With so many compelling causes, great fundraising campaigns and quirky events out there, it's harder than ever to stand out from the crowd. With changing fundraising regulation and declining public trust in charities, we're going to need to be more creative than ever if we're to appeal to the general public and convince people to support us.
1. Be clear on the core purpose
Why do need a new campaign or event anyway? The obvious answer is ‘to raise money’ but it’s not always as simple as that. Sometimes charities organise events to raise awareness about their work or a specific issue or engage with a particular audience. Some campaigns can be a low-cost way of acquiring new supporters who may contribute in other ways in future - this can be more important than the immediate fundraising return.
Establishing one clear purpose is better than trying to tick lots of vague boxes at the same time. It'll make it easier to evaluate your ideas then measure success later. It may even help you decide whether to go it alone or sign up to be part of a third party event or campaign.
2. Decide whether to link to your mission
Campaigns like Sleep Out for Centrepoint and Live Below The Line have the double benefit of raising money for a good cause and encouraging participants to empathise with people in need. This is something that you might want to replicate, but it's not essential.
When I worked at Link and we first discussed Sumo Run, some trustees were sceptical – why would an African charity want to organise a Japanese-themed run? But the event was so fun and visual that it got wide press attention and introduced us to so many new supporters, despite not being directly relevant to our work.
Think carefully about how closely you want to link to your mission. Bear in mind your core purpose (see above) – for instance an awareness-raising event is more likely to require that direct connection. However, sometimes linking to your mission can seem tenuous or even crass - Live Below The Line has been heavily criticised by many - so don’t be afraid to try something radical instead.
3. Involve your supporters
Charities often ask me ‘what new event should we sign up to?’ or ‘how often would our supporters like to receive our newsletter?’ but don’t ask their supporters the same question! I think smaller charities should try to engage supporters more with their tricky decisions, rather than always trying to present a polished, professional face.
Your supporters are the best people to tell you what they do and don’t like. Try organising a focus group, creating a quick survey with a site like Survey Monkey or inviting trusted supporters to join your team brainstorming meeting. You not only get valuable insight, you’ll create ambassadors who are naturally invested in seeing you succeed - if only so they can prove their idea was right!
4. Examine the market
Before you try to come up with your perfect idea, look at what's out there already. Which fundraising events have been particularly successful? Which campaigns have really got people talking? Equally importantly, what can you learn from activities that have gone badly?
Don’t just look at competitors’ websites. Phone them and ask questions or sign up yourself to experience things as a participant. This helps you to understand what people are likely to get excited or unhappy about, meaning you can learn from the mistakes of others. For physical events, this can give you an invaluable insight into specific issues like how to ensure that on-the-day registration runs smoothly or deciding what music to play at the finish line.
5. Generate lots of ideas
With a clear core purpose, a sound knowledge of the market and insight from your supporters, it’s time to start brainstorming ideas of your own. You’re likely to want to identify at least ten initial ideas, then pick out at least three to explore in detail.
Research shows that people tend to be afraid of sharing 'bad' ideas and that we're psychologically resistant to having too many options to choose between. This can make people reluctant to contribute. For a powerful brainstorming session, summarise your initial research (1-4 above), explain the importance of generating lots of ideas to evaluate and foster a relaxed and creative environment where everyone feels able to contribute in the knowledge that no ideas are wrong.
6. ...then evaluate and prioritise the strongest ones
One great approach is to come up with a shortlist of key questions to test each idea against. These may include ‘Will our supporters be excited about it?’, ‘Does it help us achieve our core purpose?’ and ‘Do we have the resources to make it happen?’
This stage can take the form of an open discussion or a much more scientific approach where you score ideas based on different criteria. Either way, it will help to focus people on what really matters when making a decision. Check out Lucy Gower’s brilliant book The Innovation Workout for in-depth advice on brainstorming and filtering ideas.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, but you should again seek supporter feedback at this stage to ensure you haven’t got things wrong. Even the best known charities can misjudge their ideas – Samaritans Radar was an ill-fated app that was cancelled within 10 days due to a public backlash.
