Trustees’ Week is a great opportunity to celebrate the amazing contribution being made by over one million voluntary trustees in the UK – and rightly so. But are trustees doing as much as they can to support their charity’s fundraising efforts – and is your organisation missing a trick?
The UK is the sixth most giving country in the world and has a proud charitable tradition, despite plenty of negative media coverage in recent years. This simply wouldn’t be possible without the work of trustees, who dedicate their time to making vital decisions about a charity’s work and strategy.
On average, trustees give almost five hours per week of their time – based on the median hourly wage, this is worth a staggering £3.5bn a year to the sector (source: Civil Society). However, in our experience, often only a small amount of this time is dedicated to supporting fundraising. Generally, the charities that we work with have few (if any) trustees with fundraising expertise or knowledge.
Smaller charities inevitably tend to have few paid staff, so it’s essential that their Boards bring expertise related to governance, financial management and their specific area of work (for instance, education or social care). As a result, fundraising can seem a lower priority – charities may never get around to looking for trustees with fundraising experience, lack the contacts to find the right people, or not have a vacant space on their Board.
Many trustees therefore feel they lack the knowledge and confidence to support fundraising – but with a bit of encouragement, there’s so much they could do.
Leading the way on a whole-organisation commitment to fundraising
Fundraising relies so much on contacts and having a captive audience. However, for obvious reasons, smaller charities rarely have the large supporter bases, volunteer networks and marketing budgets enjoyed by household name charities. As a result, they need as much help as possible from all the people already involved in their work.
Charities raise more money when all their staff and trustees recognise the value of fundraising and the importance of supporting it however they can. That doesn’t mean people need to put their hands in their own pockets, or feel under pressure to always help in the same way. There are so many small things that trustees and staff can do that help to make a huge difference:
Developing the right culture for fundraising
As well as leading by example and providing hands-on support, great trustees can also shape the entire working culture of a charity, creating an environment where fundraising – and fundraisers – are able to thrive. Here are five ways of doing this:
Developing a whole-organisation commitment to fundraising, and creating the right culture for fundraising to thrive, is of course easier when you have fundraising expertise on your Board. However, in a tough financial climate, you can’t wait until tomorrow to start. While most trustees won’t be able to help with all of the above, we guarantee that every trustee can do something - and staff will appreciate it more than you may expect.
I read recently that 116 Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts – including Elon Musk – have petitioned the UN to ban the development of autonomous weapons and ‘killer robots’.
Elon Musk is one of the world’s most prominent tech entrepreneurs. His companies are revolutionising transport, both on the roads and in space - Tesla Motors has brought fully electric vehicles into the mass market. He's invested heavily in AI research, in his own words because he wants to “keep an eye on what’s going on.”
I've long been fascinated by AI and autonomous technology. Without doubt it's going to completely change our lives – we've already seen the emergence of driverless cars and robots in Japanese hospitals to ease the burden on nurses. Stephen Hawking recently said that AI could hold the key to eradicating disease and poverty.
On the flip side, there are growing concerns about what will happen if autonomous technology falls into the wrong hands. Hawking and Musk have both warned that it's the biggest threat to the survival of the human race. We're now just years away from huge autonomous weapons that can cause unimaginable loss of life at the touch of a button. Robots with vastly more capability than the human brain, but no moral code, no longer belong in the realm of science fiction.
As technology races ahead, the debates about ethics and regulation fight to keep up. The technology for driverless cars already exists - it's the challenge of how we programme them that's holding things up.
On the surface, this has nothing to do with charities and fundraising. However, I know that many of us have to battle with something that also has great potential to improve how we do things, but great destructive capability too.
When you have big responsibilities in a small organisation, what role does self-doubt play? Is it a positive or a negative influence?
My transition from fundraiser to charity consultant left plenty of room for self-doubt. When you stop working for an organisation, you leave behind the comfort that comes from being part of an established structure with a good reputation.
For most of our first two years, I went into every major meeting or event with some kind of self-doubt. Am I well enough prepared? Will people appreciate my ideas? What if our training attendees find this exercise unclear or boring?
