cost of paper and felt tip pens, Alexandra estimated that the return on investment was an eye-watering 732 to 1!
RNLI’s brilliant Lifeboat Launch Alerts connect donors to the lifeboat launch pager system, so they can receive live updates about when boats are launched on life-saving missions. Donors can control which stations they follow, how many updates they receive and what times of day (or night) they receive them. Each message costs 25p, ensuring an ongoing fundraising stream for the RNLI.
As Louise Parkes explained, RNLI have found a low-cost, transparent way to connect donors closely to the work their support has enabled in real time. They trust their donors with sensitive, live information. We always talk about the importance of storytelling and keeping donors updated, but Lifeboat Launch Alerts is an unusually strong and effective example of doing it.
Drawing on the recent media scrutiny of fundraising, Georgia Bridgwood said that, for too long, we have been treating donors as targets and cash-cows, rather than stakeholders who are central to our plans and solutions. The Donate Locate app, launched by homeless charity The Connection at St Martins, changes that.
When you see a homeless person, you can use the app to make a donation and send the charity their location. You’re now an outreach worker as well as a donor, playing an active role in helping the charity to find out where homeless people are and send help. Many passers-by see homeless people and want to help, but have doubts about their authenticity and where the money will go. One moment of hesitation is enough to make you walk on by. Donate Locate removes that hesitation and empowers donors to make a real difference.
When we think about airports, we tend to imagine the rush of getting to our gate or the deflating feeling of arriving home to rainy Britain. Not the greatest place for fundraising, right? Sandy Luther argued otherwise, showcasing the ingenious Social Swipe.
Interactive digital billboards in airports asked people to donate €2 by credit card, using images like a loaf of bread and a pair of tied hands to highlight problems like hunger and unfair imprisonment. Donors swiped their credit card through the middle of the image, with graphics showing the bread being sliced, or the hands being untied.
70% of people say they would donate more if they knew how their money was directly helping. Social Swipe uses complicated technology to create a very simple message about the power of donating. Instant gratification also has a great follow-up – when donors saw their credit card statement, the standard payment details had been replaced with a message asking them to consider a regular donation.
People may be willing to donate their time as well as money, but only if they feel they can really make a difference. Ben Swart talked about the Help the Oma campaign by German charity Diakonie, which used actresses to play the role of ‘grannies’ (‘oma’ means ‘granny’ in German) who got themselves into compromising positions. When passers-by stepped in to help, they were given a flyer saying ‘You’re exactly what I’m looking for’.
The campaign made everybody feel like they could make a difference. It played on that rewarding feeling that we all get when we do a good deed, which often inspires us to want to do more. Diakonie not only managed to quadruple their number of volunteers, they also made the national press and produced this hilarious video.
6. Institutionalisation (!)
Stephanie Drummond started her presentation by declaring herself a nightmare for charities. Like many young people, she rarely carries much cash, doesn't often check emails and periodically changes her contact details. So how do you reach the unreachable donor?
Thanks to Penny for London, Stephanie gives to charities almost everyday. Penny for London allows donors to donate as little as 1p every time they use their contactless debit cards at participating retailers, including Transport for London. It’s convenient, affordable for all and establishes the habit of frequent giving. At a time when so many fundraising campaigns disrupt our daily routine and require us to actively do something, Penny for London institutionalises donating as a regular, easy part of our daily routines.
Stephanie was one of three fundraisers in the first few years of their careers who came through a preliminary competition to get the chance to speak at IWITOT, and all three of them more than held their own against some very experienced fundraisers. Two were voted in the top three overall!
I left IWITOT feeling that the future of fundraising may be bright after all, thanks to the great ideas and the passionate talent on display. If you're feeling a bit demoralised about the state of fundraising, I highly recommend that you check out next year's event or the videos from this year, which SOFII will be posting online soon.
This month I had an experience I'll never forget as I was best man as my friends Sam and Jess got married.
This is why, despite the nerves, giving a best man's speech can be easier than writing charity communications.
When talking to your supporters, you're much less likely to have their full attention. In the age of online information, we read things quickly in a spare moment and are accustomed to punchy and engaging content, otherwise we switch off. People tend to be on several charity mailing lists, so writing a charity newsletter is a lot like attempting to give a best man's speech with many other people in the room trying to talk over you.