7. Create a clear launch plan
Turning a great idea into real-life success requires a strong plan. Pull together a launch team with the range of skills required, but avoiding involving 'too many cooks' at this stage as it can hold you back. Be clear on the main tasks, people responsible and key milestones – and be firm about staying on schedule. Basecamp is a great project management tool for planning campaign launches.
A good launch plan isn't just about logistics. You need to sound your best supporters and friends of the charity in advance so that they’re primed to sign up, donate or share content immediately. This is crucial for launching with a splash - people will naturally be more excited about getting involved with activities that already seem popular. This is particularly important for crowdfunding campaigns.
This may be a great time to consider external support as you'll benefit from specialist expertise, extra resources and independent, unbiased perspective. Take a look at how we work with charities.
8. Perfectionists – just get it launched!
You can go round in circles forever fine-tuning your idea, but at some point you need to launch it and find out what the world thinks. It’s too easy to spend ages fussing about your website copy, timetable or registration form, only to launch and find out that the core idea isn't right anyway.
In business there's a concept called the minimum viable product (MVP). This is a simplified, scaled-down version of your idea that you launch and continue developing later. Early feedback will help you to sharpen up the concept and initial demand will justify putting more time into development. So get your event or campaign out there ASAP and worry about scaling it up and perfecting it later.
This blog is based on a version that was first published on Eventbrite in February 2016. If you've enjoyed reading it, please sign up to our mailing list for more blogs and advice.
On 4 February 2016, the Small Charities Coalition and the Institute of Fundraising jointly organised a public forum to discuss proposals for the new fundraising regulator and Fundraising Preference Service (FPS).
The forum was a response to criticism that small charities had not been consulted in the development of the new proposals. It was the first public consultation of any kind and the first opportunity for charities to engage directly with Stephen Dunmore, Chief Executive of the new regulator, and George Kidd, the Chair of the Fundraising Preference Service working group.
Big changes are coming and they will affect all charities, large and small. As a fundraising consultant and small charity trustee, I’ve felt the need to keep abreast of developments and air my own views. I'd recommend that you do the same.
I've written this blog to help anyone who needs to get up to speed. Below you'll find links to key documents, a quick summary of the headline news and our recommendations for what to do next.
WHAT TO DO NEXT?
1. Meet as a Board or Senior Management Team to discuss the implications
While small charities may yet be exempted from the FPS, the forthcoming changes could well have a real impact on your charity. You may be forced to pay a levy towards the new regulator, dedicate additional resources to preparing your fundraising campaigns, and face sanctions for inadvertently breaching new rules. Your supporters could sign up to the FPS because of aggressive marketing by a larger charity without realising that they won't be able to hear from you again.
We'd recommend reviewing the key documents and making sure that you're up to speed now. Even if you can't take direct action until more details are revealed, you can discuss how to monitor developments, whether you want to have a voice in the consultation process, and how you can stay flexible in order to make any necessary changes later.
2. Review your fundraising strategy and assess your vulnerability
Are you over-reliant on individual giving? What would happen if a percentage of your supporter base suddenly became uncontactable tomorrow? Are there any fundraising opportunities open to you that you could start to develop now in order to be less susceptible to the changes? Do your existing trustees have the confidence and knowledge about fundraising to navigate the changes effectively?
Periodically reviewing your fundraising strategy and testing how it would stand up to possible external changes is always important. Doing so now is strongly advisable. Find out more about how we can help you with your strategic planning.
3. Assess your supporter communication to stay ahead of the curve
It's easy to kick and scream about the forthcoming regulation changes or blame it all on the big charities. However, we're undoubtedly in this position because public trust in charities has plummeted, and many of the reasons are justified. Now is a good time to evaluate how well you communicate with supporters. Do your staff and volunteers have everything they need to do this properly? Is there guidance for communicating with vulnerable donors or evaluating potential corporate donations?