Doubting yourself can be enormously beneficial, but too much self-doubt can be destructive and exhausting.
It drove me to meticulously prepare for everything – if you naturally go through 20 different ways something could go wrong in your own head, more often than not it ends up going to plan!
But the negative thoughts also meant I used up lots of nervous energy, spent too much time preparing for things that weren't essential, and got bogged down anticipating problems that didn’t really exist.
Over time, I've gained experience and started doubting myself less. Generally I enjoy my work more as a result, but sometimes I also miss that ‘edge’ - fretting over small decisions or details can definitely help keep you on your toes.
Working for a smaller charity is often a lonely experience, particularly if you’re in a senior role or you’re the organisation’s only expert in what you do. This can make self-doubt a double-edged sword.
Often, your work isn’t subject to many checks and balances. Your colleagues or trustees may not know enough to meaningfully question your decisions, or reassure you that you’re on the right track. As a result, you may find you have a broad range of questions going round in your head:
So what's the right balance? I’m not sure I’m qualified to say, however personally I have a couple of ground rules:
1. You need to make self-doubt a 'force for good' in some way, that you can use to drive yourself forward and improve your work.
2. If it becomes draining or stops you enjoying what you do, you must address it, even if that means you lose out on some of the positives too.
Like with autonomous technology, there's probably no holding back the 'technology' of self-doubt - it's hard-wired in most of our brains. The challenge is harnessing it in a positive way, and remembering to be kind to yourself along the way.
Lime Green Consulting HQ has now relocated from London to Bristol, which is the inspiration for this blog. If you're based in Bristol or the South West, we'd absolutely love to hear from you. We're also continuing to work with organisations in London and across the country.
This week, after months of planning, my partner Sally and I finally took the plunge and moved to Bristol.
Like many people, we were looking to buy our first house but facing the reality of London house prices. We knew that saying goodbye to North London after ten years would mean more space and a better quality of life. However, uprooting not just our home but our social lives and my growing business has been challenging and, at times, daunting.
Moving house is stressful at the best of times, especially when you’re relocating to a new city. On top of the usual challenges, we’ve got two very anxious young cats and unwittingly scheduled our move at the same time as a prolonged heatwave!
Unpacking boxes and painting walls as the thermometer hit 31 degrees wasn’t a pleasant experience – especially when we had to keep doors and windows closed to prevent our cats making a break for freedom. Even the local Tesco (our one local supermarket) couldn’t cope with the heat as their fridges broke down - so not only did we run out of basic supplies, we couldn't even celebrate with a calming alcoholic drink either.
So how can you ensure 'business as usual' when you're surrounded by mayhem? Plenty of small businesses - including charities - face the same challenge during a major upheaval such as office move, a change of leadership, or even a key staff member facing something big in their personal lives.
Having now (just about) survived the move, I wanted to share a few tips on ensuring continuity during these stressful times, including some I've learned the hard way:
1. Be realistic about your time
Like me, I'm sure you're guilty of sometimes stretching the definition of a 'working day' in order to achieve as much as possible. But when you've got something major going on outside of work, protecting your time is more important than ever.
For our big move, I was determined to do something I'm usually pretty bad at - take enough time off to do everything else properly. When you're planning things weeks in advance, it's easy to fall into the trap of wishful thinking: "I'm sure things won't be that bad when it's time to move - after all, how much more difficult could one extra meeting / deadline / piece of work make things?
I tried to avoid falling into this trap by carefully scheduling client work weeks and even months in advance, consciously preserving a full five days off. At the time this felt like way longer than I'd need, but I've been grateful for every minute of it. As a result, I've been able to unpack things properly, deal with the inevitable teething problems of a new home, and explore the local area a bit.
I'm writing this blog in a sunny garden on my final afternoon off, rather than in the evening after rushing a piece of work that I wish I hadn't taken on. To protect my time, I've had to be firm with myself and others, but that's much better than promising the world and disappointing people later.
2. Keep your focus
When life is pulling you in multiple directions, you don't just lack time, but quality time to reflect and think. So it's essential to decide your priorities in advance, and remain focused on them.
