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.
Growing your influence in a busy world – five things I’ve learned from running Lime Green Consulting
It’s been just over two years since I waved goodbye to full-time employment and turned Lime Green Consulting from a twinkle in my mind into a bona fide consultancy for small charities.
Since then, I've met some incredible people, worked on amazing projects and made a few mistakes along the way. Setting up and growing a small business has many things in common with running a small charity, and many of the lessons I've learned will resonate with charity directors, staff and trustees. Here are my top five tips:
1. Be clear on your core purpose
If you want to get noticed, it’s so important to distil everything that you do into a simple, clear message.
When I started out as a consultant, it took some time to understand how to articulate exactly why charities should work with me. I had pretty broad fundraising experience and wasn't sure what was most relevant. I had a naive belief that I could sit down with a charity, discuss their challenges and find a way to make myself useful.
In reality, if you’re not clear how you can help someone, most people will be way too busy to take the time to work it out for you. It was only when I developed a really clear proposition and a small range of headline services that I was really in business.
Charities must distil their often complex projects and sometimes technical work into a crystal clear message. Get the what and why right and people will ask about the how and with whom later. Don’t throw everything at people immediately – have the confidence that if you give people enough information to remember you and start a conversation then they’ll want to come back and find out more over time.
2. Collaborate and grow your universe
When I first started out, I was given some wise advice I've never forgotten: “The most important thing is to meet people and make yourself useful. Don’t worry immediately about making money, it will follow.”
This is a great motto if you want to meet amazing people, find brilliant opportunities and grow your influence. I always embrace opportunities to meet and help like-minded people, whether at a networking event or over a coffee, without worrying about whether there’s a quick win.
Some people think "I don’t want to spend time chatting to someone if there’s probably nothing in it for me – it’s a waste of time." Instead I always ask myself: “What if I turn down the chance to meet someone and it could've been the next big opportunity or introduction?”
These days we’re always under time pressure so it’s tempting to evaluate everything in terms of the immediate return. However, it's so valuable to take the time to discuss challenges and share problems with people in a similar position at another organisation - this can give you a new perspective and help you to solve your own internal challenges.
I believe that charities can gain a lot from collaborating with each other, sharing ideas and teaming up for joint projects - there can be too much of a tendency within the sector to view other organisations only as competitors.
3. Develop your expert voice
If you run a small charity, there's usually so much to do and so little time. We’re naturally inclined to focus mostly on urgent short-term goals, yet we also expect to be capable of thinking big and staying relevant. In reality, we can only do this if we keep one eye on what’s happening outside our organisation.
I try to dedicate time every week to keeping abreast of wider issues in the charity sector – reading articles, sharing ideas on forums and social media, and writing blogs. It’s sometimes difficult to fit this in alongside other work. However it means that more people notice me and also helps me to develop my voice and opinions on key issues that people expect me to know about.
Always be on the look-out for key developments and conversations that you can contribute to. This is challenging because you can’t control when things pop up, for instance as the result of a news story, so you often have to make time at short notice. However, get this right and over time people will come to see you as an expert and this brings lots of opportunities.
Being the "go to" authority on a particular topic will make your charity more visible - this can open up fundraising opportunities, attract the people that need your charity's help and enable you to better represent the needs of those beneficiaries as a credible expert voice.
4. Make your content work harder
So you’re developing your expert voice and publishing great content, but who’s listening?
I read a great tip from Alex Swallow who said that you should spend 20% of your time generating content and 80% sharing it.
With limited time, it’s so tempting to publish something, tick it off the list and move on. However, publishing content is the tip of the iceberg. If blogs are our shop window, then promoting them is the billboard or TV advert that gets people to visit your shop in the first place.
When I publish something, I make a big effort to schedule posts about it on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and send personalised emails to people who would find it particularly interesting. Sharing all your content via your mailing list is another great way to keep reminding people that you exist and builds familiarity, credibility and trust over time. Check out our email marketing tips here.
I know many charities who could be better at promoting their content and successes to the right people. The next time that you win an award, produce a great impact report or write an insightful article, be sure to share it via all your channels, because it’s no use to you in a dusty drawer.
5. Listen to people and don’t be afraid to ask for help
It's easy to think that you know what people want, but harder to ask and be led by others. We’re all guilty of something called confirmation bias, where we sub-consciously listen out for information that proves our existing beliefs and ignore anything that contradicts them.
So often I hear charities pondering how often to send people a newsletter or fretting about which new event their supporters would like best. Often I say ‘Have you tried asking them?’
We often feel the need to present a polished, professional side to people, but involving our supporters in our problems can be a great way to engage people and win trust. Small charities have a natural advantage here as people won’t always expect you to get everything right and will value your ability to be friendly and human. Social media has also made this much easier.
If you can ask people for help and make them part of the solution, you create ambassadors who have a natural interest in seeing you succeed, even if this is partly so they feel part of that success themselves!
This blog is based on a version that was first published on The Influence Expert by Alex Swallow in April 2016. If you've enjoyed reading it, please sign up to our mailing list for more blogs and advice.
This blog was first published on Eventbrite on 1 June 2015.
