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.
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.
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.
Isn’t it fun when you find a hidden gem?
London is full of places to eat and drink which you stumble upon by accident and wish you had found sooner.
A while ago I happened to walk past the understated front window of Max’s – a new place in North London offering a simple but enticing menu of fresh sandwiches and a small selection of beer and wine. Last Friday night, wanting a quiet night before an early start on Saturday for my AbleChildAfrica Board Meeting, I finally decided to check it out.
Max’s simple vision is to offer customers a chance to indulge in his four favourite things: "Drinking booze, eating sandwiches, staying up late and not getting ripped off."
The experience didn’t disappoint on any of these four points. The sandwiches were colossal and tasty, the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, and the bill at the end was the final pleasant surprise of the evening. I left a very satisfied customer.
Max’s does a brilliant sandwich but you’d be unlikely to know about it if you hadn’t strolled past the door by chance. Caught between the cosy charms of Crouch End and eclectic Finsbury Park, it’s on a quiet stretch of road with just a couple of pubs for company. The bus is regular and the weather is usually miserable – so most people will hop on the W7 and never even see poor Max’s.
This reminded me of the situation which I think many small charities find themselves in. They might have an enticing shop window which gives you plenty of reasons to walk in the front door – but they’re on a quiet street with not enough people walking by (so to speak).
As a charity, you could be writing brilliant appeals on a regular basis, full of inspirational and emotional stories. You could create a unique and thrilling fundraising event to entice your supporters. You could work wonders with your newsletter template and double your open rate.
However, none of this will translate into crucial income unless you have enough people “walking past your window” in the first place.
With literally thousands of charities out there competing for the same donors, small charities often struggle to get attention, even if they develop great fundraising products. What you really need is a base of loyal, committed and engaged supporters.
I developed my ‘donor journey’ approach to supporter communication to address this. It helps small charities to develop a smarter and more pro-active strategy for targeting communications, attracting supporters and growing their loyalty and generosity over time.
I wanted to quickly share a few of my top 'donor journey' tips with you...
Be strategic and proactive
Most people don’t have a pre-determined certainty to support or not support a particular charity. While people will naturally have preferences and beliefs about certain causes, they will be influenced heavily by many factors – such as how they are asked, when they are asked, by whom they are asked and how often.
The way in which you communicate with supporters over time will shape their response at the crucial moment. Your communication strategy must keep in mind the end goal of developing relationships and making appropriate asks.
This is critical because not everybody wants to receive or should receive the same message. If you ask a high value donor to make a small one-off donation, or ask a potential London Marathon runner to do a small fun run, you could be “spoiling” future asks and missing out on income.
Supporters are likely become less responsive if they receive every event invitation, donation request and news update. A strategic approach avoids inundating supporters with too many messages or conflicting pleas for support.
So I support charities to develop two key documents. Firstly a donor pyramid, identifying the different levels and categories that their supporters fall into. Secondly, a communications calendar – planning in advance when to send key messages, how to take advantage of the best communication opportunities and how to sequence things effectively.
Maximise ways in
1. Via your website – site visitors may not feel ready to make a donation or sign up to an event – but if they leave without doing anything, you may never hear from them again. So feature a newsletter sign-up box prominently on your site and plan what you will send to new subscribers during those crucial first few weeks.
2. Social media is a great way to attract followers. However, it can be difficult to develop that relationship outside Facebook, Twitter etc. Try posting links regularly to your newsletter and website content and encourage people to join the mailing list. This gives you another platform on which to communicate.
3. Sharing is caring – don’t underestimate the power of advocacy and word-of-mouth recommendations. Your followers will have ‘social currency’ with their own contacts – take advantage of this by urging them to recommend and share content with others.
4. Look out for free opportunities – Google allows charities use AdWords for free via the Google AdWords for Nonprofits programme. Most charities are eligible and the application process is fairly quick and simple. There are some limitations and you may require some expertise to get your account working effectively, but in the long term it can make a big difference to website traffic.
5. Think about your own unique points of entry – every charity engages with the public differently and this will provide its own opportunities for recruiting new supporters. However, many charities aren’t great at capitalising on this. Brainstorm all the different ways in which people are likely to first come across your charity and try to make sure it is a positive experience and that you are doing what you can to stay in touch with them afterwards.
Keep it simple
This is where Max really knows his stuff. A simple, easy menu of four sandwiches – consistent quality, no frills and no overly difficult decisions to make.
Don’t confuse people with endless different ways of supporting your work and hundreds of links in each email. Everything you write must be short, clear and punchy. Be confident that what you offer is of value, provide a simple choice and leave people to do the rest.
Being strategic is very important but don’t over-complicate it or spend too long planning. At some point you just need to get started and accept that you will learn things by trial and error.
I hope these initial tips provide some food for thought, just like my trip to Max’s did for me. There's plenty more I'd love to tell you about this approach - both in terms of getting set up and also how to move donors up your pyramid.
Please get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss this further. I’ll also be running a session on my donor journey approach in my workshop on Thursday 26 March.
Finally, I’d thoroughly recommend popping into Max’s to appreciate how to keep things simple and to enjoy a really good sandwich. The braised beef focaccia is worth the trip alone!
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