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.
For many charities and social enterprises in a tight financial position, it's the classic dilemma. You need to invest in fundraising, perhaps to replace dwindling income from other sources, but have less disposable cash than ever.
So building the case for investing in fundraising – whether that means a new staff member, hiring a consultant or increasing your marketing budget – isn’t easy. Particularly when it involves dealing with management or trustees who may know less about fundraising than you, and are naturally risk averse.
If you were asked to put together a robust and convincing case for investing in fundraising, where would you start? How would you address people’s concerns? Here are our top tips:
1. Show how fundraising success would boost your overall mission
When I'm working with an organisation on their fundraising strategy, I initially ask two questions: Why have you decided to focus on fundraising? What do you hope to achieve through successful fundraising?
Many organisations set ambitious goals for their project work, but fail to show the same fundraising ambition. But the two things are inextricably linked – if you’re trying to double the number of people you help, or move into a new region, you'll likely need a step-change in fundraising.
So try to make people focus on how much more the organisation could achieve if it raised more money. You’ll stand a better chance of convincing management and trustees to make the investment needed.
2. Educate people about your current fundraising efforts
I’ve worked with organisations whose CEO or trustees have been genuinely surprised by how much they’re raising in certain areas, or completely oblivious about simple blockages that are holding back fundraising. However, people will make better long-term decisions about fundraising if they understand this properly.
Inspire confidence in your future plans by emphasising which areas are already proving successful, and which ones have the potential for a drastic improvement with a little more investment.
3. Show the long-term financial return…
Investing in fundraising never yields an immediate return. Encourage trustees and management to consider the bigger picture by modelling your return on investment (i.e. how many pounds you raise per pound spent) over 3-5 years.
Fortunately, there’s a way to do this that doesn’t involve plucking figures out of thin air. Check out the excellent Gimme Gimme Gimme guide by nfpSynergy, which outlines 12 different types of fundraising and provides average return on investment figures (based on a sector-wide survey) for each. You can then adjust these benchmark figures slightly, depending on where your own fundraising is stronger or weaker. While this guide is several years old, it still provides the most up-to-date figures that we're aware of.
If you’re investing in an area of fundraising for the first time, assume a more conservative return on investment in the first year while you get things up and running, gradually increasing over several years.
4. …but don’t make promises you can’t keep
If you’re persuading your organisation to take the plunge and invest in fundraising, it’s tempting to promise the world. But over-ambitious projections will only cause disappointment and financial problems later.
If you’ve taken a methodical approach to forecasting return on investment (see above), stand firm and don’t allow other people to push you to unrealistic levels. Don't just say what is necessary to win their support.
In my experience, many organisations confuse fundraising targets with project budgets. Just because your projects and running expenses will cost £150,000 next financial year, you can’t necessarily expect to raise £150,000. That’s a bit like assuming you'll come home to a full fridge, just because you’re hungry.
Ultimately, to avoid going hungry, you either need to make time to cook (i.e. ringfence existing staff time for fundraising) or buy something ready to eat (i.e. pay someone else to do the work). Your fundraising projections must be based on what you put in, not what you need to get out.
5. Emphasise the risk of not investing, to balance up the risk equation
For risk-averse trustees, certain questions weigh heavy on the mind. What if we recruit a new fundraiser and they’re not up to the job? What if we spend more on fundraising but fail to generate more income?
These are legitimate questions, but only part of the picture. Over the years, I’ve seen few organisations invest in fundraising and regret it, but plenty pay the price for standing still.
Income can disappear remarkably quickly, for instance if you lose a statutory contract or a major event flops, but can take years to build up. So asking ‘what might happen if we don’t invest in fundraising?’ is equally important.
It's helpful to highlight fundraising opportunities that you’re currently not able to capitalise on, or looming threats that you need to plan ahead for. This is about human sustainability too – if staff have been working extended hours to cover gaps in capacity, it’s vital to emphasise the human cost if this were to continue.
