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.
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.
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.
This is the second part of my blog based on a presentation I gave last month at an event organised by Eventbrite. Part one explored how to identify the competition, find the right income model, be as visual as possible and build momentum – click here to read it.
Part two now explores how corporate support can make your event more successful, why organisation is everything and how to prepare your event for the most unlikely of circumstances - including a terrorist attack.
Lesson 5 - the value of corporate support
Many people underestimate the range of ways in which a company can help to raise the profile of your event and make it more profitable. In my experience, companies can:
Hitch-hiking is sometimes perceived as a risky activity and some students felt unsure about the event when they first heard about it. So having support from a well-known travel company like Rough Guides, who were so enthusiastic about Hitch, added a lot of credibility. It was a great relationship for Rough Guides too – many students became loyal users of their guidebooks after first reading the Rough Guide to Morocco.
It’s always difficult to secure high-level sponsorship for a new and unproven event, so for Moon Rise Run I took a different approach. We secured free products for participant goodie bags from five companies that were perfect for the health-conscious, young, mostly female audience. We also gave away several free Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitors generously provided by OutdoorGB as competition prizes.
While these relationships weren't worth thousands of pounds in sponsorship, it gave participants something extra to take away afterwards and gave the event extra credibility too. Who knows – maybe in future one of these companies will increase their support and become the major sponsor?
Lesson 6 - Organisation is everything
Let’s face it – events are hard work. They’re stressful and unpredictable. You can rarely control everything, especially when you’re dependent on third parties to deliver a successful event.
For instance, Moon Rise Run used Eventbrite for ticketing and several companies for sound and lighting. There were four bands, four food vendors and a bar. Add in volunteer race stewards, charity partners and the corporate supporters and you’ve got an impressive array of partners! This inevitably causes hiccups, and you will almost always have to deal with unexpected circumstances beyond your control.
Moon Rise Run was a new event and the team didn’t always get things right first time around, making changes to the promotion strategy, ticket options and the festival line-up along the way. None of this surprised me.
When working with charities and event organisers, I often use the swan analogy. The swan is a picture of elegance and serenity on the surface as it smoothly glides around the water. Under the surface, its little legs are paddling frantically, putting in a lot of effort to get it to its destination – but you’d never know!
I think this is the perfect analogy for fundraising events, where so much ‘paddling’ goes on behind the scenes. There are always tricky decisions to debate, make and occasionally go back on. Even the best events are powered by blood, sweat and tears!
The vital thing is to keep all that behind the scenes. To your participants and prospective customers, you need to be calm, consistent and confident at all times.
Accept that mistakes will happen, but be willing to release key information early. Don’t hold back from announcing your festival line-up, your free goodie bags or your event schedule, even if details may be changed or added later – it’s what gets your participants excited about the event and willing to talk about it to others.
Lesson 7: Equip yourself with the right tools
Being calm and composed enough to glide like a good swan is only possible if you are supremely organised, and there are many tools to help you.
I highly recommend a project management tool called Basecamp, which allows you to list action points, calendar items, work on shared files and start discussions. You can choose who gets email notifications about different topics and even give restricted access to certain third parties.
I’ve used Basecamp when counting down to major events or website launches and my clients always love it. Every individual staff member can create a unique profile with a photo – on a recent project, everybody used their favourite cartoon character or super hero. This makes organisation fun and tactile, rather than overbearing.
For simpler projects, I use Evernote which is really great for creating clean and simple to do lists.
One big problem which organisers experience is the sheer rush of demand right before a major event. Just when you’re busy with final preparations, you start getting a high volume of emails and social media interaction from participants. It will inevitably happen when you’re least available to respond well – but your participants still expect ‘normal service’.
Make your life easier by having a really structured inbox with items clearly assigned or colour-coded to people – both Gmail and Outlook allow for this. Share the responsibility among your team and don’t let your hectic preparations impact on the quality and speed of your replies, because it will really affect people's experience.
Lesson 8 - Never underestimate contingency plans
There’s one very difficult experience that has helped shape the way I prepare for fundraising events. It happened a few years ago when I was Fundraising Manager at Link, responsible for overseeing Hitch.
Hitch had a comprehensive range of safety measures and contingency plans designed to safeguard participants and ensure that the event ran smoothly. Despite the effort that went into preparing these, many contingency measures seemed only to exist on paper and we hoped that most would never be needed.