If the answer is 'no', be proactive and change now. If you're doing this well already, make sure your supporters are aware of it. Media and public scrutiny of charities is likely to keep escalating, so stay ahead of the curve and inspire trust by saying "these are the steps that we've voluntarily taken" rather than appearing to only react to enforced changes.
4. Make your voice heard
The forum on 4 February was a very positive first step, but charities must keep engaging with the process and keep the pressure up by highlighting which issues and unanswered questions are important to them.
There are still too many grey areas. How will the new regulator and the FPS be funded without jeopardising the viability of small charities? Will potential FPS subscribers realise that they may be blocking all future fundraising communication from their local charity, school or hospital? Will the FPS truly remain "a last resort for vulnerable donors" and not an easy button that everyone can press when, for instance, the Daily Mail or the One Show run their first feature about it?
I believe that we all have a responsibility to the sector - and also to the public - as well as ourselves. Some of the criticism of charities is justified and many of the proposed changes are needed. However, it's so sad that the first ever communication preference service to target a specific industry is aimed at charities. We have a proud tradition of charitable giving in the UK but, if new fundraising regulation goes wrong, we could decimate this. Can you really afford to stay silent?
Keep in touch with the Small Charities Coalition and the Institute of Fundraising to stay abreast of developments and further opportunities to have your say. Contact them to actively voice your support. Share this blog post and spread the word to colleagues and friends.
Recent events have proved that your voice can make a difference. Please keep using it.
You don't need us to tell you that charities are having a tough time of it.
It seems a long time ago that the tragic death of Olive Cooke was first reported. Rightly or wrongly, this was quickly linked with charities and triggered unprecedented scrutiny and criticism of fundraising methods, particularly towards vulnerable supporters.
As a result, we've all had to face difficult questions, many of them justified. Sir Stuart Etherington led a review of fundraising regulation in consultation with the UK's 50 largest charities based on fundraising income.
This decision to only seek the views of the largest charities has been heavily criticised. The changing public perception of charities and potential new regulation will undoubtedly affect us all, and small charities have their own views and challenges. To maintain a healthy sector, it's vital that everybody's voice is heard.
Fortunately, the Small Charities Coalition and the Institute of Fundraising have given every small charity the opportunity to complete a 10-minute survey to share their views, and will be holding an open forum on fundraising regulation on 4 February.
We can't emphasise enough how important it is to make your voice heard. Fundraising reform will be fairer and more effective if it's done with smaller charities in mind too. The survey closes on Friday (15 January) so please take a look before then.
Christmas – there’s nothing quite like it, is there?
I’ve never quite lost the sense of magic and exhilaration I used to feel as a child. I barely slept on Christmas Eve, lying awake for hours every year, way too excited to even stay still.
It wasn’t the anticipation of presents, more the prospect of just seeing Father Christmas in action, with his sack of presents over his shoulder. I'd read so many magical Christmas stories and watched so many films that it all seemed so real, and I was desperate to see it for myself.
I devised creative ways to ensure that I didn’t sleep through the magical moment. I remember one year trying to booby trap my bedroom, hoping he’d make enough noise to wake me up. But my parents were always one step ahead of me and equally creative in their excuses. “Father Christmas said he left your presents outside your door this year because he was running late and in a hurry.”
Christmas always brings festive nostalgia and is a great reminder of the power of storytelling. Stories have a huge impact on adults and children alike. A good story burns an image onto our brain and changes the way that we communicate and behave.
Many companies are brilliant at exploiting this. The John Lewis Christmas advert feels like the official opening ceremony for the festive period these days. Sainsbury’s attracted attention last year with their World War I themed advert. In many adverts, the product is barely mentioned. It’s all about the story and how it makes you feel. This love story about milk bottles may be the ultimate example:
Charities are increasingly harnessing the power of storytelling to stand out in a world where there are thousands of good causes competing for our donations and attention.
