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.
In a tough financial climate, charities are looking to cast their net more widely for financial support. This can include asking the general public, wealthy individuals and companies.
All these routes can deliver good results in the right circumstances, but it’s important to remember that trusts and foundations still offer one unique advantage: unlike everyone else, they exist solely to give away money.
The question is: are you doing enough to get it? Even if you think your charity’s best long-term income prospects lie elsewhere, it’s likely that grant funding will provide vital oxygen while you wait for your corporate, major donor or legacy fundraising to bear fruit.
There’s a big difference between securing a few grants and having a truly successful trusts and foundations programme. Focusing on a handful of friendly long-term funders might have a high success rate but it'll yield a limited amount of money. And it leaves you very vulnerable: if one funder decides to stop giving, a key project or even your whole organisation could be at risk.
Committing to a strategic, carefully-researched and well-resourced trusts and foundations fundraising programme could be your passport to financial security, even if it involves stepping out of your comfort zone.
We think there are five key components to ensure you have in place. If you’re looking to build a trusts and foundations programme from scratch, or make sure that your existing programme delivers great results, here are the five areas to get right:
1. Map out your funding needs
What do you need to raise money for anyway? Making a list of all your distinct funding needs will give vital context to your fundraising efforts, and help you to make the most of your limited time.
List all your different funding needs – including for project work, capital needs and organisational development. For each funding need, estimate the minimum and ideal amount needed – for instance, £30,000 would allow us to run this project at its current capacity, but £50,000 is what we ideally require to reach everyone in need. This also helps you to demonstrate the impact that successful fundraising could have on your work to your trustees and management.
Give each funding need a priority rating (e.g. low, medium or high) – this will help you to focus your efforts in the next stages below.
2. Thoroughly research funding prospects
There’s a vast amount of useful information about funders in the public domain. Use a database like Trustfunding or Funding Central to help your research – they’re worth the licence fees. Sometimes your local Community Voluntary Service (CVS) can arrange for you to access these databases for free.
Create a big old spreadsheet to record key information for each funder – including their name, areas of interest, how and when you must apply, average grant size, and similar charities they’ve supported previously. This will help you to decide which of your funding needs are the best fit for that funder, how much to apply for, and a priority level (e.g. low, medium, high). You should factor in which funders you already have a relationship with, to make use of your staff and trustee networks.
This process helps you not only to decide which funders to focus on first, but also to quantify the overall potential of trusts fundraising for your charity. If there are loads of excellent funding prospects out there, you might want to dedicate more short-term time to writing applications.
3. Prepare convincing template applications
We strongly recommend that you avoid jumping straight into specific applications, and first spend some time ensuring that you have all the necessary information available to create a convincing ‘case for support’ for each priority funding need.
This should include a summary of the issue you’re trying to address, what your solution looks like, how much it costs, how you’ll measure success, and why you’re the best organisation to do it. Gathering relevant research and statistics, data and testimonials from your beneficiaries, and endorsements from independent experts will strengthen your case.
Creating strong, reusable content will save you time in the long run, and enable you to respond more quickly to last-minute grant opportunities. It’s also vital to be able to describe your work on your own terms, rather than purely in response to funders’ questions and criteria. This helps you to identify and address any weaknesses or gaps in your projects, ahead of those vital deadlines.
4. Submitting those all-important applications
If you’ve spent time researching funders and developing template applications, this stage should now be more straightforward.
Work through your funding prospects in priority and/or deadline order, adapting your template content to fit each funder’s areas of interest and application criteria. Always read any guidance from the funder, as they often make it very clear what they’re looking for and expect you to follow this advice. Plan carefully for deadlines to make sure you don’t miss them, and always include a well-written and personalised cover letter.
For more tips on writing strong applications, check out our ‘Ten trusts & foundations mistakes to avoid’ helpsheet.
5. Don't forget about robust record-keeping
Organisation and attention to detail are essential for trusts fundraising – you need to keep track of every application you make, the date you submitted it, what the outcome was, and any feedback from the funder.
This will enable you to chase up funding decisions at the right time, make a note of when you can re-apply, and use any feedback received to improve your application next time. It’s also vital that you keep on top of thanking funders and meeting any reporting requirements related to your grant.
A good CRM (database) is often well worth the investment in the long run, as it allows you to store and analyse information better. However, there’s no reason why a well-maintained spreadsheet can’t work for smaller charities, at least initially.
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.
How do you ‘sell’ your cause to people?