6. Choose the best way to present your business case
Building your case can take a long time, but you might get just an hour of people’s time and attention to win them over. So finding the right format is crucial – should it be a presentation or a written report? Should you provide all the information on the spot, or ask people to read something in advance and come with questions?
There’s no right or wrong answer. It depends on what you’re personally most comfortable with, and how your audience typically like to receive information (your CEO or Chair could offer some insight here). Don’t offer to do a long presentation if you’re not very good at them and think you’ll struggle to get the key information across. Don’t spend ages writing a long report if you know people are unlikely to read it.
Some final tips for presenting things in the right way:
“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.
I had a lovely trusts and foundations blog planned for this week. I really did. But it’s going on hold for a few weeks, because I’ve been bitten by the World Cup bug.
I’ve been a football fan since around 1994 (more on that later). However, for perhaps the first time, I didn’t feel too excited during the build-up to this World Cup. A combination of England’s seemingly bleak prospects and the questionable ethics of hosting the tournament in Russia left me feeling a bit underwhelmed.
Then the first ball was kicked and I've been captivated again - from the novelty of catching a few minutes of Portugal v Morocco at lunchtime to the joys of watching flamboyant surprise packages like Mexico and Senegal, and of course the typical emotional rollercoaster of an England game.
Amid the drama and entertainment, there are also a few handy lessons to be learned by fundraisers and charities:
Pride and motivation go a long way
Hands up if you predicted that Russia would be the top goalscorers and best entertainers so far?
Going into the tournament, there was a general sense that Russia had picked an incredibly bad time to assemble a weak squad. Nobody – including many Russian pundits – was talking about how far they could progress, only hoping that they wouldn’t embarrass the host nation.
In their first game, Russia put five past Saudi Arabia, before a stylish 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday. A seemingly ordinary team have thrived in the spotlight and been transformed in front of thousands of partisan home fans.
You probably can't find thousands of Russians to cheer on your fundraising team (and it might be a bit distracting anyway). But creating the right circumstances for people to thrive, and feel confident and comfortable in their work, is just as important as having skilled staff. If you can do more to make your team feel proud of their work, motivated to do a great job and clear about the end goal, they might be able to achieve more than you expect.
You can also punch above your weight if you play to your strengths and develop a clear plan
Russia aren’t the only team to raise eyebrows so far. Mexico secured a famous 1-0 victory over Germany, while Iceland claimed their latest scalp with a gutsy 1-1 draw with Argentina.
These two performances had something in common – both teams worked incredibly hard as a unit and had a clear gameplan, focused on playing to their own strengths and exploiting the weaknesses of their opponent.
This is also the key principle of a good fundraising strategy. You don’t need to be brilliant at everything to raise the money you need – just identify a few things that you do well, create a clear plan for maximising your return in those areas, and explain to everyone how they can play a part in getting it done.
Appropriately enough, this week is Small Charity Week – so an ideal time to celebrate the power of punching above your weight.
The power of a shared cause and dream
Even in the modern day of mega-rich football club owners and eye-wateringly big TV deals, it's still the fans that really light up any World Cup. I love the atmosphere and the colour, and seeing the passion of people who travel thousands of miles to watch their team. How many other events inspire people to give up their jobs and sell their possessions so they can be there?
Football fans are united by a sense of shared identity and a collective dream - and charities can tap into a similar feeling. People don’t support your cause because of who you are, or what you’re doing, but why you’re doing it. If you can articulate a clear vision, people will remember you and feel inspired to support your work – whether you’re trying to cure cancer, end child cruelty or make your local area a safer and better place.
Be willing to embrace change
A big talking point at this World Cup has been the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referees). In an attempt to reduce refereeing mistakes, certain key decisions are now referred to professional referees in a TV studio, who can review the incident from multiple angles and recommend that a referee overturns their decision.
