This blog is based on one of seven free fundraising helpsheets for small charities published by Lime Green Consulting in May 2015. Click here to access the helpsheets.
Strategy. It's a word that gets some people very excited and causes others to glaze over.
I've worked with many small charities to help them to develop a fundraising strategy. My aim is to ensure that they have a solid foundation to build upon, a clear picture of the resources required and the confidence to know which fundraising opportunities they're backing and why.
While every charity is different, a number of common problems and questions tend to pop up.
Charities often approach me once they have already had multiple meetings and discussions that have gone round in circles. They're faced with many fundraising opportunities and find it difficult to decide between them, yet are fed up of trying to do everything well and failing. Trustees and senior staff tend to be very passionate about their organisations, which can occasionally be a barrier to balanced and objective discussion.
Frequently somebody will make the valid point that "we put a lot of effort into developing a fundraising strategy a few years ago but couldn't follow it because <insert reason here> - why should we spend time doing it again?"
Invariably it's not the concept of devising a strategy that was wrong, but the way that it was done. I'm a firm believer that having a good fundraising strategy is of paramount importance, even if changing circumstances force you to tweak it later. In the words of former US president Dwight Eisenhower: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Having spent much of the past 18 months supporting small charities to develop a fundraising strategy, I wanted to share my top ten tips for doing this effectively:
1. Involve the right people – be clear about who needs to be involved in the process. Varied expertise is important but too many voices can confuse or derail progress. The full Board may wish to delegate most of the work to a sub-committee. Senior staff should be able to input and take ownership. You might decide that you need external expertise from a fundraising consultant.
2. Establish a timescale - trustees and senior management are busy people and the strategic process can involve a lot of research and discussion, so things can drag on. Provide all-important focus by setting deadlines along the way – for instance at the research stage, drafting and final sign-off. Be clear about when you need to have a finished strategy but also be realistic – unworkable deadlines force you to rush critical work, demotivate those involved and tend to be ignored.
3. Consider the context – you can’t make sound strategic decisions without it. It’s vital to consider factors which are both internal and external to your organisation before devising a strategy. If done properly, a SWOT analysis is the bedrock on which a robust, resilient and highly effective strategy is developed. See our helpsheet ‘The SWOT Analysis’ for more information.
4. Identify some figures – what’s the absolute minimum income needed in the coming financial year to sustain your charity’s activities? Are there any co-funding gaps and unfunded core activities or overheads which you need to be aware of? What do you hope your turnover will be in 3-5 years’ time? Fundraising always works better when it’s target-driven so start thinking about the numbers, even if you have to adjust the more long-term, aspirational figures later in the process.
5. Know your fundraising activities – before deciding what’s right for you, you need to understand the general characteristics of different activities. Research the expected return on investment, time required to achieve it, resources you need to put in and level of risk involved – there are various guides out there that will give you a useful starting point.
6. Aim for balance – the ideal fundraising portfolio balances high-risk and low-risk options; quick wins and slow burners. Invest in several activities which take many years to bear fruit and you’ll run out of money before success arrives. Focus only on stable options with little growth potential and you’ll never be able to take the charity to the next level and will probably hit problems later.
7. Play to your strengths – if you’ve done a proper SWOT analysis then a clear picture should be emerging which will inform your final decisions. Be clear on what your ‘unfair advantages’ are – does your charity have strong links with big companies, in-house experience in events fundraising or trustees who are well connected with trusts and foundations? An effective fundraising strategy must play to these strengths – don’t make your job harder than it needs to be.
8. Be prepared to discard options – many charities make the mistake of overcommitting themselves. If you try to do too much, you’ll end up doing a lot of things badly. Be clear on the limitation of your resources and don’t be tempted to pursue every opportunity – the ideas which you discard are as important as those which you choose to invest in.
9. Set realistic targets – aim low and you might just achieve it, but with little reward. Aiming high is important but being completely unrealistic is a sure-fire way to demoralise staff. Use your general fundraising knowledge (see 5. above) to set realistic targets. Crucially, think about outputs as well as outcomes – there’s little point in measuring trust income in the early months, but knowing how many carefully targeted applications are being sent each month is important.
10. Commit to a plan – the worst type of fundraising strategy is one which is re-written every year. Commit to a plan and give staff the time and space to execute it – nothing erodes confidence like suddenly switching focus to a new idea just because another charity has had some success with it, or giving up on something before it’s had time to bear fruit. Establish a clear timeframe, monitor progress, and don’t deviate unless there’s a really compelling reason to do so.
What do you think of these tips? Do you have any of your own advice to add? Please comment below and let us know!
I've done a few slightly silly things for charity over the years that have had me questioning my common sense. I’ve tackled numerous running and cycling challenges that I was wholly unprepared for and even hitch-hiked to a whole different continent. But it was another challenge that really took the biscuit – or three to be precise.
In April I took part in Live Below The Line, which challenges participants to live on just £1 per day for five days.