If you find yourself talking to someone about your charity in the pub or at the school gates, what do you tell them? Do you trot out your vision and mission statement, and those inevitable bullet points describing your main services? Is there a particular story you always tell?
I’ve been involved with many charities as a fundraiser, consultant, mentor and trustee. If you work for one of these organisations then you might want to look away now. Sorry, but when I tell someone about what your charity does, I rarely use your carefully crafted marketing language.
The unavoidable reality is that many causes are hard to explain, particularly in these times of austerity. Multiple disadvantage, multiple services for one beneficiary group, or one particular issue that affects multiple groups.
It’s often tricky to distil this into one concise, meaningful description. That bullet point list might sound ok on paper but it’s instantly forgettable when recited verbally. Staying 'on brand' can sound a bit…bland.
I think there’s a better way to engage people in what you do. Stop trying to tell them everything, and instead look for your ‘diamond in the detail’.
All the charities I really ‘click’ with and enjoy talking about have something in common. Amidst all their services, statistics and slogans, I’ve found a particular thing that for me really captures why they do what they do.
Often this is a beneficiary story, but it could just be a concept or an idea that’s easy to understand and memorise. I’ll give you a couple of examples.
I spent five years at Link Community Development, a charity working to ensure children in sub-Saharan Africa receive a meaningful education. Link provides teacher training, quality assessments of schools and helps headteachers and district authorities to run schools better. The Millennium Development Goals focused on getting children into school but not what happened when they were there. So Link’s work was vital, but not very ‘sexy’.
Over time, by speaking to teachers and parents in South Africa and Malawi, I understood things better. Children growing up in countries ravaged by HIV/AIDS don’t miss school because they don’t want to be there. They stay at home to look after sick relatives, or work the land to earn money for their family because their parents are no longer with them.
Many people see children not attending school as the biggest problem. But for me, the burning injustice is encouraging children to walk five miles to school because it’s ‘the right thing to do’, meaning they can't perform a critical role in their families, then failing to provide them with an education that makes any difference when they get there.
This was my ‘diamond’ for explaining why Link’s work was so important. As a problem that urgently needed fixing, it meant so much more than saying ‘Link works in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa doing X, Y and Z to improve the quality of education in schools.’
I’m currently working with a very different charity called The Camden Society, who provide a range of services to people with a learning disability. Among other things, this includes supported living, employment and health and wellbeing.
But if you ask me about The Camden Society, this isn’t what I’ll tell you. Instead I’ll talk about their amazing apprenticeship programme, helping to arrange job trials for people who would otherwise lack the core skills to secure a role in the catering industry.
I’ll tell you about the apprentice I heard speak who knew he would never shine in a formal interview, but proved in a trial that he could prepare food more quickly than any of the regular staff. He secured a job where he could thrive and feel proud of his skills, and he’s not looked back since.
This is just one aspect of the charity's work, but it's the one I feel most comfortable and passionate talking about.
You don’t need to talk about the whole of what your charity does, or even focus on your main project. By finding your own ‘diamond in the detail’, you'll be able to explain things with more belief and passion. Crucially, this diamond may be different for every staff member or volunteer.
I've heard people find their own engaging ways to talk about their charity, only to be told that it's not on brand - which I think is a real shame.
It can be helpful to think of your charity as a cube. There are many sides to what you do. People can only see one or two sides at any one time, but those sides are still part of the whole shape.
Ultimately, is it better to give someone a concise and complete summary of what you do and hope they remember it? Or tell them one specific memorable thing that can be a ‘hook’ for finding out more later?
You might be willing to try this approach when talking to family and friends, but I’m convinced it can be just as effective with donors, funders or companies. So isn’t it time you found your diamond in the detail?
What particular diamond works best for your cause? Do you have some different advice for engaging people? We’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment below.
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.
With ever-increasing demand from charities and the huge squeeze on statutory funding, trusts and foundations are more oversubscribed than ever, and success rates are on the decline. This two-part blog explains how you can stay ahead of the crowd by avoiding ten common mistakes.
Click here to read part one, all about avoiding circular appeals, getting your budget right and treating funder guidelines like gold dust. Part two below covers our final five mistakes to avoid...
6. Failing to acknowledge previous support
Applying for a grant without acknowledging that a trust has made a donation previously - whether it's multi-year funding for a major project or a cheque for £500 - will make you seem disorganised, ungrateful, or possibly both. This may sound obvious, but I've seen plenty of charities get it wrong.
