For the last year in my job at SolarAid I have had no line reports. From managing a small team of five I am now “Head Fundraiser” managing just me.
At first it felt strange – especially having been a Director of Fundraising in several past roles. But after a short while it seem to work really well. I was spending more time engaging (and hopefully inspiring) supporters. Not just major donors too – but supporters who can amplify our message and engage their networks on our behalf.
I could spy or pick up windfall opportunities (that got us quicker off the mark). I could sense my experience was being put to better use – not just by me but also in a way that benefitted everyone else too. Most of all I was enjoying fundraising again. Most significantly of all we are raising more money.
Reflecting on this I think fundraising, like everywhere else, is subject to the Peter principle.
The Peter principle : the members of an organisation where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability.
Or perhaps you subscribe to the The Dilbert principle : hierarchy just serves as a means for removing the incompetent to “higher” positions where they will be unable to cause damage to the workflow, assuming that the upper echelons of an organisation have little relevance to its actual production, and that the majority of real, productive work in a company is done by people lower in the power ladder.
This is the consequence of a command and control structure. With power at the top and run by hierarchy. Yet I think empowering staff at your front line has many advantages. In my case as Head Fundraiser with no line reports I can:
1. Do what I do best – fundraise.
2. Lead from the front not sit at the back trying to direct.
3. Use my instinct (in effect instinct = the sum total of your experience) in sensing when something could lead to significant income. This is so much easier from where I am now standing
4. Engaging and ‘line managing’ key supporters. Treated the right way supporters are now your extended fundraising team. By thinking of them advocates not cash machines they will engage their contacts and resources on your behalf. To do that you need direct dialogue with them. You don’t really ‘manage’ them – but you can inspire, influence and steer them.
5. Spend more time meeting key influencers – people who are critical gatekeepers or who able to recommend us to others.
Plus, or rather not plus, think what I don’t have deal with – frequent one on ones, appraisals, draining staff issues, reporting, restructuring. I know many peers who seem to have a torrid time with these issues and I sense they have lost the zest for the profession they love. They are important of course – but are they best use of your time as an experienced fundraiser? I found these management tasks had to be done usually at the cost of those difficult phone calls (you know those heart pounding ones you put off) and external meetings you need to do to fundraise well (along with proposals to adapt and shape).
Hierarchy vs Cohesively
That’s not say in my new role I don’t help steer direction or influence strategy. If you are a decent fundraiser you should be equipped with influencing skills. And because you don’t line manage someone I find you tend to be better at communicating ideas to colleagues and how it would benefit them or their goals. You start to give much clearer briefs. Instead of hierarchy its about working cohesively. And of course projects become an easy way to realign teams temporarily around a purpose where I can take a formal lead.
When I need help I turn to the team that supports me (“…can you please produce this donor report?, can you please send this out to this supporter? can you please add this person and the following information to the database?…”) and then get back to fundraising. I trust them to do what they do brilliantly.
In the air force my dad tells me experienced pilots can remain as senior pilots rather than rise up the ranks of management. Of course the health service aims to have system where heart surgeons don’t spend time on management and admin. So why not fundraising ? Why not put your most experienced fundraisers at the front meeting those critical donors and funders to … er fundraise. Have others manage.
Recently someone did tell me of an in house face to face fundraising team where they had separated out management of the team with the person leading it. Are there other examples you know of out there?
Right better get back to fundraising.
In 1987 I received a handwritten letter. A thank you.
I had run the Chelmsford Half marathon in Essex, UK. Turns it was my best ever time of 1 hour 28 mins ( I was twenty!). I also got some sponsorship for a local cause – towards the building of Farleigh Hospice in Chelmsford.
And I got this letter.
It’s simply a handwritten letter from a woman called Glenda Lance thanking me for my sponsorship. I learned recently Glenda was one of the drivers behind the founding of Farleigh Hospice all those years ago.
What is extraordinary is I’ve kept it all this time. I didn’t know Glenda. I had no link to Chelmsford Hospice other than choosing them to benefit from the sponsorship I raised.