As charities, we enjoy the natural advantage of having powerful and inspiring stories to tell. We support people who battle against personal challenges, often showing huge courage in the face of adversity. Our heroic supporters dedicate their time, energy and creativity to volunteering and quirky fundraising efforts.
Telling a story is a great way of explaining your vision of a better world and what needs to change. Stories are memorable and easy for your supporters to share with others, and they motivate staff and volunteers. In a world where we are more interconnected than ever, this is really powerful.
A great example is the remarkable story of Stephen Sutton, who turned his battle with cancer into a £4million fundraising effort for Teenage Cancer Trust. Stephen’s personal story inspired millions of people to take action in a way that no statistic or charity newsletter could have done.
Given the wealth of good material at our fingertips, shouldn’t we be better at using stories to inspire our supporters and share our messages?
Here are six top tips for telling your own powerful stories:
1. Delve deep into your organisation – trustees and senior management don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. The best stories are unlikely to emerge from your boardroom. You need to engage project staff, volunteers, beneficiaries and fundraisers. This is a great way to find authentic content and engage everybody from top to bottom in the task of finding the story that best represents your cause.
2. Keep it positive – evidence shows that people are tired of ‘traditional’ charity appeals about suffering and pain. Increasingly we must deal in hope, change and happy endings. If you’re looking for inspiration then I’m proud to be an ambassador for Good News Shared, a website which shares brilliant stories that showcase the positive and inspiring work done by charities and social enterprises.
3. Faces not figures – a personal story is always more memorable than even a powerful statistic. Make your story about one inspiring individual and include photos and background information to make it feel more authentic.
4. Mix your media – no matter how good the story, too much text will always put people off. We live in a world full of videos, audio books and infographics, and organisations are finding ever more creative ways to share their content. So keep the text to a minimum, use plenty of vivid images and try creating a video of your story – it doesn't have to be professionally produced to be engaging.
5. Make it easy to share – why do all the hard work yourself? Every person has the potential to spread the word to others. You never know who may mention you to a company, trust or high value donor. Encourage supporters to share your stories by making them clear, memorable, short and bursting with pride.
6. What next? Don’t leave your supporters wondering what they can do to help. Finish with a clear call to action – this could be a request to donate a certain amount, sign up to an event or share the story on social media.
Stories are a great ‘leveller’ for smaller charities. You may not have the budget for that expensive marketing campaign or fundraising app, but your stories cost nothing to find and little to share. This is a golden opportunity, so don’t pass it up.
If you’d like some more practical tools for sharing your story, check out this blog by Nisha Kotecha. Nisha is the Founder of Good News Shared and is even more passionate than me about the power of a good story!
This blog is adapted from a blog that we first published in December 2014. Storytelling remains a much-discussed topic in the charity sector, so we felt that it was time to share some updated advice with you.
I recently had my first taste of I Wish I'd Thought of That, an annual event in London organised by SOFII where 18 fundraising experts share the innovative fundraising idea they wish they’d had in a seven-minute presentation.
This is a great concept at the best of times – asking people to wax lyrical about somebody else’s work, rather than promoting themselves, is instantly engaging. Coming in the wake of the intense media scrutiny about fundraising practice and low public trust in charities, it seemed a particularly interesting time to hear people’s views on fundraising ideas that the sector has got right.
It was fascinating to gauge the collective mood of some of the sector’s most passionate and imaginative fundraisers. Clearly many people have been bruised by the criticism of a profession which at its best – a way of connecting altruistic people with life-changing causes – should be something to celebrate and treasure.
While some have been warning of a crisis for a while, even those who passionately advocate fundraising are using this as a welcome opportunity for self-examination and change. Overwhelmingly, and encouragingly, the mood was far more pensive than defensive.
Of the 18 ideas shared, my favourite ones focused on inspiring donors, connecting them to the cause and making them feel great about the difference they make. Intentionally or otherwise, this was a welcome antidote to the clinical, pressurising type of fundraising that we’ve seen exposed recently.