Then one day they were tested and it had nothing to do with hitch-hiking. In April 2011, a bomb exploded in central Marrakech in what turned out to be a terrorist attack. The explosion happened in a cafe used as a meeting point for students enjoying a holiday after their journey, five minutes before the daily meeting time.
I wasn’t in the office at the time, but took a call on the dedicated emergency mobile from a student participant who had witnessed the explosion. I immediately rushed into the office, fearing the worst.
Link operated an excellent daily tracking system which meant that we knew the location of all our student groups within the last 12-24 hours. However, we had over 600 students whom we couldn’t completely rule out as having been in Marrakech when the incident happened.
Despite our concern, we knew we had robust safety measures in place. We immediately sent emergency text messages to participants to check they were safe and had a great process for logging incoming information quickly. We were trained to respond to worried parents and even had a dedicated contact person at the FCO.
Within two hours, we had spoken to most of our students. Later that night, the final person got back to us – he’d been out of contact after taking an early flight home to Heathrow. All 600 students were confirmed as safe, although some had been in the cafe at the time of the explosion and were understandably distressed.
I couldn’t be more proud of the way my team reacted in very challenging circumstances. Everybody kept calm and relied on the processes we had in place. However, the message was clear – very unlikely scenarios can happen and you must always plan accordingly. As an event organiser, it’s your responsibility to be prepared for anything.
I hope that hearing about my eight biggest lessons will help you to improve the way that you create, promote and organise your own fundraising events. If you have any questions, please comment below or get in touch.
I was recently invited by Eventbrite to speak about 'How to organise stand-out fundraising events' at the House of St Barnabas, a stunning Grade 1 listed building nestled in the heart of Soho.
Eventbrite has helped loads of charities of all types and sizes to promote and sell tickets for their fundraising events, so it was great to be invited along to their event to share my own expertise and ideas with almost 100 attendees.
It also felt like a fitting opportunity, as my whole charity career started with a fundraising event. It was 11 years ago, while in my first year of university at Nottingham, that I was asked by a friend to hitch-hike with them to Morocco – an idea which certainly captured my curiosity!
What sounded like a crazy idea turned out to be part of an iconic and successful student event. Long story short, I not only did the event but went on to work for the charity which organised it – and stayed there for five years before leaving to set up Lime Green Consulting.
Many charities said that they found my presentation helpful and I’m delighted to have now been asked to write a regular blog for Eventbrite about charity fundraising and events.
I decided to also share the content here as a two-part blog exploring the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my time organising fundraising events.
Much of my experience is based on three memorable events in particular:
1. Morocco Hitch – of course! The event started in 1992 when two students decided to take on their own ‘Cambridge to Casablanca Challenge’ to raise money for an emerging charity called Link Community Development.
It became not only an annual hitch-hiking event but a high-profile student challenge and the forerunner to many of today’s mass participation charity events. In 23 years, Hitch has raised over £5,000,000 for Link and at its peak attracted 1,500 participants each year.
2. Sumo Run – known as “the inflatable charity fun run” and pure light-hearted silliness! Sumo Run has an incredibly strong visual brand and intrigue which has helped it to attract widespread press coverage – including in the Independent, on ITV and even in last year’s Coca Cola TV advert.
I was excited by the potential of Sumo Run from the very first time I heard about it and was able to persuade Foolish Fundraising, the company which owns it, to license it to Link to run alongside their other events.
3. Moon Rise Run – I’ve recently been working with the team at No. 24 Events on a new 5k run and festival experience called Moon Rise Run, which took place for the first time in Heaton Park in Manchester on Saturday 18 April!
I was originally asked to create a charity partnership model for Moon Rise Run so that they could raise money for local causes. I then stayed on to help the team secure corporate support and to provide input on promotion strategy and overall organisation.
So what are my biggest lessons to share with you?
1. This isn’t just a charity space – and it’s ultra-competitive
Potential participants have a serious choice to make these days between so many events, from major challenges to light-hearted days out, running events to cycling events, events which require major training to those which require no preparation at all.
Crucially, charities don’t just face competition from other charities but from profit-making companies who run many brilliant events. While many charities don’t think that non-charity events offer direct competition, the chances are that the majority of your supporters will think differently.