A few weeks before the move, I wrote a list of all the priority tasks we needed to accomplish in June and July at all costs. So when I was able to briefly open my laptop between unpacking and painting, I already knew what I needed to focus on. No need for creative thinking!
Keeping your focus involves difficult decisions - I was recently asked to speak at a really interesting event in Bristol which would've been a first opportunity to meet some local organisations, but I reluctantly had to turn it down because it clashed with our move and I had clear priorities already.
Last year, we worked with a social enterprise whose founding CEO was leaving after 10 years. They had an overall direction, but their staff were anxious about preserving their focus and values during the upheaval. We helped them to evaluate their position and develop a one-page list of crystal clear 'interim' priorities, which gave them so much reassurance during the handover period.
3. Think positive and give yourself something to look forward to
Moving to Bristol has involved a lot of disruption and we've also had to say goodbye to a lot of people and places, which is never easy.
I've tried to keep positive by focusing on all the things I'm gaining in return, including a garden (unheard of in London!) and a spacious home office after years of working out of a tiny flat in London. Designing this office - including buying new furniture and painting the walls (lime green of course!) - has been a little treat that has made everything else seem more bearable.
Reminding your staff (and beneficiaries) about the positives of a big transition can reduce anxiety and maximise productivity. Every big change brings opportunity as well as uncertainty, even when it's unplanned. I love this story about Ben Medansky, who used a devastating fire in his studio to launch a new range of ceramics and find the time to reflect on and rejuvenate his business.
4. Count on others
'Business as usual' is only possible when things run smoothly. This means working closely with colleagues, but also not being afraid to ask for help from everyone else in your life.
Sally and I have had to work as a team to overcome the challenges of our own move. When we exchanged contracts on our house, I was in the midst of an intense month of work, so Sally took on the unenviable task of endless dealings with solicitors and mortgage brokers. In return, I've taken extra time off work for the move itself, so Sally could get back to some urgent work more quickly.
We've had help from so many people including our brilliant friends Sam and Jess, who even let our removal men into the house when we took a wrong turn on the motorway and arrived an hour late!
5. Have a bit of patience
While our initial move went smoothly, it wasn't long before we encountered problems - a washing machine that didn't work, a fuse that keeps tripping, and a particularly long afternoon in Ikea.
When we initially made it to Bristol and started unpacking quickly, I felt that the worst part was behind us and everything was working out perfectly. So when things started going wrong, I struggled to stay patient and deal with it.
Any big move or transition period involves ups and downs. Paradoxically, ensuring business continuity involves accepting that nothing will go completely to plan, and that disruption will linger for longer than you'd like. This helps you to stay calm and keep things ticking along in the meantime. Getting frustrated rarely does any good, so it's better to take a deep breath and just get on with it.
If you've recently survived a big transition period in your work and have your own tips, or if you're based in the South West and would like to find out more about what we do, please come say hi.
This time of year is an unwanted wake-up call for millions of people. You remember the feeling. Six weeks ago, the long summer holiday felt like it could almost last forever. Suddenly, the lazy summer days were all but over and you faced the looming prospect of going back to school.
Digging out your uniform to check whether it still fits. The trauma of setting the early morning alarm clock again. Fighting with other family members for ten precious minutes in the bathroom.
Across the UK, kids and parents are gearing up for this annual struggle. We’ve thought of a few things that fundraisers could learn from them:
1. Summer is over – so make the most of it
The end of the summer holiday always feels deflating. Memories of ice creams in the park, summer camps and days at the beach are suddenly cruel as you face the prospect of lessons, airless classrooms and homework.
But all good things have to come to an end. And there are things to look forward to. Seeing your friends and again and sharing your holiday stories. Playing for the football team again. Not having to keep finding new things to do to stave off the boredom (admit it).
Many charities enjoy a golden period, with a supportive multi-year funder bringing rare financial security or a big annual event that keeps delivering. Planning ahead for the harsh wake-up call is crucial. Come to terms with the fact that the money will dry up – maybe sooner than expected – and embrace the opportunities that come with this. Make sure you’re developing other sources of income and building relationships with new funders before it’s too late.