This was before I became a fundraiser! At the time I was a student studying engineering and spending my Summer working at Marconi.
So why did I keep it? I only raised £25.16! It felt, and still does, a perfectly natural thing to do. I couldn’t really explain it until I saw this TED talk the other day. The Art of Asking.
Watch this clip if you can. The storyteller, singer Amanda Palmer, is describing the moment a passer by put a donation in her ‘hat’ whilst she stood on a plinth frozen as one of those painted statues. It’s 1 minute in. Just watch another minute.
In essence a thank you says “I see you“. It says “You matter“. I think that’s why I kept the letter all these years.
Of course I still give and fundraise for charity but that’s the only thank you letter I have ever kept. Each week I’ll write at least one handwritten thank you to a donor and do my best to ensure any thank you we send is authentic and personal.
Thank you’s are often no more than receipts – automated with digital signatures and even standardised copy that is used for years. Yet a thank you is the one communication, done well and with authenticity, someone will read, and maybe even keep.
How many people keep your thank you letters?!
I had a piece in The Guardian last week about failure and how it has been a spring board to success for the charity/non-profit I fundraise for, SolarAid. I had some great feedback. The jist being “what a great story”. You can read it here. Which got me thinking. Take any Spielberg film, or any Hollywood blockbuster, and think it through. Careful - plot spoilers ahead!
Jaws: Man eating shark appears. After numerous failures to catch said shark the three heroes set out. Boat sinks. One hero gobbled. Last ditch attempt to kill shark. Shark blown up.
Raiders : Treasure hunter seeks the lost Ark of the Covenant. Finds it only to be captured by arch enemy. Thrown in pit of snakes. Escapes. Captured again and tied to pole. Ark opened. Hero prevails over forces of evil.
Kungfu Panda : Panda appointed as guru fighter. Starts training – mocked by team mates. Fails. Loses confidence. Bad guy arrives. Panda gets belief back. Bad guy defeated.
In fact just about every popular film has a period when the hero tries – then fails – and finally through perseverance or blinding insight wins through. Between that moment of failure and success is usually a defining moment. A dawning. So many great stories use this winning formula. And this is the best bit and why its relevant to fundraisers (for why story telling is so important for fundraisers check out an earlier blog post).
Find the failures to tell a great story
Your cause was set up to overcome a social issue or provide something special (an experience or outcome) or do something that no one else has achieved. To do so will no doubt be a struggle. If it was easy to solve there wouldn’t be a need.
You need find out about the struggle – find the failures that have occurred along the way. It’s what will make your cause and hence your story so interesting. You might have to dig as failure is often packed away and hidden. The addition of failure to your story makes it more believable and authentic, more engaging and memorable. And bizarrely this is not a Hollywood blockbuster – its real.
The language of marketing often draws on war as a metaphor - we use terms likes tactics and strategy. We "target" customers and donors. Yet it has its limitations and it creates a mindset that I'm not sure is helpful. Already you can see we are striving for new words and phrases to help explain how things are changing.
I would like to propose…
Last night I learned something. I did an evening talk to my peers – a room full of fundraisers from a wide range of causes. Major donor fundraisers at that. With a day to go that feeling of ‘why oh why did I agree to do a talk?‘ crept in. Those doubts of whether what I had to say would be of interest. Would I stumble the delivery?
But afterwards that all changed.
Firstly it was a great feeling to share some stories and learnings along with results of what we were achieving at SolarAid – bizarrely we don’t get to do this often enough! It was great way to help me reflect.
Then it felt even better to get endorsements and feedback from the audience (of fundraisers). What a great test – put our case of support to fundraisers to see if it stands up and help make it better.
But then there was more.
During the useful networking slot scheduled afterwards I was given all sorts of ideas by my fellow fundraisers – several suggested possible collaborations we could do with their respective organisations, another suggested the idea to help reach new audiences (selling solar lights to expatriates as gifts to take back). Idea noted. I even had a great suggestion for a major donor prospect (someone they had come across whose values, principles and interests seem to fit ours, but not the cause they worked for). I’m on the case!