I didn't give this much thought before signing up and it was much harder than I expected – turns out that surviving on 800 calories per day and constantly thinking ahead to your next meal isn't a great approach when you’re trying to establish a new business.
The stories I shared across the week paint a picture of my increasingly desperate mental state. I lamented a microwave accident that saw my meagre portion of porridge oats boil over and debated eating the remains off the turntable. I rejoiced the arrival of ‘treat day’ which brought three mini sausages in my half a can of baked beans – hello protein!
I was deliriously proud of my decision to buy a 25p packet of ASDA Smart Price bourbons, giving me three precious biscuits to enjoy each day. Those humble little biscuits became the centre of my world – I don’t think I’ve ever been as creative as I was when trying to justify reasons for deserving a mouthful of their chocolatey, sugary goodness.
This sanity-sapping challenge had a serious side of course – there are millions of people for whom hunger and surviving on even less than £1 per day is a constant reality. That's why I participated in Live Below The Line in the first place.
I raised over £500 for AbleChildAfrica, a charity working with and for disabled children in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. I joined them as a Trustee earlier this year, and it was great to play an active role in supporting their fantastic work.
This week the charity sector is celebrating Trustees’ Week. This is a great chance to celebrate the vital role that Trustees play in helping our charities. It also helps to raise awareness that anybody can be a Trustee and that it is a richly rewarding way of making a difference.
I’ve only been a Trustee for a few months so there will be people better placed than me to talk about the amazing work that so many people do as Trustees. However, I've witnessed first hand what a difference this can make for a charity.
AbleChildAfrica has a Board of around 15 very talented and hugely committed Trustees. They are divided into sub-committees which provide expert advice in specialist areas like finance, fundraising and programmes. This is a larger Board than many other small charities have which poses a few challenges. Lines of communication need to be managed carefully and responsibilities set so that everybody has a significant role to play. However, it works very well and is an incredible resource for the charity.
Last Friday, AbleChildAfrica held their annual Gala Dinner in London and it was a roaring, record-breaking success. The fundraising total will top an incredible £37,000 and the event has raised so much awareness for the work AbleChildAfrica does. It is impossible the overstate the difference that this makes for a small charity. Trustees were instrumental in planning the event, sourcing auction prizes and selling tickets to their personal contacts.
Why did I become a charity Trustee? I think there were three main reasons:
1. I knew that I had the skills and experience to really help a charity and I believe that everybody should consider taking the opportunity to help where possible. As a fundraising consultant with very specialist expertise, this was especially true for me.
2. It’s a great way to meet interesting and inspiring people and spend time with them in both a professional and social context. AbleChildAfrica Trustees give up several Saturdays a year for meetings – but the atmosphere in these meetings is so positive that they are something we genuinely all look forward to.
3. Being a Trustee gives me an excellent understanding of how charities operate ‘behind the scenes’ and how Trustees choose to evaluate opportunities, invest in fundraising and manage risk. This is invaluable to my day-to-day role and makes me a better consultant.
Not enough people know that charities desperately need more Trustees and that young people are especially under-represented as Trustees.
There are an estimated 180,000-260,000 charities in England and Wales, with almost 50% having at least one vacancy on their Board. Young people form 12% of the adult population yet make up only 0.5% of Trustees. These facts alone may make many people stop and think about becoming a Trustee.
Like many others, before taking the plunge I wasn't certain whether I could contribute what was needed. I knew that my expertise meant that I could make a big difference on a strategic level, but I wasn't in a position to offer much direct financial support. There's a perception that Trustees need to have deep pockets and that making regular donations to your charity is a requirement.
Being a Trustee does involve making a personal commitment to a charity and you should definitely pick a cause that you are willing to actively support. However, you can also do this in other ways - such as the fundraising I did by participating in Live Below The Line.
I know there is more that I can do personally as a Trustee. Sadly I wasn't able to attend this year's AbleChildAfrica Gala Dinner so my role in the success of the event was small. I'd like to put that right in 2015 and also use my professional expertise to help the charity continue improving the way it communicates with supporters and raises donations.
However, you don’t have to be a charity expert or specialist to help. Charities are always on the lookout for sharp strategic brains and people who can represent and understand their supporter base. This is especially important given the rise of social media and digital marketing as tools for fundraising and awareness-raising.
I was lucky enough to be helped and inspired by a couple of people when thinking about becoming a Trustee. Alex Swallow, who founded Young Charity Trustees, is always a source of great inspiration and his podcast about becoming a Trustee is well worth a listen. Sam Ma’ayan, who specialises in Trustee recruitment, also gave me some invaluable advice about the AbleChildAfrica role.
I’m proud to be a Trustee and have really enjoyed the experience so far, so I want to use Trustees’ Week as an opportunity to tell my personal story and encourage others to consider becoming a Trustee too.
Please check out http://trusteesweek.blogspot.co.uk for more info about becoming a Trustee and http://ablechildafrica.org/ to find out about AbleChildAfrica.
You can also #nominateatrustee on Twitter if you know somebody whom you think would make a great charity Trustee.
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