In our Fundraising During Covid-19 online briefing last week, five different fundraising specialists talked about their recent experiences and what organisations should be looking out for in the next 6-12 months. Here are six lessons from the briefing for fundraisers far and wide...
Firstly, a huge thanks to our panel of four external speakers:
1. People are still giving...
The headline news from all our speakers was that, for the most part, people are still donating and fundraising.
Research in May showed that one-third of UK donors were actually donating more than pre-Covid-19. Louisa highlighted the phenomenal success of mass participation virtual events like the 2.6 Challenge. Claire said that while many charities felt uncomfortable talking about legacies in the early months of the pandemic and stopped doing so, the Law Society actually reported a dramatic growth in will writing - potentially an opportunity missed for the sector. Some charities have been working sensitively with executors to speed up legacy payments to help with cash flow problems.
I shared this example of a small family trust that are still giving, and doing what they can to show flexibility and understanding:
They may be facing their own challenges, but funders and donors are also responding to events around them - stories in the news, or experiences of illness or tragedy closer to home - which are often prompts for wanting to support good causes.
2. …but they're also facing new pressures
While people are still giving, many are feeling the strain of the pandemic – financially, emotionally and in terms of time/capacity. With a recession around the corner and dividend income down, some philanthropists may hesitate about donating, and some companies are slashing Corporate Social Responsibility budgets. Trusts and foundations will be dealing with the same logistical challenges as you – staff furloughed, unwell or struggling with childcare, meetings postponed, and technology hiccups.
In such uncertain times, it’s easy to talk yourself out of asking for money at all. This is a mistake. If you don’t ask, you’re denying your funders and supporters an opportunity too, and somebody else will them instead. It’s fine to ask, but be conscious of the challenges people might be experiencing currently, don’t put them under pressure, and listen and respond to feedback.
Contact companies and trusts to check on their current situation before applying, to avoid wasting your time and theirs. Listen carefully to your prospective major donors - as Lottie explained, hearing ‘no’ might not be an absolute rejection, but could just mean no to that amount, no for the next six months, or no to that particular project.
3. Relationships remain crucial, but adapt your approach to building them
Building relationships is one of our seven universal fundraising rules that will never let you down. But developing relationships amid social distancing, and when your time is stretched, is difficult. While it's been a pleasant surprise just how much can be achieved online in recent months, there's no easy substitute for face-to-face interaction when it comes to getting to know supporters or getting introduced to new contacts.
Nevertheless, we mustn’t abandon our attempts to build meaningful relationships. Harpreet told attendees that now is the time to be creative, test new channels, and invest time in ideas and conversations on social media. It could also be a good time to re-examine your lawful basis for getting in touch with your supporters – Harpreet observed that many charities haven’t communicated with some supporters since 2018 because they didn’t give opt-in consent when GDPR came in, but some of these supporters may never have understood why they stopped being contacted. You could explore using ‘legitimate interests’ to get back in touch now.
If cancelled events have freed up budget and staff time, consider investing this in phoning supporters and being more active and visible on social media. Don’t hold off communicating with supporters because you don’t have a specific ask ready. Phone them anyway, even just to ask how they’re doing or to update them on your work. Investing time in relationships now will lead to stronger support and donations tomorrow.
4. Keep externalising your case for support
Drawing on her experience in the arts sector, Lottie observed how many organisations have recently asked for money to ‘keep their doors open’ or avoid laying off staff. Sadly, while this is paramount to you, it's unlikely to be compelling to your donors, unless they’re extremely invested in your organisation.
Donors care about the people you support and the positive impact of your work, not keeping you afloat. So you need to be telling inspiring stories and presenting a clear case for support that explains who you help, why they need support, what you do to meet the need, the impact of your work, and why you’re best placed to achieve change.
Virtually all our speakers highlighted the importance of a good case for support - for funding applications, individual giving campaigns, major donor asks and legacy fundraising. It’s more important than ever during a crisis, with so many organisations competing for donations and emergency funding. One possible negative impact of the recent Government bailouts for the charity sector and the arts is that the general public might mistakenly perceive that charities are now well-funded. The reality is that these bailouts are tiny in the face of rising need, but it’s up to you to make this case to your supporters.