And SolarAid won a few more supporters too – “If I had lots of money I’d give it to SolarAid” sticks out in my mind. Well I hope she does well in her career!
Today I had some new LinkedIn connections and a note saying they were looking forward to putting the ideas into practice. Now I really do feel great. I came into fundraising to make a difference. By sharing my stories, my successes and failures, along with my learning and insights perhaps I have helped someone else make a bigger difference.
I’ve heard it often said that there are not enough speakers who are practising fundraisers. No doubt it’s that initial feeling that puts many off, the hassle of preparing a talk, and the time you just don’t have. But last night I learned you can get back as much as you put in.
So brush up on your delivery, think what you can offer, and get talking. After all we do have the best stories to tell. I guarantee you will get plenty in return.
Thanks to Carlos for speaking with me, and the IoF Major Donor Special Interest Group for the opportunity.
Those of you who have looked into the dark art of launching a major fundraising campaign may have come across this concept of having a “private” phase and a “public” phase.
The perceived wisdom is you don’t launch and go “public’ until you have raised sufficient funds in the private phase. The private phase is spent securing the behind the scenes pledges and gifts in advance of your launch.
Why bother? Why not go public straight away? After all if you have to raise £20 million you might as well tell everyone from the outset. Isn’t the private phase just an excuse to delay the asks and make plans that you won’t use anyway?
Last week I was given this wonderful analogy over a double macchiato coffee, by our wise fundraising coach and advisor Carlos Miranda, which helped me understand what the private phase is all about.
“Think of it like a new West End Play announcing it’s arrival“, said Carlos (who admitted he only came up with the analogy this week when trying to get across the concept to a client).
When it goes public what has been organised? The lead cast has been selected and some big names are on the billing that already make you think this must be good – in the private phase these are your major donors or big name corporates.
The key sponsors have been secured, the tour dates are booked, and the tickets are ready to sell - in the same way you will need to have in place all the ways people can support your appeal – donate, fundraise, buy etc. Most importantly the story has well and truly been crafted and rehearsed – back in our world it’s the fundraising narrative behind the entire campaign that has been refined, tested and ready to share with audiences.
This means when you go public people will want to be part of this. They believe this will be a success. That’s why a good chunk of any appeal target has been secured before you public (as a general rule its 50%). I’m also learning that the private phase is an opportunity to engage major supporters. It’s a great way to get their input (which can be so insightful) along with increasing the likelihood of their buy in and support.
So who do you want on your top billing on launch day? With so much to line up before you go public you can see the private phase isn’t about planning it’s about doing. So get cracking!
I just took part in my first triathlon. That in itself felt amazing (especially as a year ago I didn’t really swim). Of course I raised money for charity – £1287.84 for SolarAid.
Within a few days I got sent the usual choice to buy photos of the day – and it was great to see that one option was to get them all digitally. As you can see (left) I took up the offer.
A few days later I could view a digital replay of the entire event - and see how I fared against the rest of the field as well as view fun graphs and data.
But what has just amazed me this week was an email I received from the organisers inviting me to look at a video of the event. Not just a video of the event. Videos of my event. With a series of well positioned cameras synced with my ‘running’ chip I now can see key moments, previously fuzzy memories in my brain, on my screen.
So now people can relive their amazing experience. No longer are you left with the finish line photo and a medal that gathers dust. Now to you this video won’t mean much – it’s some guy dragging himself out of the water – but to me that’s a moment not only I will remember but I can look at again and again. Go check it out - just click on the screen grab above.
Why am I so excited? This is a game changer. It will take the event experience we can give supporters to a new level. It certainly raises the bar. Events are back (were they ever away?). Look around and I can see all sorts of creative events arriving on the scene. The color run has arrived in the UK, Nike have just held a women’s 10k run at night – We own the night, and a few weeks ago 4,000 took part in the Nightrider cycling through London at night.
Combine that sort of creativity with these sort of memories and not only will that experience mean more for those who take part, it’s the sort of content they will share. Mind blowing. I just have to do it again!