2. Stock up your pencil case
Coloured pens. Calculator. Compass. There’s something exciting about rocking up on the first day of term with a shiny new set of everything, even if you know it won’t last a week.
For fundraisers, there are various vital things that you need in your metaphorical pencil case. A case for support. Regular content for the website, newsletter and social media. A ‘shopping list’ articulating what different donation amounts will buy. You could be a great fundraiser, full of creative ideas and great at talking to donors, but you won’t get far without these things.
As you come back from your summer break, spare a moment to take a step back and consider whether you’ve got everything you need to do your job properly. If you’re missing a key piece of the jigsaw, have an honest conversation internally about why it’s so important for fundraising, and how it’s holding you back.
3. It’s time for a new pair of trousers
Nothing marked the end of the summer quite like trudging to the school uniform shop. Nobody really likes school uniform, but we have to keep buying it because kids don’t stop growing.
Charities sometimes outgrow their clothes too. Many smaller charities embark on a new fundraising strategy where one person is responsible for trying a few activities. Some don’t work, but a few things start showing promise at the same time. Suddenly it takes much longer to support twice as many volunteers, or process three times as many event enquiries. What used to take 20% of your week now has you staying late two nights a week. The processes initially set up are now inadequate. Cue fundraiser burnout.
This can sneak up on you, particularly if your staff don’t feel confident about raising problems or if you’re not monitoring their work. It’s important to embrace the challenges of growth and realise when it’s time for new pair of trousers, before you’re bursting at the seams.
4. Get organised before the chaos begins
If your family home was anything like mine, the end of summer marks the onset of bedlam. Angry banging on the bathroom door. Squabbling at the breakfast table. A lost book bag and a misplaced shoe. Car horns and traffic jams. It’s like everybody has forgotten everything they ever knew about working together in six short weeks.
Most people come back to work after a holiday with good intentions. They’ve had a chance to gain some perspective and make a list of everything they want to achieve, but this can quickly fall away when the emails and calls start coming in.
It takes having a routine and being organised to prepare for chaos. For sowing name labels into shirts, read putting all your funder re-application dates clearly into your calendar. For writing your lesson timetable, read planning your calendar of supporter emails and social media updates. Get organised ahead of time, because it won’t take long until the chaos arrives!
5. Success depends on having the right environment
My parents always struck a good balance with me. They encouraged me to get my homework done in good time, but they weren’t overbearing and they let me make my own mistakes. They praised me when I got good marks, but punished me if I came home with a detention slip. This helped create the right environment for me to do well at school but grow up at the same time.
Plenty of great fundraisers fail because the right support isn’t in place. It’s essential for charities to create the right culture for fundraising:
Working in the charity sector can be extremely demanding, with little time to stop and think. Holidays are a rare and vital opportunity to recharge your batteries and gain some much-needed perspective. If you’re lucky enough to have a holiday any time soon, please make the most of it! Check out our top tips on taking a step back.
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.
Growing your influence in a busy world – five things I’ve learned from running Lime Green Consulting
It’s been just over two years since I waved goodbye to full-time employment and turned Lime Green Consulting from a twinkle in my mind into a bona fide consultancy for small charities.
Since then, I've met some incredible people, worked on amazing projects and made a few mistakes along the way. Setting up and growing a small business has many things in common with running a small charity, and many of the lessons I've learned will resonate with charity directors, staff and trustees. Here are my top five tips:
1. Be clear on your core purpose
If you want to get noticed, it’s so important to distil everything that you do into a simple, clear message.
When I started out as a consultant, it took some time to understand how to articulate exactly why charities should work with me. I had pretty broad fundraising experience and wasn't sure what was most relevant. I had a naive belief that I could sit down with a charity, discuss their challenges and find a way to make myself useful.
In reality, if you’re not clear how you can help someone, most people will be way too busy to take the time to work it out for you. It was only when I developed a really clear proposition and a small range of headline services that I was really in business.