Try this instead: Before re-applying to a funder, check whether they've supported you previously, how much they gave and when, and make sure you've thanked them and reported on how any grant was spent. Be sure to acknowledge their previous support in your application and thank them again, even if you've done it already.
Whatever your budget, you'll need strong record-keeping to be able to do this, whether that's a CRM database or a well-maintained spreadsheet. This is the bedrock of a good trusts programme.
If you're re-applying to a funder and realise you haven't communicated well with them, I'd recommend holding off on your application for a few months so you can smooth things over first.
7. Resorting to technical jargon
The longer you spend working close to a cause, the harder it can become to explain what you do in plain English. Over time, we can all lose perspective about whether certain words and phrases are meaningful for an uninformed reader.
So it can be easy to slip into using jargon and more technical language by accident. But, for some fundraisers, it can also be a deliberate tactic. You may feel this gives you added credibility as an 'expert', but it often removes any warmth and emotion from your applications.
Try this instead: No matter how faceless or professional a funder may seem, remember there will always be an individual person reading and processing your application. You need to speak to that person.
Review your application sentence by sentence and ask yourself if there's anything you're able to explain in more basic and 'human' terms. If so, consider using those words instead. Allowing some time between drafting and reviewing an application helps to give you perspective on what to change. You can also ask a friend or colleague who doesn't know the context well if it makes sense to them.
8. Inadvertently talking down your work
I've seen some fundraisers become desensitised over time to just how amazing their charity's work is, or how desperate life is for its beneficiaries.
Surprisingly, this is often most common among charities that do really emotive work, for instance with children affected by debilitating medical conditions or living in war-torn countries. I think it might be the mind's understandable natural way of coping with distressing information, but it can be a disadvantage for fundraising.
Try this instead: Avoid unintentionally 'talking down' your work by making sure you explain things carefully. Resist the temptation to shy away from distressing or uncomfortable information. You of course need to avoid being over-dramatic or attempting to guilt-trip a funder, but you simply can't expect them to understand what your beneficiaries are facing or feeling if you don't explain it to them as a newcomer.
Case studies and personal stories are usually a much better way of inspiring emotion and empathy than big-picture statistics. Again, asking someone outside your organisation to read your application, and describe the impression it makes on them, can be a really eye-opening experience that helps you to strike the right balance in your application.
9. Not calculating full cost recovery
Charities have spent the past few years being told that 'free = good' and 'costs = bad'. Whether it's the Daily Mail's latest piece about staff and running costs, or a funder that should know better publishing unrealistic guidelines about overheads, it's hardly surprising that charities feel increasingly squeamish about revealing their true costs.
However, failing to factor in management time and overheads into your budget not only puts your project at risk, it also perpetuates the myth that projects can be run in isolation. As a charity, your management and overhead costs reflect the added value you bring to a project - otherwise, surely the funder could keep their grant and do the project themselves?
Try this instead: For every project, be clear on what legitimate indirect costs you need to include in your budget and why they're essential to making your work a success. You can then avoid selling yourself short, and take pride in the true cost and value of your work.
Before approaching a funder, check whether there are any restrictions on including legitimate central costs in your application. If it's unclear, query it. Where there is a blanket ‘maximum 10%’, you can sometimes try explaining your situation and see if there’s any room for manoeuvre. However, every funder is entitled to set their own guidelines, so sometimes it's better to walk away and find another option for funding rather than risk not doing your project justice.
10. Frittering away your precious time
I’ve seen too many charities waste their limited time on trusts that aren’t a good fit for their work, applications that can’t realistically be finished by the deadline, or projects that haven’t been thought through well enough to turn them into a credible proposal.
If you're passionate about your charity's work and know you can write a good application, you need to make the most of your precious time by working effectively and focusing on the best opportunities.
Try this instead: If you're already busy then this is probably the last thing you feel like doing, but taking a step back to prioritise your opportunities will save you time in the long run. Similarly, focusing on fewer applications might increase your chances of success.
I’d highly recommend doing some thorough research in order to develop a 'pipeline' of qualified funding prospects. You can then prioritise these prospects based on your most important current funding needs and which funders are the best fit for them. This will help you to develop a ‘hitlist’ of maybe ten funders per quarter (or month) that offer the best chance of success.
If you find it tricky to evaluate the potential of new funding opportunities, a checklist of key questions and criteria may help. Many charities use this kind of checklist to make objective decisions about funding that reflect their organisation's needs, rather than always feeling under pressure from funder deadlines or recommendations from a colleague or trustee.