So what would you do? With a clean sheet of paper and the power to implement what ever you say, what would you wish for? Within reasonable budget constraints of course – after all you are a fundraiser!
Here are my ten – with links to blog pieces.
1. Get the organisation to set a huge (big hairy audacious) goal (BHAG) – and share it. By setting a goal you will start to think how the hell will you achieve it? You will also engage others to help you achieve it.
2. Shift budget from donor recruitment to supporter experience. I don’t mean a bit – I mean alot. There is huge potential for new donors to come from your existing ones. Not only will it bring in more via your current supporters, it will retain the ones you have. Unless you have money to burn old style broadcast marketing doesn’t work.
3. Put in new measures away from just direct response to measuring people talking about you. It’s a funny thing when you measure something it has a profound impact in influencing what you do (so you do more to improve whatever it is you are measuring). In this new world people talking about you will be key - to their trusted networks they are more believable than you!
4. Practice total fundraising. Treat your entire fundraising and marketing programme as interlinked – so look at the overall ROI from all your fundraising and how it all connects. Think of your fundraising programme as a garden not as a battlefield.
5. Give supporters tools so they become fundraisers on your behalf (and I don’t just mean getting sponsors). Enable them to champion your cause and your mission. In this increasingly connected world you just don’t know where their contacts could lead to.
6. Be open about your problems – problems are engaging and a great way to involve others. We tend to shout about our successes but hide our problems (and our failures). Tell people about your failures too. It’s what makes you authentic!
7. Listen – but not just what people are saying about you – but what they are saying about what interests them. This is how can you engage and be relevant to them so you get their attention (after all it’s their attention you want).
9. Do fantastic thank yous. Be the cause with 5 star ‘Amazon’ 5 star customer reviews and make sure you handle complaints as opportunities to impress.
That’s what I’d do.
And. No 10?
10. I’d ask others and learn from my peers – constantly seeking new ideas. This is one is for you. What would be the one thing you would do?
Back in the dark months before the clocks went forward and the tulips arrived I had a epiphany. I needed some cash at my local railway station so I went to a cash machine. In the UK when you draw out cash from the wall you are now offered the choice to give to a selection of charities. Which got me thinking. I’m sure it’s great during emergency appeals but I’m not convinced many people will choose to give spontaneously in this way (certainly as a proportion of overall giving). Still I assume it’s easy to set up and ‘administer’. Anyway this isn’t a post about whether it’s a good idea.
Outside in the bitter cold (it was March) was someone huddled under a blanket with an empty coffee cup to collect donations. I guess he was getting the odd coin. I also suspect many passers by are put off, either not sure how their donation would be used, or even the suspicion that some people masquerade as beggars.
So there within yards you had two ends of our world – the money and the need.
Which is where we fundraisers come in. We persuade people to take out money from the proverbial cash machine and we bring it to the need in a way that the donor can trust. That’s what we do. Although I like to think we can do it in a way that people enjoy the experience of giving so much they want to do it again, and better still get others to too.
My key point is if you are a fundraiser you are here to help provide the missing link between those with money to give and the cause or mission that needs it. Without us fundraisers I suspect the flow from one to the other will not be enough to make real social change - especially for the 85% who voted cash machines are for taking money out.
Just under two years ago SolarAid, the cause I work for, set a BHAG – A Big Hairy Audacious Goal – to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by the end of the decade.
It has been transformative in shaping our thinking, and the actions we take every week. It’s changed strategic thinking, engaged supporters wishing to help us achieve the goal, and dramatically influenced our programme and fundraising activity.
So I thought it would be interesting if I set myself my own personal BHAG. What would happen? What learning and insights would I gain that could be applied to any BHAG.
So I did just that by doing my first triathlon in June of this year. This is a BHAG for me because just six months ago I could barely swim 25 meters. Now in just over 4 weeks I need to swim 750 meters in open water (and then cycle 20km and then run 5km). So that’s a 3000%+ improvement (yes three thousand percent!) in 9 months.
What has been interesting is the following three insights shaping what I feel, think, and do all because of the audacious goal I have set myself. On reflection I think the same principles apply to our organisational BHAG.