VAR was first trialled in the UK during cup competitions last season, and was widely ridiculed. It caused long delays in play, confusion for fans in the stadium and on TV, and still got many decisions wrong. However, the system has quickly improved – while still not perfect, it’s already resulted in many correct decisions about penalties and goals at the World Cup, and is gradually being accepted as a positive development in the game.
The lesson is clear – when you try to make changes, particularly involving new technology, you’ll often face teething problems and encounter resistance. For charities, this often comes from donors, staff and trustees.
Trying to introduce a new CRM, run your first crowdfunding campaign or dabble in virtual reality technology is unlikely to be a pain-free experience. But people may change their views quicker than you expect, and you'll benefit from taking the time to iron out problems. In 6-12 months, you'll probably be glad you pushed through the change.
Tastes change over time
While I’ve been rapidly sucked into this World Cup, I haven’t always been a football fan. My first distant World Cup memories are from USA 1994, but they're not good memories. Apparently I came home from school, turned on the TV to watch my usual cartoon, found it'd been cancelled for the football, and threw a tantrum.
My parents like to remind me that I spent the next few hours sulking and cursing “stupid football”. I’m not sure what happened next, but by Euro 1996 I was a total convert, screaming the house down as we thrashed the Netherlands 4-1 at Wembley – one of my favourite football memories.
People’s tastes and circumstances change over time, and fundraisers need to stay on top of that. A student volunteer might not be in a position to donate to your work now, but may feel totally differently after five years in their graduate job. Your major donor might gradually lose interest in Project A, but start to really value the impact of Project B over time. Event trends come and go out of fashion, often leaving you scratching your head.
That’s why it’s so important to keep building genuine relationships with your supporters, recording what you learn from conversations about their interests, and developing personalised asks to match. This will help you develop a more engaged supporter base, and ultimately raise more money for your work.
But that's a job for tomorrow. Tonight you need to get home in time for Argentina v Croatia at 7pm - it's going to be a cracking game.
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.
If you were asked to create an ethical fundraising policy, what would you do and where would you start?
With the latest wave of bad news stories – especially the Presidents Club scandal, which saw charities scrambling to hand back donations – I’ve been contacted for advice by several organisations who, quite sensibly, want to avoid getting in a similar position themselves.
An ethical fundraising policy sets out what your organisation is willing to do and not do in relation to fundraising, based on some agreed ethical principles. This often includes (but shouldn't be limited to) when you may choose to reject a donation.
If this sounds like a straightforward exercise, it shouldn’t be. It goes without saying that ethics aren’t black and white, so putting together this policy must involve careful thought and reflection.
Here are six guiding principles to keep in mind if you're creating an ethical fundraising policy:
1. Start a conversation - don’t search for a template policy
A common mistake is to assign this task to one member of staff, and ask them to find an example policy that can be adapted quickly for your organisation.
However, creating an ethical fundraising policy goes right to the heart of your appetite for risk, your charitable objects and the areas of particular sensitivity for your cause. As such, it's crucial that trustees and senior management are involved.
This process should start with a conversation. This is arguably the most important stage, since you need to debate different scenarios and views, and arrive at a position that feels right for your organisation. This is usually a thought-provoking exercise that improves everybody’s understanding and appreciation of the complexities involved. If you treat creating the policy as a box-ticking exercise, you’ll miss out on this valuable development opportunity.
2. Take a broad view – don’t over-react to one event
It's common to be prompted into action by a single event, like a high-profile bad news story. This isn’t a problem as such, but you shouldn't let it skew your whole approach.
In the wake of the Presidents Club scandal, many charities are focused on whether they should accept (or return) certain donations. However, this is only part of the puzzle – your policy may need to cover the ethical standards you expect your suppliers to meet, how you check those standards, and how you interact with vulnerable donors.
It's helpful to start by making a list of all the circumstances and ethical dilemmas your charity needs to consider. This should be informed by the types of fundraising that you do and your existing risk assessment, as well as by external events.