Last month I took a few days off to visit my parents in their new home in North Wales.
I’d recommend the Llyn Peninsula to anybody who needs a change of scenery. It’s beautiful and invigorating – cycling along country roads with a panoramic sea view couldn’t feel any further removed from life as a fundraising consultant in London.
Taking a step back is important because working in the charity sector can be extremely demanding, especially with organisations under pressure to reduce costs and maximise income. Creativity and enterprise can be replaced by fatigue. So holidays are a crucial opportunity to recharge your batteries and gain some much-needed perspective.
One holiday to France in late 2013 changed my whole career. I’d just completed my fifth year at Link Community Development managing a busy fundraising portfolio with ever-decreasing resources. In hindsight, I was drained and no longer enjoying my role.
I’d recently broken my ankle so had plenty of time sitting by the pool. I reflected on what I’d liked about Link in the first place – the challenge of running a major fundraising event early in my career, the space to inspire a young team and be innovative. I realised that changing circumstances had gradually eroded my job satisfaction, and wondered how I could regain that and use my expertise in a different way.
During the early morning drive back to the airport, I realised just how little I wanted to go back. My heart wasn’t in it and it wouldn’t have been right to carry on – so two days later I handed in my notice and resolved to become a fundraising consultant for small charities. Lime Green Consulting was the result.
Keeping a healthy level of perspective about your own career – both in and out of the office – definitely helps you to perform better in the long run. Here are eight ways of achieving this:
1. Make sure that a holiday is a real break
These days it’s harder than ever to switch off, with smartphones meaning that our emails are never far away. During a particularly stressful client project in February, I finally decided to switch my email notifications off on a weekend away – and I’ve never had them on at the weekend since!
Time off gives you crucial distance from your desk and sometimes creative ideas start swarming around as a result. You can embrace this without becoming sucked in. I know many people who scribble down ideas on a pad of paper if they come during the night or on holiday, then go back to relaxing knowing that they can pick up on them later.
2. Take a step back to appreciate what you’ve done well...
I’ve met many fundraisers and Trustees who clearly feel guilty and frustrated. Guilty because they’re not able to do more with their limited time, and frustrated at not being able to turn ideas into action. It’s understandable but it doesn’t do you any good.
Taking a step back provides an opportunity to celebrate your successes and appreciate the progress you have made in often challenging circumstances. This inevitably boosts your confidence and inspires you to find ways of building on that success in future.
3. ...but also learn from your mistakes
It’s important to accept when you have got things wrong and analyse how to improve your approach next time. This is hard to do when you’re wrapped up in the day-to-day realities of your role.
Looking back, there have been times when I’ve been overly defensive or naive about my work when problems arose. While there are often extenuating circumstances or several people responsible, you can still learn lessons yourself. Fundraising is about trial and error and innovation goes hand in hand with a risk of failure. Accept this challenge, as long as you can learn from your mistakes.
4. Value your professional development
One of my biggest mistakes at Link was becoming fixated with short-term problems. I was obsessed with the performance of my fundraising events and dismissed some great training opportunities because I was short on time and couldn’t see the short-term benefit. I just didn’t allow myself to prioritise my own long-term development.
While you must of course be focused on your day job, you also need to put yourself first sometimes and embrace opportunities to become a more rounded professional. Investing time in making yourself more employable for the future is so important – and your employer should value that too.
5. Broaden your world by meeting new people
A busy job can make you become insular, so you believe that all the solutions can be found within your own office. If you work at a smaller charity, you may not have many close colleagues to help you, but there will be people at other organisations in a very similar position.
I can’t stress enough how worthwhile it is to meet like-minded people – whether it’s just to share experiences or ask specific advice. Fundraisers are generally a friendly and supportive bunch, so the right networking events are a great use of your time. I’d particularly recommend the London Young Charity Professionals events.
6. Learn from others online
Similarly, there is so much information online that saves you having to learn from your own mistakes! I regularly use a number of LinkedIn groups (including those run by the Institute of Fundraising and UK Fundraising) both to monitor general discussions and find answers to a specific question.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
I’ve been lucky enough to receive some great support from both formal and informal mentors. I think more people should try to seek out somebody who could help to develop and inspire their career. Also think about how you could help others, which is always a hugely rewarding and educational experience. Alex Swallow’s podcast about mentoring is a great introduction to this.
It’s also important to seek help closer to home when you need it. Overworked fundraisers sometimes fall into the trap of working ever-increasing hours as a way of demonstrating that they need extra support. Burning yourself out is never the right way to prove a point – it’s always better to proactively state your case to management.
8. Remember why you’re there
The longer you work somewhere, the easier it becomes to lose sight of the fact that, whatever your challenges, your work is making a genuine difference to lives. Taking the time to remind yourself of what it means to work in the charity sector can really help in the difficult moments.
Alex Swallow also made an important point recently about caring for the cause rather than the charity. As fundraising becomes ever more professionalised and competitive, I’ve seen people lose perspective about the greater good, viewing other organisations only as competitors and threats. Sometimes we need to work together more for the benefit of our end beneficiaries.
I hope that you all get to have a refreshing and reflective summer holiday – make sure you find some time to look after number one!
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