Consider this: the average email open rate in the charity sector is 20%. Many charities fall below that. So for every five people that you write to, four of them won't even open it.
This is why we need to talk about charity mailings.
I receive regular updates from many charities and most usually have really interesting news to share. Some do this in a slick, engaging way. However, too many smaller charities rely on the old-fashioned method of sending a mass email with a PDF attachment which often wouldn't have looked out of place as a school or village newsletter 20 years ago. I find this off-putting, even if I know the charity will have something interesting to say.
There are many drawbacks to PDF newsletters:
There are many packages which enable you to manage your email subscribers, design newsletter templates and send them out in one click. This little technology upgrade will make a huge difference:
If you can design a PDF newsletter or do basic web page editing, you’ll be capable of using the software. The small amount of time that you invest up front in getting to grips with it and designing an email template will be completely outweighed by the ongoing time and efficiency savings.
There really is no excuse for persisting with PDF mailings – it’s time to get out of the dark ages! If you’d like some help to plan your charity’s communications or set up and use email marketing software, we'd be happy to help...
Finally, here are six extra tips for writing engaging and powerful mailings:
1. Consistent branding – use the same header image, logo, font styles, colours etc. to create a strong and trustworthy impression with your supporters.
2. Cut the jargon – some words that you use every day with colleagues will actually mean very little to your supporters. What you write needs to be 'human' and easy to understand. My pet hates are words like 'learners' (instead of children), 'facilitating' and 'capacity building'. Read communications sent by the largest charities like UNICEF and Save the Children and you'll see that every single word is carefully considered, accessible and crystal clear.
3. Use strong imagery – a powerful, relevant image can be the difference between a mediocre mailing and a great one. Like-for-like comparisons show that strong images increase click and response rates. So don’t just slot in any old image as your last act before pressing send.
4. Perfect your subject lines – email subject lines can also become a last-minute afterthought but a weak, vague or boring subject line may mean that people never even open your email. Your subject line is the first and sometimes the only thing that people see, so make it compelling and informative.
5. Don’t waste your words – often introductions accomplish very little other than boring people. For instance ‘Welcome to the latest edition of our newsletter. It’s been a busy month...’ is little more than a waste of words. A good newsletter doesn’t need to refer to itself – you should be grabbing attention immediately.
6. Prioritise your content – before writing a newsletter, think carefully about your priorities. Which one story do you want people to read the most? What is the single most important action that somebody should take after reading it? Use this to inform the order and layout of your stories. Some messages (like ‘sign up to our new event’ or ‘sign this petition’) will often do better as a single-theme email bulletin that stands out, rather than as part of a longer newsletter.
This blog is an adapted version of a blog first published on Eventbrite on 13 August 2015.
Christmas – there’s nothing quite like it, is there?
I’ve never quite lost the sense of magic and exhilaration I used to feel as a child. Honestly – I used to barely sleep on Christmas Eve. I lay awake for hours every year, way too excited to stay still long enough to even think about sleeping.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the thought of presents that got me going. I was more excited about just seeing Father Christmas in action, with his sack of presents over his shoulder. To find out whether he had eaten the carrot and glass of milk I had left outside my door. I had read so many magical Christmas stories and watched so many films that it all just seemed so real, and I wanted to see it for myself.
It seemed unfair that I’d spend so many hours tossing and turning but, as soon as I dropped off to sleep, Father Christmas would know to come. So I devised ways of making sure I didn’t sleep through the magical moment. I remember trying one year to lay a trip wire across my bedroom floor, hoping he’d end up making enough noise to wake me up.
As the traps got more creative, so too did my parents’ excuses. “Father Christmas said he left your presents outside your door this year because he was running late and in a hurry.” My poor parents, but they were always one step ahead of me.
The point of all this festive nostalgia is to demonstrate just how powerful stories can be. They can have a huge impact on adults and children alike. A good story burns an image onto our brain that we cannot forget quickly. This can have a big effect on the way we behave and communicate with others.
Many companies are brilliant at exploiting the power of storytelling for commercial gain. We were barely into November when John Lewis launched their Christmas advert featuring a heart-warming tale about a lonely penguin. Then along came Sainsbury’s with their hotly-debated World War I themed advert. Crucially, neither advert even mentions what you might expect to find in their stores. They are all about the story, and the way this makes you feel.