3. Define your attitude towards risk – avoid making decisions that you’ll reverse later
Keeping everyone happy is rarely possible, as recent developments show. Many people were outraged that charities like GOSH had accepted donations from the Presidents Club, but others were reportedly angry when they considered handing them back.
There are no right or wrong answers, so you need to judge what feels appropriate for your organisation, anticipate how your supporters and beneficiaries might react, and be prepared to justify your decision. It's no good having a policy in place, then caving in as soon as you put it into practice and people object.
Defining your organisation’s attitude towards risk is essential – this is why trustees and management must be involved. Accepting some donations can be risky, but being totally risk-averse is a risk in itself – it can demoralise staff, or damage your financial position. This is inevitably a sensitive balancing act. It may be helpful to consult key donors and beneficiaries when creating your policy, to anticipate objections in advance.
4. Make it relevant to your cause – don’t be over-simplistic
When defining whether to accept or reject donations from individuals and companies, you may be tempted to start by creating a list of 'no go' areas, like if they are linked to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography.
Unfortunately, the world isn't that simple - household name companies sell alcoholic products, and established publishing companies produce pornographic magazines. If you're not careful, you could find yourself turning away a lot of donations!
You need to be more specific and mindful of your cause and charitable aims. It's not about what staff or trustees personally think is ethically correct, but whether a donation might damage your mission or beneficiaries. An animal welfare charity might be reluctant to accept a donation from a cosmetics company, but happy to do so from an alcohol brand - whereas an addiction charity might take the opposite view.
5. Include specific processes and procedures - not just general guidelines
Your policy should not only set out your position, but explain how to action it - for example, do you subject donations over a certain amount to more rigorous background checks? What do those checks involve? How do you go about reporting serious incidents?
This will help staff to put your policy into action, and also show anybody reading it that you're serious about fundraising ethically, rather than just treating it as a tickbox exercise.
6. Make your policy part of the bigger picture - don't see it as enough in isolation
It's tempting to sign off your ethical fundraising policy and assume it's 'job done' - but in reality, this is an ongoing commitment and part of a larger compliance picture.
Your policy shouldn't just sit in an obscure corner of your shared drive. It must be an ongoing reference point that's displayed clearly for staff to refer to when needed, and part of induction processes for staff and volunteers. Fundraisers should feel able to raise any concerns or discuss situations they feel unsure about. Management and trustees should review your policy periodically, in response to changing fundraising practices, issues affecting the sector, and changes to your own fundraising portfolio and risk assessment.
Aside from creating an ethical fundraising policy, you may also want to, for example, review your Data Protection compliance ahead of the arrival of GDPR, ensure your trustees are aware of their legal fundraising duties as set out in the Charity Commission's CC20 document, or produce a short supporter promise outlining your commitment to good fundraising (I've always liked this example from Mind).
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.
I read recently that 116 Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts – including Elon Musk – have petitioned the UN to ban the development of autonomous weapons and ‘killer robots’.
Elon Musk is one of the world’s most prominent tech entrepreneurs. His companies are revolutionising transport, both on the roads and in space - Tesla Motors has brought fully electric vehicles into the mass market. He's invested heavily in AI research, in his own words because he wants to “keep an eye on what’s going on.”
I've long been fascinated by AI and autonomous technology. Without doubt it's going to completely change our lives – we've already seen the emergence of driverless cars and robots in Japanese hospitals to ease the burden on nurses. Stephen Hawking recently said that AI could hold the key to eradicating disease and poverty.
On the flip side, there are growing concerns about what will happen if autonomous technology falls into the wrong hands. Hawking and Musk have both warned that it's the biggest threat to the survival of the human race. We're now just years away from huge autonomous weapons that can cause unimaginable loss of life at the touch of a button. Robots with vastly more capability than the human brain, but no moral code, no longer belong in the realm of science fiction.
As technology races ahead, the debates about ethics and regulation fight to keep up. The technology for driverless cars already exists - it's the challenge of how we programme them that's holding things up.