Feel the fear
I used to fear swimming ten lengths (250 meters) – then it was twenty. Now my latest fear is swimming over 30 ‘lengths’ in open water. On your journey you will find a new a level of fear.
Fear is often the unknown. So ask yourself what are you afraid of? Then set your sights on overcoming one fear at a time. Who can help you? I’ve used everyone from friends to professional instructors to help give me the confidence to face my fears.
Think what do you need to do
Then you think what do you need to do to achieve the goal not what you could achieve with what you’ve got.
We tend to to reasonably think what we can do with the resources we’ve got - but with a BHAG you have to think much bigger. What do you need to do to achieve this goal – not what you can do? So in my case it I need to learn to swim without drowning and still have enough energy to do a bike ride and a run!
Imagine if you achieved this goal what would milestones would you have to achieve along the way?
Take small steps
Next you just have to make a start. Take small but important steps to close the gap. What step can you take now with that end goal in mind?
So I started by joining a swimming class, then realising that wasn’t enough I added several additional swims a week. Realising that wasn’t enough I got a one on one swimming instructor. Each was one step closer. Now I see the end goal in sight. But at the outset I couldn’t see the solution. It’s the small relentless steps that will help position you so you can achieve your goal.
Identify the small steps you can take and put them into action. And constantly review what you need to do (go back to 1 and 2).
All three are connected of course – how you feel, what you think, and what you do. Just by setting your sights on achieving a BHAG you impact on all three.
The most interesting insight is what it’s all about. What’s the real purpose? The real reason I set a personal goal, other than to gain an insight into the impact of a BHAG, was to lose weight. And in 6 months I have dropped from a high of 12 stone 8lb to 11 stone 6lb. Whether I do the triathlon or not I will have achieved my real goal!
So I recommend setting yourself your own BHAG and collaborating with your colleagues to set an organisational one. You might not achieve it but you will learn a lot along the way by trying and you will be better for it.
If you want to learn more about BHAG’s see my initial posts :
Relevance is now so key. Especially in our ‘busy’ lives with so much information coming at us.
I’m learning to do this well needs a small but significant mind shift when I want to communicate to anyone I want to engage.
It’s no longer a case of ”Look at us“, me me me, but “This is something I think you will find interesting and here’s why ...”
Its not about you – it’s about them
I find by trying to be relevant it makes me think of the person or audience I am communicating to. And by thinking of them you start to find the words to connect. It’s like saying “I saw this and thought of you“.
And if its relevant to them they are much more likely to read what you send or listen to what you have to say. And act on it too.
So when you want to engage anyone or an audience ask yourself questions like:
- Who are they! (obvious but often we don’t stop to think who are we communicating to)
- What interests them?
- How and why is what you want to say relevant?
- Can you link it to their areas of interest?
- Who would it be relevant for in their network?
Do the thinking for them
And when to comes to action make it easy. Do the thinking for anyone you are communicating to. People often don’t have the time to digest everything and think what action to take. So if it’s something you want people to share (which is often the case these days) – help them think who, in their world, would be interested. And prompt them. That way you’ve done the work for them and they are more likely to think – “Ahh – I’ll pass this on to …“.
It’s probably just a few choice words added to a sentence – but it will make all the difference.
And it’s so important to get it right at the outset as that way you will also leverage their ability to influence their network – where relevance is done for you. After all whose email or message are you most likely to read? One from a colleague or friend, which you often take for granted is going to be relevant, or a generic one from an organisation.
Try it out.
I love the approach of spring here in the UK. The arrival of daffodils and tulips and of course the increasing bird song. If you stop and listen you can even hear spring coming.
Over recent weeks I’ve been reminded of one of the most valuable tools for a fundraiser. That is simply to listen. It works on so many levels.
Firstly with your peers. Despite a few years under my belt as a fundraiser I find I am always learning. Fundraising is constantly changing (which is why it is so challenging and interesting). I find the best way to learn is find who is doing something really well and listen to what they have to say. Pick your topic : crowd funding, mobile giving, major giving … These are just some areas where I have learned some really useful insights from listening to what fellow fundraisers have to say already this year.