5. Maintain quality and good practice
We asked our speakers to explain what hasn’t changed in fundraising since Covid-19, as well as what has - and it was abundantly clear that good practice doesn’t go out the window when a crisis strikes.
Time and again, our speakers emphasised the importance of doing things the right way, even when there's a sense of urgency. Louisa talked about the need to plan events well in advance and budget very carefully, especially when social distancing might mean your events have to be smaller-scale and less profitable. Claire highlighted the need to maintain common good practice in legacy fundraising: not leading with a scary focus on death, taking a ‘drip drip’ marketing approach, and always respecting donors’ wishes and wellbeing.
It’s easier to keep an emphasis on quality and good practice when you don’t overcommit. For example, you’re likely to make a better impression - and raise more money - if you take the time to write three emergency funding applications well, rather than rushing out eight poor-quality bids.
6. We’re all still figuring things out - so be curious, flexible and kind
Harpreet put it best when she said that right now, fundraisers have to be comfortable not knowing all the answers, as we’re all feeling our way in the dark. This is an unprecedented crisis – nobody really knows what is round the corner, or which fundraising tactics will yield the best response. So I believe we need to do three things:
Be curious - test out new messages and ways of communicating with supporters, before committing significant time and budget to them. Measure and reflect on the results. Monitor what other organisations are doing well, and badly. Ask other fundraisers for advice, and sign up for events where people share observations and best practice.
Be flexible - lockdown restrictions and public mood are liable to change quickly, so be ready to respond. Your Senior Management Team will need to be more agile and get used to signing off ideas more quickly, or your organisation could be left behind.
Be kind - it’s ok to not know what’s round the corner, to make mistakes, and to sometimes just feel overwhelmed and despondent. Equally, Louisa mentioned the importance of celebrating your successes when they come – this keeps you feeling positive, makes the inevitable rejections easier to deal with, and boosts colleagues’ moods too.
With rising levels of social need and ever-increasing competition for grants, the National Lottery Community Fund remains one of the few bright spots of hope in the UK funding landscape for many charities.
While the £600million+ they give away each year through various programmes is a lifeline for many organisations, some are put off applying because of the time required to understand the different programmes and funding criteria, concern about the level of competition, or not being sure that they’re eligible.
We’ve helped charities to secure over £1million of Lottery funding in recent years, and have developed a good understanding of what Lottery are looking for, and how to emphasise key strengths and address weaknesses in your application. And since many community-based organisations need stable multi-year funding more than ever before, we wanted to share a few tips:
Think laterally about the definition of a ‘community’
A common misconception is that when Lottery say they provide funding to ‘communities’, they only mean physical, geographical communities. This isn’t the case, because Lottery can and do fund organisations supporting communities of interest, which they define as ‘people with similar interests or life experiences’.
We recently worked with The PKD Charity to secure Reaching Communities funding for their programme of face-to-face, online and telephone support for patients and families affected by polycystic kidney disease. The people they support live all around the UK, and some rarely if ever physically meet up with others.
However, feedback from beneficiaries and charity staff emphasised that people forge important relationships through the charity’s social media support groups, telephone befriending or periodic meet-ups – and that these relationships help them to overcome challenges and live more fulfilled lives. That’s the true definition of a community – and it was a community that relied to stable funding to flourish.
If your organisation works with people united by certain interests or challenges, rather than a geographical location, then you may well be eligible for Lottery funding if you can make a similar case for support.
Demonstrate that your community values your service and has been involved in designing it
This is arguably the most important criteria for many Lottery funding programmes. You need to show that your services are genuinely based on people’s ideas, aspirations and unmet needs, not just dreamed up in a boardroom somewhere.
This can be difficult to demonstrate, particularly if it feels like second nature. For example, if you run a local community centre, your frontline staff will interact with service users on a daily basis, and naturally develop activities in response to their ideas and needs. As we’ve written before, you still need explain and provide examples of how this happens, as well as detailing more formal consultation methods, such as surveys and focus groups.