On the surface, this has nothing to do with charities and fundraising. However, I know that many of us have to battle with something that also has great potential to improve how we do things, but great destructive capability too.
When you have big responsibilities in a small organisation, what role does self-doubt play? Is it a positive or a negative influence?
My transition from fundraiser to charity consultant left plenty of room for self-doubt. When you stop working for an organisation, you leave behind the comfort that comes from being part of an established structure with a good reputation.
For most of our first two years, I went into every major meeting or event with some kind of self-doubt. Am I well enough prepared? Will people appreciate my ideas? What if our training attendees find this exercise unclear or boring?
Doubting yourself can be enormously beneficial, but too much self-doubt can be destructive and exhausting.
It drove me to meticulously prepare for everything – if you naturally go through 20 different ways something could go wrong in your own head, more often than not it ends up going to plan!
But the negative thoughts also meant I used up lots of nervous energy, spent too much time preparing for things that weren't essential, and got bogged down anticipating problems that didn’t really exist.
Over time, I've gained experience and started doubting myself less. Generally I enjoy my work more as a result, but sometimes I also miss that ‘edge’ - fretting over small decisions or details can definitely help keep you on your toes.
Working for a smaller charity is often a lonely experience, particularly if you’re in a senior role or you’re the organisation’s only expert in what you do. This can make self-doubt a double-edged sword.
Often, your work isn’t subject to many checks and balances. Your colleagues or trustees may not know enough to meaningfully question your decisions, or reassure you that you’re on the right track. As a result, you may find you have a broad range of questions going round in your head:
So what's the right balance? I’m not sure I’m qualified to say, however personally I have a couple of ground rules:
1. You need to make self-doubt a 'force for good' in some way, that you can use to drive yourself forward and improve your work.
2. If it becomes draining or stops you enjoying what you do, you must address it, even if that means you lose out on some of the positives too.
Like with autonomous technology, there's probably no holding back the 'technology' of self-doubt - it's hard-wired in most of our brains. The challenge is harnessing it in a positive way, and remembering to be kind to yourself along the way.
Lime Green Consulting HQ has now relocated from London to Bristol, which is the inspiration for this blog. If you're based in Bristol or the South West, we'd absolutely love to hear from you. We're also continuing to work with organisations in London and across the country.
This week, after months of planning, my partner Sally and I finally took the plunge and moved to Bristol.
Like many people, we were looking to buy our first house but facing the reality of London house prices. We knew that saying goodbye to North London after ten years would mean more space and a better quality of life. However, uprooting not just our home but our social lives and my growing business has been challenging and, at times, daunting.
Moving house is stressful at the best of times, especially when you’re relocating to a new city. On top of the usual challenges, we’ve got two very anxious young cats and unwittingly scheduled our move at the same time as a prolonged heatwave!
Unpacking boxes and painting walls as the thermometer hit 31 degrees wasn’t a pleasant experience – especially when we had to keep doors and windows closed to prevent our cats making a break for freedom. Even the local Tesco (our one local supermarket) couldn’t cope with the heat as their fridges broke down - so not only did we run out of basic supplies, we couldn't even celebrate with a calming alcoholic drink either.
So how can you ensure 'business as usual' when you're surrounded by mayhem? Plenty of small businesses - including charities - face the same challenge during a major upheaval such as office move, a change of leadership, or even a key staff member facing something big in their personal lives.
Having now (just about) survived the move, I wanted to share a few tips on ensuring continuity during these stressful times, including some I've learned the hard way:
1. Be realistic about your time
Like me, I'm sure you're guilty of sometimes stretching the definition of a 'working day' in order to achieve as much as possible. But when you've got something major going on outside of work, protecting your time is more important than ever.
For our big move, I was determined to do something I'm usually pretty bad at - take enough time off to do everything else properly. When you're planning things weeks in advance, it's easy to fall into the trap of wishful thinking: "I'm sure things won't be that bad when it's time to move - after all, how much more difficult could one extra meeting / deadline / piece of work make things?