While some of the ideas showcased at IWITOT are evidently tricky for smaller charities to implement, I think we can all learn something from the concepts behind them. Here are my six take-away ideas for inspiring and captivating your donors, which conveniently (and with a little help from a thesaurus) all begin with I…
Alexandra Aggidis used the Jack Draws Anything campaign to show the value of creating individual experiences for donors. Jack, whose little brothers had spent time in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, wanted to help raise money for other children in need. He offered to personally draw a unique picture for every donor. He set out to raise £100 but, 536 drawings later, had raised an astonishing £64,700.
This was a campaign with a difference, based on a touching story with a healthy dose of nostalgia. In today’s world of technology and mass fundraising, Jack offered donors a simple and incredibly personal experience. Using some rough calculations about the cost of paper and felt tip pens, Alexandra estimated that the return on investment was an eye-watering 732 to 1!
RNLI’s brilliant Lifeboat Launch Alerts connect donors to the lifeboat launch pager system, so they can receive live updates about when boats are launched on life-saving missions. Donors can control which stations they follow, how many updates they receive and what times of day (or night) they receive them. Each message costs 25p, ensuring an ongoing fundraising stream for the RNLI.
As Louise Parkes explained, RNLI have found a low-cost, transparent way to connect donors closely to the work their support has enabled in real time. They trust their donors with sensitive, live information. We always talk about the importance of storytelling and keeping donors updated, but Lifeboat Launch Alerts is an unusually strong and effective example of doing it.
Drawing on the recent media scrutiny of fundraising, Georgia Bridgwood said that, for too long, we have been treating donors as targets and cash-cows, rather than stakeholders who are central to our plans and solutions. The Donate Locate app, launched by homeless charity The Connection at St Martins, changes that.
When you see a homeless person, you can use the app to make a donation and send the charity their location. You’re now an outreach worker as well as a donor, playing an active role in helping the charity to find out where homeless people are and send help. Many passers-by see homeless people and want to help, but have doubts about their authenticity and where the money will go. One moment of hesitation is enough to make you walk on by. Donate Locate removes that hesitation and empowers donors to make a real difference.
When we think about airports, we tend to imagine the rush of getting to our gate or the deflating feeling of arriving home to rainy Britain. Not the greatest place for fundraising, right? Sandy Luther argued otherwise, showcasing the ingenious Social Swipe.
Interactive digital billboards in airports asked people to donate €2 by credit card, using images like a loaf of bread and a pair of tied hands to highlight problems like hunger and unfair imprisonment. Donors swiped their credit card through the middle of the image, with graphics showing the bread being sliced, or the hands being untied.
70% of people say they would donate more if they knew how their money was directly helping. Social Swipe uses complicated technology to create a very simple message about the power of donating. Instant gratification also has a great follow-up – when donors saw their credit card statement, the standard payment details had been replaced with a message asking them to consider a regular donation.
People may be willing to donate their time as well as money, but only if they feel they can really make a difference. Ben Swart talked about the Help the Oma campaign by German charity Diakonie, which used actresses to play the role of ‘grannies’ (‘oma’ means ‘granny’ in German) who got themselves into compromising positions. When passers-by stepped in to help, they were given a flyer saying ‘You’re exactly what I’m looking for’.
The campaign made everybody feel like they could make a difference. It played on that rewarding feeling that we all get when we do a good deed, which often inspires us to want to do more. Diakonie not only managed to quadruple their number of volunteers, they also made the national press and produced this hilarious video.
6. Institutionalisation (!)
Stephanie Drummond started her presentation by declaring herself a nightmare for charities. Like many young people, she rarely carries much cash, doesn't often check emails and periodically changes her contact details. So how do you reach the unreachable donor?