Increasingly, charities are using the same approach to great effect. We live in a world where thousands of charities are competing for our donations and attention. People understandably become desensitised to charitable messages, so creating an inspiring and memorable story is a great way to stand out from the crowd.
As a charity, you will have some of the most powerful and inspiring stories to tell. You work with people who battle against personal challenges and show huge courage in the face of adversity. Your heroic supporters pour their time and energy into creative and selfless fundraising efforts.
Using stories is such a great way of explaining your vision of a better world and what needs to change in order to achieve this. Stories are not only memorable and easy to understand, they are also easy for your supporters to share with others. In a world where we are all so connected virtually if not physically, this is really powerful.
It’s not only about communicating with your supporters. You need all your staff and volunteers to feel motivated and proud of what your charity does, and be willing to spread the word to others. Again, there’s no better way of doing this than with a good tale.
Many of you will be familiar with the incredible story of Stephen Sutton. Stephen had been battling cancer since the age of 15 and, in late 2012, was told that it was incurable.
He responded by creating his own Facebook group called Stephen’s Story, publishing his Bucketlist of 46 things he wanted to achieve in the near future and setting up an online fundraising page aiming to raise an initial £10,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust.
His story became known across the world. He became a motivational speaker and a symbol of hope and inspiration for millions of others. When Stephen passed away in May 2014, there was an outpouring of grief but also celebration of his life.
Stephen eventually raised over £4million for Teenage Cancer Trust and a huge amount of awareness. There are now plans for every school in the UK to teach teenagers how to spot the early signs of cancer, an initiative inspired by Stephen’s story.
One ordinary boy with an incredible attitude and a positive yet simple personal story. Millions of people inspired to take direct action in a way that no statistic or traditional appeal could have achieved.
Using stories to make content more appealing, personal and memorable is something we can all do. That’s why my own blogs have featured tales of gender-confused kittens and week-long obsessions with Bourbon biscuits.
I recommend you check out a brilliant website called Good News Shared which demonstrates the power of storytelling for charities on a daily basis. In response to a world dominated by negative and sad news stories, Good News Shared focuses on the positive and inspiring work done by charities and social enterprises. It features some brilliant stories so is well worth a visit if you’re looking for some inspiration for your charity.
To mark the Christmas period and the reappearance of some classic festive tales, I wanted to share my six top tips for how your charity can tell its own powerful story in 2015:
1. Keep it positive – evidence shows that people are growing tired of ‘traditional’ charity appeals about suffering and pain. The best charity campaigns increasingly talk about hope and change. Instead of upsetting people into donating, try inspiring them instead. That doesn’t mean you should avoid reality, but make your overall message upbeat and make sure you have a happy ending.
2. Faces not figures – a good personal story is always more memorable than even a powerful statistic. Make your story about one memorable individual. Use photos and some background information about that person to make it feel more real and have a bigger impact.
3. Mix your media – there’s no way around it: too much text makes people switch off. These days we expect to be engaged in other ways. We watch more videos. We listen to more audio books. A one-minute Christmas video story told by your CEO is a great way to stand out from the crowd and share something that people will really remember.
4. Make it easy to share – why do all the hard work yourself? Your direct communications will only ever reach a fraction of your supporters, but each individual has the potential to spread the word to others. Encourage supporters to share your stories and make them easy to be shared – clear, memorable and not too long. The message should be inspiring and bursting with pride. Think about what would be likely to captivate you so much that you couldn’t resist sharing it with others.
5. Fundraisers, not just beneficiaries – you may feel naturally inclined to talk most about those people you have helped or who desperately need your support. But what about your amazing fundraiser who went the extra mile to raise a huge amount for the cause? Inspire your supporters by talking the everyday people who are supporting your work and you’ve got a great chance of inspiring others to do the same.
6. What happens next? – there’s a difference between feeling motivated by a cause and knowing what to do next. Don’t leave your supporters wondering what they can do to help. Finish with a clear message about what you want them to do – that could be a request to donate a certain amount, sign up to an event or share a story with 100 others. This is known as the ‘call to action’ and getting it right will help your story to achieve a whole lot more.
I hope that you all have a lovely break this Christmas and come back bursting with inspiring stories to share in 2015. Remember to get in touch with me if you ever want any advice.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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