I tried to avoid falling into this trap by carefully scheduling client work weeks and even months in advance, consciously preserving a full five days off. At the time this felt like way longer than I'd need, but I've been grateful for every minute of it. As a result, I've been able to unpack things properly, deal with the inevitable teething problems of a new home, and explore the local area a bit.
I'm writing this blog in a sunny garden on my final afternoon off, rather than in the evening after rushing a piece of work that I wish I hadn't taken on. To protect my time, I've had to be firm with myself and others, but that's much better than promising the world and disappointing people later.
2. Keep your focus
When life is pulling you in multiple directions, you don't just lack time, but quality time to reflect and think. So it's essential to decide your priorities in advance, and remain focused on them.
A few weeks before the move, I wrote a list of all the priority tasks we needed to accomplish in June and July at all costs. So when I was able to briefly open my laptop between unpacking and painting, I already knew what I needed to focus on. No need for creative thinking!
Keeping your focus involves difficult decisions - I was recently asked to speak at a really interesting event in Bristol which would've been a first opportunity to meet some local organisations, but I reluctantly had to turn it down because it clashed with our move and I had clear priorities already.
Last year, we worked with a social enterprise whose founding CEO was leaving after 10 years. They had an overall direction, but their staff were anxious about preserving their focus and values during the upheaval. We helped them to evaluate their position and develop a one-page list of crystal clear 'interim' priorities, which gave them so much reassurance during the handover period.
3. Think positive and give yourself something to look forward to
Moving to Bristol has involved a lot of disruption and we've also had to say goodbye to a lot of people and places, which is never easy.
I've tried to keep positive by focusing on all the things I'm gaining in return, including a garden (unheard of in London!) and a spacious home office after years of working out of a tiny flat in London. Designing this office - including buying new furniture and painting the walls (lime green of course!) - has been a little treat that has made everything else seem more bearable.
Reminding your staff (and beneficiaries) about the positives of a big transition can reduce anxiety and maximise productivity. Every big change brings opportunity as well as uncertainty, even when it's unplanned. I love this story about Ben Medansky, who used a devastating fire in his studio to launch a new range of ceramics and find the time to reflect on and rejuvenate his business.
4. Count on others
'Business as usual' is only possible when things run smoothly. This means working closely with colleagues, but also not being afraid to ask for help from everyone else in your life.
Sally and I have had to work as a team to overcome the challenges of our own move. When we exchanged contracts on our house, I was in the midst of an intense month of work, so Sally took on the unenviable task of endless dealings with solicitors and mortgage brokers. In return, I've taken extra time off work for the move itself, so Sally could get back to some urgent work more quickly.
We've had help from so many people including our brilliant friends Sam and Jess, who even let our removal men into the house when we took a wrong turn on the motorway and arrived an hour late!
5. Have a bit of patience
While our initial move went smoothly, it wasn't long before we encountered problems - a washing machine that didn't work, a fuse that keeps tripping, and a particularly long afternoon in Ikea.
When we initially made it to Bristol and started unpacking quickly, I felt that the worst part was behind us and everything was working out perfectly. So when things started going wrong, I struggled to stay patient and deal with it.
Any big move or transition period involves ups and downs. Paradoxically, ensuring business continuity involves accepting that nothing will go completely to plan, and that disruption will linger for longer than you'd like. This helps you to stay calm and keep things ticking along in the meantime. Getting frustrated rarely does any good, so it's better to take a deep breath and just get on with it.
If you've recently survived a big transition period in your work and have your own tips, or if you're based in the South West and would like to find out more about what we do, please come say hi.
This time of year is an unwanted wake-up call for millions of people. You remember the feeling. Six weeks ago, the long summer holiday felt like it could almost last forever. Suddenly, the lazy summer days were all but over and you faced the looming prospect of going back to school.