Charities must distil their often complex projects and sometimes technical work into a crystal clear message. Get the what and why right and people will ask about the how and with whom later. Don’t throw everything at people immediately – have the confidence that if you give people enough information to remember you and start a conversation then they’ll want to come back and find out more over time.
2. Collaborate and grow your universe
When I first started out, I was given some wise advice I've never forgotten: “The most important thing is to meet people and make yourself useful. Don’t worry immediately about making money, it will follow.”
This is a great motto if you want to meet amazing people, find brilliant opportunities and grow your influence. I always embrace opportunities to meet and help like-minded people, whether at a networking event or over a coffee, without worrying about whether there’s a quick win.
Some people think "I don’t want to spend time chatting to someone if there’s probably nothing in it for me – it’s a waste of time." Instead I always ask myself: “What if I turn down the chance to meet someone and it could've been the next big opportunity or introduction?”
These days we’re always under time pressure so it’s tempting to evaluate everything in terms of the immediate return. However, it's so valuable to take the time to discuss challenges and share problems with people in a similar position at another organisation - this can give you a new perspective and help you to solve your own internal challenges.
I believe that charities can gain a lot from collaborating with each other, sharing ideas and teaming up for joint projects - there can be too much of a tendency within the sector to view other organisations only as competitors.
3. Develop your expert voice
If you run a small charity, there's usually so much to do and so little time. We’re naturally inclined to focus mostly on urgent short-term goals, yet we also expect to be capable of thinking big and staying relevant. In reality, we can only do this if we keep one eye on what’s happening outside our organisation.
I try to dedicate time every week to keeping abreast of wider issues in the charity sector – reading articles, sharing ideas on forums and social media, and writing blogs. It’s sometimes difficult to fit this in alongside other work. However it means that more people notice me and also helps me to develop my voice and opinions on key issues that people expect me to know about.
Always be on the look-out for key developments and conversations that you can contribute to. This is challenging because you can’t control when things pop up, for instance as the result of a news story, so you often have to make time at short notice. However, get this right and over time people will come to see you as an expert and this brings lots of opportunities.
Being the "go to" authority on a particular topic will make your charity more visible - this can open up fundraising opportunities, attract the people that need your charity's help and enable you to better represent the needs of those beneficiaries as a credible expert voice.
4. Make your content work harder
So you’re developing your expert voice and publishing great content, but who’s listening?
I read a great tip from Alex Swallow who said that you should spend 20% of your time generating content and 80% sharing it.
With limited time, it’s so tempting to publish something, tick it off the list and move on. However, publishing content is the tip of the iceberg. If blogs are our shop window, then promoting them is the billboard or TV advert that gets people to visit your shop in the first place.
When I publish something, I make a big effort to schedule posts about it on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and send personalised emails to people who would find it particularly interesting. Sharing all your content via your mailing list is another great way to keep reminding people that you exist and builds familiarity, credibility and trust over time. Check out our email marketing tips here.
I know many charities who could be better at promoting their content and successes to the right people. The next time that you win an award, produce a great impact report or write an insightful article, be sure to share it via all your channels, because it’s no use to you in a dusty drawer.
5. Listen to people and don’t be afraid to ask for help
It's easy to think that you know what people want, but harder to ask and be led by others. We’re all guilty of something called confirmation bias, where we sub-consciously listen out for information that proves our existing beliefs and ignore anything that contradicts them.
So often I hear charities pondering how often to send people a newsletter or fretting about which new event their supporters would like best. Often I say ‘Have you tried asking them?’
We often feel the need to present a polished, professional side to people, but involving our supporters in our problems can be a great way to engage people and win trust. Small charities have a natural advantage here as people won’t always expect you to get everything right and will value your ability to be friendly and human. Social media has also made this much easier.
If you can ask people for help and make them part of the solution, you create ambassadors who have a natural interest in seeing you succeed, even if this is partly so they feel part of that success themselves!
This blog is based on a version that was first published on The Influence Expert by Alex Swallow in April 2016. If you've enjoyed reading it, please sign up to our mailing list for more blogs and advice.
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