I find it doesn’t just give me their ideas. It also helps me springboard and make my own insights by connecting my experience with this new knowledge. I like to think I can then take it further and who knows in time maybe I can return the favour and they will listen to me.
Listen to your donors
It works with speaking to donors and prospects too. When you meet them it can be tempting to tell them all about your cause. They have interesting stories to tell too. I find it fascinating what prompts people to support a cause. They can often give you extraordinary insights into your own strategy for engaging more supporters like them. Listen to what they say. Some years ago I ended up talking to a farmer at an agricultural show when working as a fundraiser for FARM-Africa. We talked about the state of farming (or rather he did). It wasn’t good. “Worst time I can ever remember in my family’s history“, he said. So I asked “I don’t suppose this is a good time for charities like FARM-Africa to ask for support?”. His reply changed my strategic thinking in an instant. Up until then I’d been cautious about targeting farmers for donations. “Well if you don’t ask me for money I definitely won’t give” was his reply. So we started asking (and yes they gave).
Listen to the world out there
I am also finding listening is becoming increasingly important as part of today’s fundraising strategy to engage support online.
My current ‘must read’ book on my way into work is The Network Nonprofit (book review to follow). These are the little gems that jumped out at me :
“The key ingredient for building any relationship is good listening. Rather than just talking to, or worse, at people online, organisations first should listen to what people are talking about, what interests or concerns them, and how they view the organisation… Paying attention to what people are saying is beneficial because it makes it easier for your organisation to be relevant”.
And if you can be relevant to someone when you start talking to them you can connect.
It’s common sense. Check out this blog from 2009 by Mike Arauz who concludes “Every good conversation starts with good listening“.
So if we want to build relationships we need to listen more. Who is saying interesting things about areas and issues your cause is also passionate about? How much time are you spending listening vs broadcasting?
Think how engaging it is when someone says to you, “I was really interested in what you had to say”. That’s often the start of a conversation and it’s all part of building your network and strengthening relationships – the DNA building blocks of fundraising.
So my top fundraising tip is simply to listen – we have two ears and one mouth and we should try to use them in that proportion – you might be pleasantly surprised at what you hear.
Over lunch this week someone suggested an analogy between building relationships and chess.I love chess (the most played ‘sport’ in the world by the way). So I listened.
As all good chess players will tell you, you need to think ahead. A good chess player can think upto 5 moves ahead and then plays their next move accordingly.
And so it is with building relationships with donors. You need to think ahead. Then it will become clear what your next action should be.
The point was well made by a few weeks ago by a speaker at the UK’s Institute of Fundraising Conference on major giving who was once told by a prospect “No one gives you a sparkly ring on the first date“.
Yet the pressure is on for fundraisers to deliver results now. And when the pressure is on that’s when it is all to easy to make a mistake. In chess it’s making a rush move when you haven’t thought ahead. Game over.
I did exactly this the other week – a Friday email following up a major donor proposal to a prospect. It was an impatient move. It didn’t feel right at the time. And sure enough I had a gracious response from the prospect which said “be patient”. Lesson learn’t (and a follow up apology from me which was well received – “don’t worry you’re doing your job”).
So you need to take your time. Ironically it’s often the quickest way to achieve your goal. That’s not to say it will be slow. Take the right steps to build a relationship and things can move fast. A game of chess can move at a fast pace once you see a sequence of moves unfold in front of you.
We happen to live on a planet which revolves around the sun in 365 days. So we structure our plans around a year, typically with monthly communications. And we often expect relationships to follow that cycle too. But of course the reality is they don’t. Relationships just are.
So as valentines day approaches think about building relationships with your key supporters, and especially your prospective major donors, one step at a time. Try thinking upto 5 moves ahead and then ask yourself what is the next step? It doesn’t have to be anything major. Even in chess a simple pawn move can open up all sorts of opportunities down the line. Then 5 steps on you are in a much stronger postion, and perhaps ready to make the ask, or get the commitment you are seeking. Checkmate.