Working with The PKD Charity, we had an unfair advantage – they’d actually commissioned us previously to run a stakeholder consultation exercise, which involved surveying hundreds of patients on their needs and opinions about the charity’s support, and interviewing prominent medical professionals. This type of exercise takes time and money, but is hugely beneficial for Lottery applications – and indeed for other funders. So don't hold back from including your consultation data in your application.
Bring your application to life with a range of media
A strong funding application doesn’t just rely on written words. Images and video bring your work to life, inspire empathy, and allow people to tell their story in their own words. This again helps to demonstrate community support and involvement in your project. Audio clips are an underused tool for people who have a story to tell but don’t feel comfortable talking in front of a camera. And diagrams and infographics can often explain something succinctly that'd otherwise need a few hundred words.
Lottery encourage and appreciate the use of imagery, audio and video. For some funding programmes, you can actually by video rather than in writing. And you can really bring a detailed second-stage funding proposal to life by including things like infographics, embedded audio clips and video links.
Explain what other services exist for your community, and their limitations
Like many funders, Lottery are anxious to avoid duplication – in other words, funding multiple organisations to deliver overlapping services.
This doesn’t mean that your work needs to be 100% unique – and claiming that it is may show that you haven’t researched your project well enough. However, you should explain why other services aren’t accessible to the people you support, or appropriate for their needs.
For example, when we secured funding for a youth employability charity, we provided evidence that young people were put off accessing other local services because they didn’t have an opportunity to build a trusting relationship with the service providers, and because of the complexities of local gang rivalry and ‘territory’. In another successful application, we showed how people with a learning disability weren't benefitting from mainstream health and wellbeing activities, because they needed extra time and support to address their complex needs.
This is a way to both demonstrate an in-depth understanding of your sector, and provide further evidence that your services are based around people’s needs and views.
Always seek and clarify feedback from your Funding Officer
While Lottery ask for a lot of detail for their larger funding programmes, they’ll also provide feedback along the way – particularly if you ask the right questions. If you apply to Reaching Communities, you might receive initial written feedback on areas to strengthen and clarify, an opportunity to discuss your idea by phone with a Funding Officer, detailed guidance on what to then include in a full proposal, and even an opportunity to get a draft reviewed before submitting.
Receiving feedback and even criticism about your work can feel uncomfortable, but embracing this scrutiny will improve your chances of securing funding. Take every opportunity to clarify feedback that you don’t understand, and pro-actively check that you’ve explained any complexities in your project clearly.
For example, for a recent application that we supported, the Funding Officer expressed concern about the financial sustainability of the project. This was something we felt had already been addressed adequately – but by drawing their attention to what we’d written already and asking what they felt was unclear or missing, we were able to drill down into exactly what the assessment panel was looking for, and how best to provide it.
We’re confident that following these tips will increase your chances of securing Lottery funding, and indeed other grants too. Feel free to suggest any further tips in the comments below. Good luck with your application, and take a look at how we could potentially help you with funding applications.
Statistically, events fundraising has never been one of the more profitable forms of fundraising. While both special events (e.g. a gala dinner or concert) and challenge events (e.g. a marathon or sporting challenge) can sometimes raise a lot, promotion costs are often high and a lot of staff time is required. For example, while you might expect a return on investment of 10:1 (£10 raised for every £1 spent) from trusts fundraising, or 5:1 from corporate fundraising, events are often closer to 2:1 or 3:1.
Even this figure is decreasing as fundraising events are hit by the current financial climate, market saturation and supporter fatigue (the challenge of keeping on going back to the same limited pool of supporters). If you have a small fundraising team, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether it’s worth your time committing to new fundraising events at all.
So in what circumstances are events still worth your time, and how do you decide whether they’re right for you?
Despite the challenges, events provide plenty of advantages, not all of them related to short-term income:
To capitalise on these advantages, you need to be crystal clear what you’re looking to achieve from your fundraising events, and plan accordingly
MAXIMISING THE BENEFITS OF SPECIAL EVENTS
Special events are excellent for engaging corporate and major donor prospects, encouraging existing supporters to introduce people from their own network, and recognising the contributions of key supporters. Particularly when your event features stories and speeches from the people you support, or creates an inspiring and celebratory atmosphere, or when senior staff and trustees are on hand to mingle with people.