We help charities to sharpen their trusts and foundations fundraising efforts and increase income by researching funders, writing or reviewing applications and getting internal processes in order. We'd love to tell you more:
Good luck with all your fundraising efforts and I hope you’ve picked up a few useful tips!
This is the first part of a two-part blog by our Director Mike Zywina. Click here to read part two.
Exacerbated by the huge squeeze on statutory funding, trusts and foundations are more oversubscribed than ever. Sadly that's only likely to increase after Brexit, as funders make less money on their investments - which is often what sustains their annual giving - and charities look elsewhere after becoming cut off from European funding.
The rise of online funder databases and freelance trust fundraisers has made it easier for charities to churn out more applications, but often with a focus on quantity not quality.
Consequently, success rates are on the decline. I've seen several funders openly advertising that they fund less than 5% of the applications they receive. One funder said that by late January, they've often received far more applications than they could ever dream of funding in a whole year.
With so many letters arriving on your desk, just imagine how picky you can be about what makes the cut.
There's no guaranteed method for writing a successful application - and you should probably be suspicious of anyone who tells you there is. However, there are some sure-fire ways of making sure your application gets thrown out at the first stage. Here are my top ten:
1. Taking a punt with a 'circular appeal'
Don't get me wrong, I can see the temptation. We've heard that we might get a 10% success rate from cold applications, and we've already written a decent general appeal. So if we send out 20 more requests for £10,000, that should mean two successes and another £20,000 in the bank. Easy, right?
Except it doesn't work. Most funders hate receiving a 'circular appeal' with nothing personalised beyond the name and address, and they can see them coming a mile off. In this competitive climate, tailoring your application is a must.
You might enjoy a brief sense of anticipation and satisfaction that you've 'covered a lot of ground', but you probably won't bring in any cash. Worse still, you could find yourself blacklisted by a few funders.
Try this instead: Of course, this isn't to say you shouldn't box clever and re-use content where appropriate. Strong template applications are the bedrock of a good trusts and foundations programme.
However, you must take the time to research and understand a funder's interests and priorities, show you've done your research by tailoring what you write, then crown it with a personalised cover letter.
People often claim trusts fundraising is a numbers game - that's rarely true, and ten high quality applications will do much better than a hundred mediocre ones.
2. Making basic mistakes
Getting the funder's name wrong, mis-spelling a trustee's name, assuming that someone is a 'Mr' when you could have easily checked and found they're a 'Mrs'. The administrator is probably looking for an easy way of quickly reducing their pile of applications, and you've just provided it.
Try this instead: Check all the basic details, check them again, and check a third time to be sure. Ideally, use the funder's website - or a database like Trustfunding - rather than your own database or spreadsheet, in case your records are out of date.
If you've spent a whole day drafting applications, your eyes have probably lost all ability to spot mistakes. It's a great idea to do any final checks the next day, with a fresh head. You could also create a simple checklist to always run through before pressing print or sealing that envelope.
3. Getting your budget wrong
Catastrophic budget mistakes are surprisingly easy to make, but hard for a funder to forgive.
This can happen when multiple people are involved with working on the figures but don't document their workings, or when you change one figure in a column at the last moment and haven't set the total to auto-calculate. Suddenly your numbers can be way out, which is a big red flag for a funder being asked to trust your charity with thousands of pounds.
Try this instead: Triple check your numbers, because they're arguably even more important than what you write.
If several people are involved with creating the budget, make sure they leave a 'paper trail' of their workings, and ideally put in formulae rather than just numbers. Create a budget calculator tool in Excel that automatically calculates totals - this may take some time at first, but will make things much easier in the long run.
4. Ignoring the guidelines
Funders often take the time to provide a wealth of useful information in their written guidelines and on their websites, yet too many fundraisers don't use this to their advantage.
Skipping the guidelines is a bit like going on a treasure hunt without reading the clues. You're very likely to waste your time on an application that doesn't make the grade, and you might even damage your future application prospects by frustrating the funder too.
Try this instead: Before starting work on an application, take stock of how much information the funder has published. Some just provide basic guidelines about the length and format of your application. Others have a detailed FAQs page, examples of projects they've previously funded, and even in-depth advice about answering specific questions.
Whether there's a single paragraph of info or a comprehensive website, make sure you read it in full before you start writing. You should also refer back to the guidelines as you proceed, making sure you demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of their criteria as you answer the questions.