I had that ‘Friday feeling’ the other week. The source ? An email from a supporter (who had gone to the trouble of finding out my direct email) saying thank you for my … thank you.
I had taken the trouble to hand write a thank you as she had taken the trouble to give £1,000. And I felt great because someone had thanked me.
So this blog is about the art of saying thank you. The thank you is so important and it’s the one written communication, done well, most donors will read word for word.
I’m not getting into the fierce debate of whether you should include an ask or not in a thank you (you certainly wouldn’t ask a relative “and for next year I would like …”). What I do think, which applies in both cases, is you should invest time on crafting your thank you(s).
So here are my top tips:
1. Be creative. At home we finally got round to do our thank yous from Christmas last week. We made them as creative as possible. To family members who contributed to a coffee machine we were saving up for we stuck a coffee bean to the card. At SolarAid we sent donors a tea bag from Kenya and asked them to put the kettle on and have a drink on us. For those that give over a certain amount we now offer to send them a solar light! Check out the exhibit on SOFII.
2. Redo your thank you’s once a month. Find a new anecdote to tell. It will make you proactive and you’ll find you use the stories in talking to people too. It doesn’t have to be too long, Currently I tell a lovely two liner of a teacher called Francis from Kenya who has noticed the performance of children he teaches has improved since the introduction of solar lights and how “they now love books”.
3. Tell a story as it is and keep an eye out for fresh content. Then you can write, “I just heard this story which I want to share with you” and mean it too. Authenticity counts.
4. Make email thank you’s look less automated by including something that proves that it’s current and wasn’t written 2 years ago. For example it could be a link to a recent news item your cause was featured in or some recent milestone your organisation has achieved.
5. Print off your thank you copy and keep it to hand. Use it as a basis for handwritten thank you’s that you can do anywhere when you have 5 minutes to spare. I always vary them to reflect who I am writing to but it’s so useful to have a structure ready to hand.
6. Get an alert report of incoming donors who give a significant amount and arrange a handwritten thank you from a senior member of staff (what that donation level is depends on your organisation). I make a note of any donation over £500. Give someone responsibility to allocate thank yous to senior staff.
7. If you can top and tail printed thank you’s with a hand signature it makes them so much better. I used to get through a stack on a regular rail journey. It’s amazing what you can get through. When you sign a typed letter it makes you read them – and as a result improve them. Add a handwritten p.s. whilst you’re at it.
8. Have some simple cards printed with an inspiring photo of your work that are blank inside for you to handwrite a thank you.
9. For those long standing donors and regular donors who often miss out on thank you’s consider thanking them on their anniversary. Ocado who deliver our supermarket shopping send us an anniversary thank you every year – with a free bottle of wine!
10. Make it a prompt thank you whilst the gift is still in their memory. Best of all phone them up if you have their number and say their donation has just arrived. It’s a great excuse to chat to a donor and find out what motivated them to give to your cause.
So does it make a difference? Over the years I have enough feedback to suggest it really does.
When I worked for the amazing charity FARM-Africa, I was at the annual agricultural show when a couple walked upto the stand we were running. I asked if they knew about FARM-Africa and the wife promptly replied “Yes. In fact we just gave a donation and we got a lovely thank you letter”. She then paused and stared at me (and my name badge) and then cried “And it was from you!”.
At ActionAid a supporter phoned because they were astounded (and delighted) the Director of Fundraising had personally thanked them (the Retention & Development team lined up thank you’s to long standing donors).
And now at SolarAid I have had a run of emails and phone calls from donors thanking me for thanking them (maybe thank you’s really are a dying art).
So I’m now convinced they do get noticed. Isn’t that what you want to achieve?
There was one point that shocked me but on reflection didn’t surprise me. The donor I mentioned at the start wrote that although she had given regularly to many other charities no one had ever thanked her personally. That’s a real pity if we want to encourage a culture of giving.
So not only will you get noticed – you will stand out – because it seems few take the trouble it do it really well. I felt good on that Friday because someone had taken the trouble to thank me. Just think how good you could help people feel every day of the week from simply saying thank you really well.
