We do a lot of strategy work with organisations that need to make a major change in how they raise money, and become a true “fundraising charity” for the very first time.
They're often very established organisations with a significant turnover, who have been delivering successful services for a long time. But they're coming at public fundraising from a standing start, often prompted by an unexpected development like the loss of a key statutory contract, or the realisation that grant funding alone is no longer enough to sustain them.
For organisations like these, helping them with everyday fundraising tactics is only part of the focus. Yes, they may need to decide when to run appeals, whether to set up a regular giving scheme, what suggested donation amounts to use. But they also face a more fundamental challenge - they need to make people aware of the simple fact that they're a charity in need of public support.
We live in a world where everybody loves to have an opinion on charities - what they do, how they fundraise, how much they’re allowed to pay for things - but most people have little sense of what a charity is. They certainly don’t realise that it includes a vast range of organisations that they use every day - including schools, hospitals, community centres - or the extent to which these organisations are increasingly reliant on public support to stay afloat.
Tinkering with fundraising tactics won’t achieve very much unless you can address this fundamental issue. So this blog is all about some ways to communicate the fact that you’re a fundraising charity at all.
1. Be open about why you need support
There's no shame in not being able to accomplish everything you want with just statutory or grant funding, particularly in the current climate. But if people don’t see you as a fundraising charity, and haven’t heard you ask before, they're going to need educating about what you need, and why now.
Be honest and matter-of-fact about your funding realities, and be prepared to debunk myths. People might be surprised to know that you don’t receive local authority funding, or a lot less than you used to. And focus on the positive side of your fundraising - identify things that you’d love to be able to do or provide for your service users, that you know they want and need, and explain how donations will enable these things to happen.
Discussing this internally will enable you to craft a concise, convincing fundraising message that gives motivation and confidence to your organisation, staff and volunteers. You can then deploy this message in all kinds of ways, as we've outlined below.
2. Put the basics in place
Successful fundraising charities all have one very obvious thing in common - they openly ask for money. But it’s amazing how many organisations starting out with public fundraising don't do this clearly.
Make sure you have a prominent donate button on your website homepage and navigation bar. Include basic fundraising messages regularly on social media and in your newsletter. These shouldn’t be too pushy or intrusive, but they need to be there. And they don’t even need to be particularly-well crafted at this stage to have an impact.
Taking these steps won’t raise much money on their own, but they will ensure that people who interact with your organisation become aware that you’re trying to raise money from the public, which is the first way to shift perceptions.
3. Place fundraising messages everywhere that people interact with you
But people don’t just engage with your organisation via your website, newsletter and social media. If you're a community-based organisation, there will be plenty of other opportunities - perhaps you run a local café, a community centre, or deliver services or events in your community.
This is where the magic happens. People will see your organisation in its best light - helping people, providing work or volunteering opportunities, building grassroots relationships. Visitors will be feeling warmth and goodwill towards you - so not having a fundraising poster on the wall, or a ‘donate now’ message on a till, is a missed opportunity.
Again, don’t expect these things to raise loads of money initially, and be mindful that many people won’t be a in a position to donate. But you're still changing how your organisation is seen, and introducing timely messaging that some people will act on.
4. Celebrate every success
When you're first starting out, fundraising success stories may be limited, and the financial numbers small - but you still have something to shout about.
If somebody makes a modest donation, thank them publicly (ask their permission first, or do it without mentioning their name or details). If somebody does a fundraiser for you, write a short news article or social media post about it. If you have a loyal supporter, consider interviewing them and sharing their story about what they do and why they donate.
This achieves three things. Firstly, it's another way of communicating that you're an active fundraising charity, offering more variety than just a financial ask. Secondly, it shows that you value donations and fundraising support, and that even modest contributions are important to you. Finally, it's 'social proof' - seeing that people are supporting you will inspire and encourage others to do the same.
5. Talk about fundraising with your whole team
When you make the shift to being a fundraising charity, you need to bring everyone along with you. There's a common saying that “everybody is a fundraiser” - that’s not quite true, but certainly every staff member or volunteer can be an ambassador for you.
Crafting your central fundraising message (see above) is also an internal exercise – it's important that everyone understands why you're stepping up your fundraising, and what you can achieve if successful. Some staff will need help to overcome any misconceptions they have about fundraising, and identify small ways in which they can personally help.
Keep fundraising on the agenda by literally making it a regular agenda item in staff meetings, even for project staff. Every day, they'll be interacting with service users who might consider doing small-scale fundraising activities, or family members who might be in a position to donate. So this provides an ongoing mechanism to identify new fundraising opportunities and ideas, as well as addressing any barriers or teething problems.
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