5. Missing the all-important deadline
Not all trusts and foundations set specific deadlines - but when they do, they mean them. While a day late may not seem much to you, it makes a bad impression and offers a good reason to throw out your application.
Try this instead: Research deadlines meticulously in advance and work backwards to set key dates and milestones for the different stages of your application: gathering the raw information to go in it, producing a first draft, reviewing with colleagues and getting it signed off. All of these stages take time, especially when colleagues are busy, so build in an extra margin just in case!
Of course, avoiding a last-minute rush is easier said than done. But it's vital if you want to avoid wasting effort on an application that never gets read. You can make things easier for yourself by prioritising your time and skipping applications that you don't have time to do properly, or where there's only a tiny chance of success.
This is a guest blog by Gemma Pettman, our new Associate Consultant. Click here to find out more about Gemma and our growing team.
If you’re a parent, there’s every chance you spent the weeks after Christmas encouraging your children to write their thank you cards. Once you finally convince your child to put down their new toys and pick up a pen, it doesn’t take *that* long. It’s a nice gesture and (provided the envelope doesn’t shower the recipient in too much glitter) always welcomed.
If you’re a fundraiser, the chances are you returned to work after the Christmas break and set about writing your own thank you notes.
We know that offering the right thanks is as important as making the right ask; a well-crafted thank you is one of the best fundraising tools out there. So, writing thank you letters is something we do regularly. Right? Maybe not…
A few years ago, I heard philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley speak at the launch of a new fundraising book. Having gone back through her paperwork she discovered 40% of the donations she has made have never been acknowledged. Can you imagine?
Let’s be honest; we all can. It’s no excuse but fundraising generates a *lot* of admin and we’ve no doubt all had that sinking feeling when we realise a gift has been missed. If this happens more frequently than you would like, why not forget the never-going-to-happen New Year’s resolutions of giving up chocolate or going jogging five times a week and stick to a much more achievable aim: ‘get better at saying thank you’.
I spoke to three very different donors to find out what matters to them when it comes to being thanked (I’m really not spoiling the ending if I tell you that a generic letter isn’t going to cut it).
1. Time is of the essence
Rosie, who has organised several charity balls and made personal donations to good causes, says the single most important thing is speed:
"I really notice when I receive a thank you from a charity a few days after the event; hand-written would always be the most impressive.
"I recently organised a gala and the excellent development manager at the charity rang the people who made substantial donations the very next day to say a huge thank you. She explained she would be writing but wanted to say thank you immediately. It was clever because it enabled her to build a personal relationship and to use it as an opportunity to get direct feedback about the event. Then she followed up in writing."
This development manager’s approach reminded me of something Charity Water did. The video is more than five years old but as a concept, it feels fresh and current:
Next time you’re thanking donors after a big event or campaign, could you do something similar? As well as giving them a warm fuzzy glow and an opportunity to speak directly with you about your work, it’s a great team-building experience.
2. The personal touch
Gary has raised thousands of pounds for two charities through the products he sells online. He receives regular emails, rather than letters, from both organisations:
"I very much appreciate reading kind comments in a personal email. I enjoy fundraising and don't do it for thanks but it’s nice to know my efforts are appreciated and that funds are going where they are most needed."
Some of us might baulk at the idea of emailing, rather than writing, to a donor but if that’s what your supporters prefer then it’s the right thing to do. It’s worth remembering that among younger people email is already seen as ‘old hat’. In fact, for 16 to 24 year olds, instant messaging is now considered the single most important means of communication [source: Ofcom].
What might this mean for your organisation’s donor communications in the future?
3. A multi-channel approach
Jenny understands this move away from ‘formal’ communication. She supports three charities, including Moorview Animal Rescue, by way of monthly direct debits and enjoys watching the impact of her gifts online:
"The sums I give are modest and the way I look at it, rather than a proportion of my donation being spent on stationery, ink and postage, it’s better off being used in another way. I appreciate the gesture of a thank you but I follow the charities’ Facebook pages so I can see for myself the difference donors like me are making."
Rosie, Gary and Jenny are three donors out of many tens of thousands, but their experiences and preferences give us something to think about. So, let’s kickstart our New Year’s resolution by learning from children and their Christmas thank you letters.
First, let’s get them out as soon as possible. Let’s make them personal and include comments that mean something to the person reading them. And last of all, if it’s appropriate let’s have a bit of fun with our thank yous. But please… no glitter!
“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.
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