When planning an event, liaise with people across your organisation to map out who should be invited. Then invite them well in advance, warmly, and with a personal message. Depending on how much you want them to be there, you can consider offering discounted or free tickets where appropriate, particularly if the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term cost.
On the night, make sure key prospects get plenty of time and attention, and take every opportunity to educate and inspire them about your organisation’s work. If you have a long-term plan about how you ideally want them to support your cause, you might be able to cunningly sow some seeds on the night.
Carry on the personal touch after the event, by thanking people and sending any follow-up material promptly, personally and creatively (for example with a handwritten card or colourful social media image). This often requires some advance planning, particularly if staff plan to take some much-needed time off after your event.
Bear in mind that high-value prospects expect ‘senior’ attention, so you need to enlist support from management and trustees at every stage - before, during and after your event. Particularly for corporate and major donor fundraising, it's rare to be successful without senior level buy-in.
MAXIMISING THE BENEFITS OF challenge EVENTS
Building long-term relationships with challenge event participants is typically much harder, but not impossible.
Firstly, you need to consider whether this is a realistic goal at all. This will depend on the nature of your event. If it's a big brand in its own right, or if it has no natural link to your cause, people are more likely to be participating in the event on its own merits, and have less natural interest in supporting you further. If your event has a high fundraising target - or, perhaps more importantly, involves a bigger fundraising effort - this provides greater scope to engage people further.
If you're trying to keep people engaged for the long term, a few things can really help:
If 'converting' participants into long-term supporters feels unlikely, it could be better to focus on maximising short-term profit instead. This can be achieved through:
STAYING FOCUSED ON THE BIGGER PICTURE
Many events potentially bring broad benefits, but often fundraisers only give this serious thought once it’s too late. When we take part in events, we’re often told it’s not the winning that counts, but the taking part. However, with a successful fundraising event, perhaps it’s not (just) the taking part that counts, but what happens next.
You need to think about this bigger picture from the very beginning, as soon as you start the planning process. It should dictate how you design your event, how you communicate with participants and which of your colleagues you ask to be involved.
If you do decide that your event has a higher purpose, make sure this is reflected in the evaluation process too. I’ve seen fundraisers get persuaded by colleagues to do an event because it has awareness-raising potential as well as income potential – but when push comes to shove, management lose sight of these objectives and only measure the return in hard cash. This can result in giving up on events early, or sacrificing the long-term benefits.
It sounds obvious, but if your event is primarily about long-term value, you need to find ways of actually measuring that value, and convincing people that results will take time to become visible.
I’m sure you saw Andy Murray’s maybe-retirement announcement recently, and the media reaction to it. It was hard to miss.
Aside from the sporting implications, his display of human emotion felt all-too-rare. Most sportspeople give little away beyond guarded responses and cliches, seemingly ever-suspicious of media intrusion and conscious of sponsor obligations. In the often male-dominated world of sport, real emotion and honesty are frequently still associated with weakness. Yet the media response to this fateful press conference in Melbourne was overwhelmingly positive.
I’m not a huge tennis fan, but I’m fascinated by the transformation in Andy Murray's public reputation. Back in his early days, he had a reputation for being surly, bland and seemingly mistrustful of the media. In return, he was firmly portrayed as a Scottish rather than a British sportsperson, not helped when he made his infamous “anyone but England” comments ahead of the football World Cup in 2006!
While much of this transformation is down to sporting success, his personality and honesty have played a part. He’s not afraid to stand up to perceived injustices and voice his views on difficult issues such as gender equality and Scottish independence. And following his recent openness about his physical and mental struggles with injury and pain, his public stock has never been higher.
Watching Andy Murray reminded me just how refreshing, disarming and impactful authentic honesty can be. This is an under-used tool in the charity sector.
Charities are often brilliant at holding up a mirror to society and making people notice and care about injustice. But are we always good enough at holding up a mirror to ourselves? And what holds us back?