Digging out your uniform to check whether it still fits. The trauma of setting the early morning alarm clock again. Fighting with other family members for ten precious minutes in the bathroom.
Across the UK, kids and parents are gearing up for this annual struggle. We’ve thought of a few things that fundraisers could learn from them:
1. Summer is over – so make the most of it
The end of the summer holiday always feels deflating. Memories of ice creams in the park, summer camps and days at the beach are suddenly cruel as you face the prospect of lessons, airless classrooms and homework.
But all good things have to come to an end. And there are things to look forward to. Seeing your friends and again and sharing your holiday stories. Playing for the football team again. Not having to keep finding new things to do to stave off the boredom (admit it).
Many charities enjoy a golden period, with a supportive multi-year funder bringing rare financial security or a big annual event that keeps delivering. Planning ahead for the harsh wake-up call is crucial. Come to terms with the fact that the money will dry up – maybe sooner than expected – and embrace the opportunities that come with this. Make sure you’re developing other sources of income and building relationships with new funders before it’s too late.
2. Stock up your pencil case
Coloured pens. Calculator. Compass. There’s something exciting about rocking up on the first day of term with a shiny new set of everything, even if you know it won’t last a week.
For fundraisers, there are various vital things that you need in your metaphorical pencil case. A case for support. Regular content for the website, newsletter and social media. A ‘shopping list’ articulating what different donation amounts will buy. You could be a great fundraiser, full of creative ideas and great at talking to donors, but you won’t get far without these things.
As you come back from your summer break, spare a moment to take a step back and consider whether you’ve got everything you need to do your job properly. If you’re missing a key piece of the jigsaw, have an honest conversation internally about why it’s so important for fundraising, and how it’s holding you back.
3. It’s time for a new pair of trousers
Nothing marked the end of the summer quite like trudging to the school uniform shop. Nobody really likes school uniform, but we have to keep buying it because kids don’t stop growing.
Charities sometimes outgrow their clothes too. Many smaller charities embark on a new fundraising strategy where one person is responsible for trying a few activities. Some don’t work, but a few things start showing promise at the same time. Suddenly it takes much longer to support twice as many volunteers, or process three times as many event enquiries. What used to take 20% of your week now has you staying late two nights a week. The processes initially set up are now inadequate. Cue fundraiser burnout.
This can sneak up on you, particularly if your staff don’t feel confident about raising problems or if you’re not monitoring their work. It’s important to embrace the challenges of growth and realise when it’s time for new pair of trousers, before you’re bursting at the seams.
4. Get organised before the chaos begins
If your family home was anything like mine, the end of summer marks the onset of bedlam. Angry banging on the bathroom door. Squabbling at the breakfast table. A lost book bag and a misplaced shoe. Car horns and traffic jams. It’s like everybody has forgotten everything they ever knew about working together in six short weeks.
Most people come back to work after a holiday with good intentions. They’ve had a chance to gain some perspective and make a list of everything they want to achieve, but this can quickly fall away when the emails and calls start coming in.
It takes having a routine and being organised to prepare for chaos. For sowing name labels into shirts, read putting all your funder re-application dates clearly into your calendar. For writing your lesson timetable, read planning your calendar of supporter emails and social media updates. Get organised ahead of time, because it won’t take long until the chaos arrives!
5. Success depends on having the right environment
My parents always struck a good balance with me. They encouraged me to get my homework done in good time, but they weren’t overbearing and they let me make my own mistakes. They praised me when I got good marks, but punished me if I came home with a detention slip. This helped create the right environment for me to do well at school but grow up at the same time.
Plenty of great fundraisers fail because the right support isn’t in place. It’s essential for charities to create the right culture for fundraising:
Working in the charity sector can be extremely demanding, with little time to stop and think. Holidays are a rare and vital opportunity to recharge your batteries and gain some much-needed perspective. If you’re lucky enough to have a holiday any time soon, please make the most of it! Check out our top tips on taking a step back.
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