We learned this the hard way with Hitch. Although we were watching out for competition from other major charity events, we eventually realised that smaller local events organised by university RAG societies and gap year-style trekking experiences offered by travel companies were offering students a tempting alternative way to spend their money and time.
So it is crucial to make your fundraising event stand out as much as possible and give people really compelling reasons to take part. Simply having a fun concept isn’t enough when there are so many great concepts out there, and saying that it’s for a good cause might not help convince people if that’s not their primary motivation for wanting to do an event.
Some of the ideas below will also help your event to succeed and stand out from the crowd.
2. Find the right income model
I find it odd that there are so many companies out there making money from successful mass participation events which charge lots of people a simple entry fee, while charities typically persist with the traditional ‘small entry fee + fundraising’ model.
Many charities are great at creating imaginative events but miss a few tricks in terms of monetising that appeal. It can really pay to make your event accessible for as wide an audience as possible – even those who feel unable to fundraise, are already fundraising for another challenge or only hear about the event at the last minute.
For Sumo Run, we introduced a ‘general entry’ option for people who were unwilling or unable to fundraise but would pay a higher entry fee instead. This proved really popular in the build-up to the event and allowed Link to raise valuable extra income.
Doing this requires confidence that you can attract many more participants with less income per person, and you need to do it carefully in a way that doesn’t put people off fundraising.
However, get it right and the larger number of participants also opens the door to raising money in other ways, including:
The best events don’t need that much selling. With Sumo Run, we often found that the sight of somebody waddling around in a huge inflatable suit and the videos of the group inflation and touch-your-toes warm-up routine convinced a lot of people to join in the fun there and then.
This meant that simple activities like street flyering were so much more engaging and successful, and adverts on social media worked well because the event made an instant visual impact.
If you can create an event which has the same instant impact then you've immediately got a key ingredient for success.
Sumo Run was also hugely media-friendly. Crucially, the main identifiable feature of the event was the suits themselves, not any logo or name. This made it much easier to get news coverage because media outlets could use images of people in sumo suits without feeling like they were explicitly advertising a particular charity or product.
4. Build momentum and don’t leave people hanging
In its first year at Link, Sumo Run attracted press coverage valued at over £250,000 – that’s how much you would have had to pay for the equivalent advertising space.
This was an amazing result for a small charity, but it was hard to maximise the impact of that coverage because most of it came just before the event or immediately afterwards, so it had a limited impact on ticket sales.
This taught me the value of trying to have the next event lined up before the previous one happens, so you can cash in on the buzz and attention generated.
This can be hard for small charities, particularly when they are running an event for the first time, because they want to see how popular it is and how much it raises before committing to it again. However, delaying will limit your ability to grow your event and participant numbers over time.
Ask yourself this – what can you do to make sure that people who loved the experience can sign up for the next event straight away, and people who missed out get an immediate opportunity to put that right?
Click here to read the second part of this blog, covering how to secure corporate support for your events, the value of good organisation and the importance of contingency plans.
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!
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. Honestly – I used to barely sleep on Christmas Eve. I lay awake for hours every year, way too excited to stay still long enough to even think about sleeping.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the thought of presents that got me going. I was more excited about just seeing Father Christmas in action, with his sack of presents over his shoulder. To find out whether he had eaten the carrot and glass of milk I had left outside my door. I had read so many magical Christmas stories and watched so many films that it all just seemed so real, and I wanted to see it for myself.
It seemed unfair that I’d spend so many hours tossing and turning but, as soon as I dropped off to sleep, Father Christmas would know to come. So I devised ways of making sure I didn’t sleep through the magical moment. I remember trying one year to lay a trip wire across my bedroom floor, hoping he’d end up making enough noise to wake me up.
As the traps got more creative, so too did my parents’ excuses. “Father Christmas said he left your presents outside your door this year because he was running late and in a hurry.” My poor parents, but they were always one step ahead of me.
The point of all this festive nostalgia is to demonstrate just how powerful stories can be. They can have a huge impact on adults and children alike. A good story burns an image onto our brain that we cannot forget quickly. This can have a big effect on the way we behave and communicate with others.
Many companies are brilliant at exploiting the power of storytelling for commercial gain. We were barely into November when John Lewis launched their Christmas advert featuring a heart-warming tale about a lonely penguin. Then along came Sainsbury’s with their hotly-debated World War I themed advert. Crucially, neither advert even mentions what you might expect to find in their stores. They are all about the story, and the way this makes you feel.