When you’re short of time, it can feel easier to present a simple, sanitised version of yourself and your work. Crafting messages about your struggles and weaknesses feels like it must be done carefully. After years of negative media coverage about charities, it's natural to want to present yourself positively: we know exactly what we’re doing, and every penny we spend goes to plan.
I don’t think it always has to be like this. Here are a few ways of showing your more honest side, and why it's worth the time and effort:
1. Show that your work is challenging and things don’t always go to plan
Many projects are complex to deliver. Talking about your setbacks gives people an insight into what your work is really like and makes them more emotionally invested. Think of the narrative of any good film or book - it's rarely plan sailing to the end, and the setbacks draw you into the story.
Great fundraising is often a response to adversity. For example, in 2014, Manchester Dogs' Home raised £1.2million in 48 hours after a devastating fire. Communities rally around organisations in times of crisis, particularly with the rise of crowdfunding. Hopefully you won't experience a disaster, but being honest and open about minor setbacks – for example if you experience a delay or issue with building work after a capital campaign – can help you to raise vital extra funds if needed.
2. Trusts and foundations reward honesty too
It’s not only public fundraising – honesty with funders usually pays too. With the precise focus on outputs and outcomes, we can often feel mortified if we're unable to deliver a project exactly as planned. However most funders are too experienced to expect everything to go as planned. If there's a hitch they’re usually on your side – they want things to go well too, and are often surprisingly willing to help.
I know one charity that's delivering a big six-figure project. They rely heavily on volunteers, but had struggled to find a good volunteer coordinator, and failed to achieve some outcomes as a result. Instead of disguising or finding excuses for this, they explained the situation honestly in their mid-project report. The funder’s response: how much would it cost to increase the hours of your volunteer coordinator post and pay a better salary to find the right person? A top-up grant of £10,000 was on its way a few weeks later.
3. Involve your supporters in decisions that affect them
I often see charities second-guessing how to communicate with their supporters. Would they prefer a monthly or quarterly newsletter? What types of story do they most want to hear about? Will they prefer Event A or Event B? Staff often have differing opinions, but rarely think about actually asking supporters.
Perhaps charities assume their supporters won’t appreciate the question – will they feel the charity should know the answer already, or simply not bother to respond? However, consulting your supporters on important decisions shows a willingness to learn and leads to better engagement and more reliable insights. The real honesty here is asking for advice, and admitting that you don't have all the answers.
4. Handling complaints well is worth its weight in gold
We all make mistakes sometimes, but it's too easy to respond with a weak excuse or with the defence that "we're just following our policy". Have you ever responded to a complaint with: “You know what, no excuses, we just got this wrong”?
Most supporters complain because they care, and want to give you a chance to get things right. They’re not trying to catch you out. They’ll usually understand if you made a mistake because, guess what, they also make mistakes sometimes. A well-written apology and honest explanation actually builds trust and appreciation for what you do - several times I've seen this not only salvage a relationship with a donor, but also lead to increased support.
5. Show the people and personality behind your work
Finally, being honest is also about showing what your work is really like – even if you look stressed, your desk is messy and your office is cramped! Showing the real you leads to empathy and familiarity more than judgement or criticism, in my experience.
In my first job in the sector, I ran a major student fundraising event. We frequently tried to post photos on social media of us sending out welcome packs, taking deliveries of T-shirts or welcoming new staff. Our fundraisers genuinely liked this – for some reason, most seemed to think we were running the event out of a broom cupboard, and were amazed that the charity had a ‘normal’ office! It helped people to get to know us and appreciate that we were a professional organisation doing a lot of work behind the scenes.
So thank you Andy Murray for the reminder about the power of honesty - and if you've got any other tips or stories about putting this into practice with your supporters or donors, we'd love a comment below!
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.
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.
Just when many charities were wondering how things could get any worse, along came the decision to leave the EU.
There were already plenty of worries to keep people up at night. Sustained media scrutiny of fundraising practice and charity governance. A disillusioned public with decreasing trust in the sector. The need to get to grips with new fundraising responsibilities for trustees and a new Fundraising Regulator. Further clouds on the horizon in the form of the much-discussed Fundraising Preference Service and incoming EU Data Protection law.