Thanks to Penny for London, Stephanie gives to charities almost everyday. Penny for London allows donors to donate as little as 1p every time they use their contactless debit cards at participating retailers, including Transport for London. It’s convenient, affordable for all and establishes the habit of frequent giving. At a time when so many fundraising campaigns disrupt our daily routine and require us to actively do something, Penny for London institutionalises donating as a regular, easy part of our daily routines.
Stephanie was one of three fundraisers in the first few years of their careers who came through a preliminary competition to get the chance to speak at IWITOT, and all three of them more than held their own against some very experienced fundraisers. Two were voted in the top three overall!
I left IWITOT feeling that the future of fundraising may be bright after all, thanks to the great ideas and the passionate talent on display. If you're feeling a bit demoralised about the state of fundraising, I highly recommend that you check out next year's event or the videos from this year, which SOFII will be posting online soon.
This month I had an experience I'll never forget as I was best man as my friends Sam and Jess got married.
This is why, despite the nerves, giving a best man's speech can be easier than writing charity communications.
When talking to your supporters, you're much less likely to have their full attention. In the age of online information, we read things quickly in a spare moment and are accustomed to punchy and engaging content, otherwise we switch off. People tend to be on several charity mailing lists, so writing a charity newsletter is a lot like attempting to give a best man's speech with many other people in the room trying to talk over you.
Consider this: the average email open rate in the charity sector is 20%. Many charities fall below that. So for every five people that you write to, four of them won't even open it.
This is why we need to talk about charity mailings.
I receive regular updates from many charities and most usually have really interesting news to share. Some do this in a slick, engaging way. However, too many smaller charities rely on the old-fashioned method of sending a mass email with a PDF attachment which often wouldn't have looked out of place as a school or village newsletter 20 years ago. I find this off-putting, even if I know the charity will have something interesting to say.
There are many drawbacks to PDF newsletters:
There are many packages which enable you to manage your email subscribers, design newsletter templates and send them out in one click. This little technology upgrade will make a huge difference:
If you can design a PDF newsletter or do basic web page editing, you’ll be capable of using the software. The small amount of time that you invest up front in getting to grips with it and designing an email template will be completely outweighed by the ongoing time and efficiency savings.
There really is no excuse for persisting with PDF mailings – it’s time to get out of the dark ages! If you’d like some help to plan your charity’s communications or set up and use email marketing software, we'd be happy to help...
Finally, here are six extra tips for writing engaging and powerful mailings:
1. Consistent branding – use the same header image, logo, font styles, colours etc. to create a strong and trustworthy impression with your supporters.
2. Cut the jargon – some words that you use every day with colleagues will actually mean very little to your supporters. What you write needs to be 'human' and easy to understand. My pet hates are words like 'learners' (instead of children), 'facilitating' and 'capacity building'. Read communications sent by the largest charities like UNICEF and Save the Children and you'll see that every single word is carefully considered, accessible and crystal clear.
3. Use strong imagery – a powerful, relevant image can be the difference between a mediocre mailing and a great one. Like-for-like comparisons show that strong images increase click and response rates. So don’t just slot in any old image as your last act before pressing send.
4. Perfect your subject lines – email subject lines can also become a last-minute afterthought but a weak, vague or boring subject line may mean that people never even open your email. Your subject line is the first and sometimes the only thing that people see, so make it compelling and informative.
5. Don’t waste your words – often introductions accomplish very little other than boring people. For instance ‘Welcome to the latest edition of our newsletter. It’s been a busy month...’ is little more than a waste of words. A good newsletter doesn’t need to refer to itself – you should be grabbing attention immediately.
6. Prioritise your content – before writing a newsletter, think carefully about your priorities. Which one story do you want people to read the most? What is the single most important action that somebody should take after reading it? Use this to inform the order and layout of your stories. Some messages (like ‘sign up to our new event’ or ‘sign this petition’) will often do better as a single-theme email bulletin that stands out, rather than as part of a longer newsletter.
This blog is an adapted version of a blog first published on Eventbrite on 13 August 2015.
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