Increasingly, charities are using the same approach to great effect. We live in a world where thousands of charities are competing for our donations and attention. People understandably become desensitised to charitable messages, so creating an inspiring and memorable story is a great way to stand out from the crowd.
As a charity, you will have some of the most powerful and inspiring stories to tell. You work with people who battle against personal challenges and show huge courage in the face of adversity. Your heroic supporters pour their time and energy into creative and selfless fundraising efforts.
Using stories is such a great way of explaining your vision of a better world and what needs to change in order to achieve this. Stories are not only memorable and easy to understand, they are also easy for your supporters to share with others. In a world where we are all so connected virtually if not physically, this is really powerful.
It’s not only about communicating with your supporters. You need all your staff and volunteers to feel motivated and proud of what your charity does, and be willing to spread the word to others. Again, there’s no better way of doing this than with a good tale.
Many of you will be familiar with the incredible story of Stephen Sutton. Stephen had been battling cancer since the age of 15 and, in late 2012, was told that it was incurable.
He responded by creating his own Facebook group called Stephen’s Story, publishing his Bucketlist of 46 things he wanted to achieve in the near future and setting up an online fundraising page aiming to raise an initial £10,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust.
His story became known across the world. He became a motivational speaker and a symbol of hope and inspiration for millions of others. When Stephen passed away in May 2014, there was an outpouring of grief but also celebration of his life.
Stephen eventually raised over £4million for Teenage Cancer Trust and a huge amount of awareness. There are now plans for every school in the UK to teach teenagers how to spot the early signs of cancer, an initiative inspired by Stephen’s story.
One ordinary boy with an incredible attitude and a positive yet simple personal story. Millions of people inspired to take direct action in a way that no statistic or traditional appeal could have achieved.
Using stories to make content more appealing, personal and memorable is something we can all do. That’s why my own blogs have featured tales of gender-confused kittens and week-long obsessions with Bourbon biscuits.
I recommend you check out a brilliant website called Good News Shared which demonstrates the power of storytelling for charities on a daily basis. In response to a world dominated by negative and sad news stories, Good News Shared focuses on the positive and inspiring work done by charities and social enterprises. It features some brilliant stories so is well worth a visit if you’re looking for some inspiration for your charity.
To mark the Christmas period and the reappearance of some classic festive tales, I wanted to share my six top tips for how your charity can tell its own powerful story in 2015:
1. Keep it positive – evidence shows that people are growing tired of ‘traditional’ charity appeals about suffering and pain. The best charity campaigns increasingly talk about hope and change. Instead of upsetting people into donating, try inspiring them instead. That doesn’t mean you should avoid reality, but make your overall message upbeat and make sure you have a happy ending.
2. Faces not figures – a good personal story is always more memorable than even a powerful statistic. Make your story about one memorable individual. Use photos and some background information about that person to make it feel more real and have a bigger impact.
3. Mix your media – there’s no way around it: too much text makes people switch off. These days we expect to be engaged in other ways. We watch more videos. We listen to more audio books. A one-minute Christmas video story told by your CEO is a great way to stand out from the crowd and share something that people will really remember.
4. Make it easy to share – why do all the hard work yourself? Your direct communications will only ever reach a fraction of your supporters, but each individual has the potential to spread the word to others. Encourage supporters to share your stories and make them easy to be shared – clear, memorable and not too long. The message should be inspiring and bursting with pride. Think about what would be likely to captivate you so much that you couldn’t resist sharing it with others.
5. Fundraisers, not just beneficiaries – you may feel naturally inclined to talk most about those people you have helped or who desperately need your support. But what about your amazing fundraiser who went the extra mile to raise a huge amount for the cause? Inspire your supporters by talking the everyday people who are supporting your work and you’ve got a great chance of inspiring others to do the same.
6. What happens next? – there’s a difference between feeling motivated by a cause and knowing what to do next. Don’t leave your supporters wondering what they can do to help. Finish with a clear message about what you want them to do – that could be a request to donate a certain amount, sign up to an event or share a story with 100 others. This is known as the ‘call to action’ and getting it right will help your story to achieve a whole lot more.
I hope that you all have a lovely break this Christmas and come back bursting with inspiring stories to share in 2015. Remember to get in touch with me if you ever want any advice.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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