Brexit has now added a load more challenges into the mix. It's confirmed a growing belief that the values of many charities are out of step with a large part of the general public, and emphasised the need to win back public trust. Another financial crisis would mean that your beneficiaries need you more than ever but funding would be harder still to find. The huge uncertainty may make many trusts, corporates and high net worth individuals more reluctant to hand over money in the short term at least.
Are you feeling depressed yet? Believe it or not, the aim of this blog is to make you feel more confident and positive about these challenges so bear with us for a bit longer!
The sheer volume of bad news for charities recently can make it tricky to absorb everything, understand how it impacts your organisation and decide what to do next. Every day brings new articles and concerns. But if you can cut through the noise and work out how to identify what really matters to you and what you can do about it, you can feel a lot more confident about the future.
Last month we ran a workshop at JustGiving about how to future-proof your fundraising efforts in the current climate. We worked with a range of small charities to explore the biggest current challenges are and how to move forward. A big part of this focused on what tools you can use to understand the impact of external factors on your charity and plan for the future.
Here are four great tools for future-proofing your fundraising in the current climate:
1. Horizon scanning
There's a big difference between being broadly aware of the challenges facing the charity sector and being able to decide and prioritise what's most relevant to your charity.
Doing a horizon scanning exercise is a great first step. Start by brainstorming a list of all the different possible issues and trends that you're aware of. Be as specific as possible – for instance don't write 'Brexit' but focus on individual factors like 'corporates less likely to make donations in the short term due to uncertainty'.
Next, estimate the likelihood of these things actually happening and the size of the impact they would have on your charity. Plot them on a grid as follows:
This is a great warm-up exercise to get your staff and trustees thinking more clearly about things and prioritising what requires further attention, because trying to react to everything as a small team is impossible. In the graphic above, the issues in the top right quadrant are likely to be the things to discuss further, as they're most likely to happen and will have the biggest impact on your charity.
2. Play to your strengths and win back trust
With public opinion in charities at an all-time low, there's a clear need for charities to win back trust and engage with their supporters as positively as possible. Many small charities have a natural advantage here, so it's important to think about how you can make the most of this.
While larger charities are currently re-evaluating how they fundraise, most smaller charities that we know are in a better position because they:
Developing a public supporter promise is a great way to set out your fundraising values and demonstrate how you're different from the 'bad' charities that your supporters may have read about. This is a chance to explain how you treat donors, how you use their data and how you ensure that any other organisations that you work with uphold your high standards. Here’s a great supporter promise developed by Mind.
By all means look at supporter promises developed by other charities for inspiration but it's important to avoid just copying them. You need to decide what values are important to you and how you're going to work behind the scenes to honour your promise. This may require you to review your training, induction and administrative processes.
When your promise is finished, publish it prominently on your website and make all your supporters aware of it by shouting about it in your newsletter, emails and on social media.
3. Review your organisational culture and governance
The Board of Trustees plays such an important role in defining a charity’s approach to fundraising, especially in smaller charities. The Board must collectively understand fundraising, engage with it and care about how it's done. Together with your senior management team, trustees should now:
4. Review your fundraising strategy
We don't know exactly what the future of fundraising will look like, but we do know that now is as good a time as any to do a proper review of your fundraising strategy and evaluate whether you're setting yourself up to succeed in a changing climate.
An initial horizon scanning exercise will have helped you to explore the possible impact of various issues on your fundraising activity. A strategy review will now enable you to identify where you are over-reliant on certain fundraising activities, such as individual giving, and what you can do to diversify your fundraising and reduce your vulnerability over time.
Diversifying your fundraising and investing in new areas isn't easy because fundraising growth takes time. However, a strong fundraising strategy will allow you to decide where to invest resources, forecast how long it will take to achieve results and justify the business case for investing now.
If you need some help with your fundraising strategy, join our mailing list to access our strategy helpsheets and look out for our upcoming workshops and webinars.
We explore all these tools for change and many more in our “Fundraising in a changing climate” workshops. We're planning another one this autumn, so please get in touch with us if you’d like to find out more or provisionally reserve a place.
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