Today I saw a visual metaphor for what I see as a challenge in fundraising right now.
First I was stopped in the street when someone asked if I would like to taste some spicy food. Now I love spicy food. It turns out he was from Wagamama’s. I was offered a choice of deep fried veg or chicken with two choices of dips. Yum. It was then I walked past two street fundraisers clearly struggling to get people to speak to (it was drizzling).
And so I took a picture. You can see Mr Wagamama has his next person lined up where as the street fundraiser is almost grasping at a passer by.
There it is – in today’s world we need to think more like Wagamama. How do we engage and give people a taste of supporting our cause? How do we give them that feeling of doing something incredible by donating so they come back for more? Otherwise I fear they will just walk on by.
It’s your neighbour. They want to show you a solar light and tell you about the cause they support (SolarAid) and if you’d like to make a donation too.
This is exactly what we learned was happening. We started getting a series of donations with similiar post codes. It turns out a supporter of ours was going down the street knocking on her neighbours’ doors and telling them about SolarAid. We know this because one of her neighbours, inspired to donate to us, called to tell us. Then we started getting letters from other neighbours (and spouses) saying what a great idea it was (donations of £50 or more). What prompted this supporter to be so proactive to talk to her street? Well we thanked her and we empowered her by sending a solar study light just like the ones we use in Africa and we asked if she would “kindly show it off and tell others about the work of SolarAid” (donate £36/$54 to SolarAid and we will send you one too).
Some months ago there was a raging debate on SOFII’s LinkedIn group about whether you should ask for a further gift in a thankyou. Having given a donation I think donors get a bit tired of being asked the same thing i.e. for another donation. Something Charlie Hume equolently wrote about in their recent 101 Fundraising blog: Want to raise more money? Then stop asking for it. We need to think what’s their next stage to inspire them? What’s their “donor journey”? Sure you could get them to give again – but what if you could get them to advocate on your behalf and recruit new supporters. How much is that worth to you?
That peer to to peer ask is so powerful. It happens when a friend asks you to sponsor them. When Kath, our neighbour knocks on our door each year for Christian Aid week we give a donation not because its for Christian Aid but because it’s Kath who has asked us. People increasingly make purchasing decisions based on recommendations – if not from a friend from other customers (think Amazon 5 star ratings). So who better to represent your cause than your “customers”.
Rather than try and get more out of your “file” you should be empowering as many of them as you can. I don’t mean the ‘donor gets donor’ or ‘friend gets friend’ schemes where they send you their friends addresses and you (or a telephone agency) call them up. I mean supporters making the ask for you (or at the very least recommending you to their network). Think Obama four years ago and how his campaign mobilised grassroots supporters to get more support.
And you could even share the problem that you and so many causes are facing – the cost to attract new people to support you cause. Read Ken Burnett’s thought provoking post, The true cost of acquisition, on how we need to tackle the communication of this issue. If your supporters realise the value to you for every new person they brought to your door then what a great way they can help rather than just giving. And what a fantastic way to engage them! They will want to know what to say – you could offer them the tools, and even feedback the impact of their efforts. Before you know it they will taking up a new kind of door to door fundraising.
But to do that they need to trust you and they need to be inspired by what you do.
So invest in inspiration
In this time of austerity you could mistakenly think the best strategy is milk your existing supporters for all you can and plough what budget you can get into donor aquisition, despite the cost. I’m suggesting the opposite. Get your exisiting donors so inspired they will bring in your new supporters. Invest in awesome thanking that people just have to do something (relative to donor acquisition it will cost far less). At least give it a try! I don’t think it will break the piggy bank.
Then you are tackling two issues. Donor retention because a donor involved with your cause will be more likely to stay (especially if they have convinced their friends and neighbours to help too) and cost effective donor aquisition which is far more pull, as people come to you, than push – with the likelihood of far higher retention rates.
How to attract new loyal supporters cost effectively?
The answer is staring us in the face!
I did something silly the other day.
On a run I realised I was really flagging. I needed to do something. So when I got home I made a public commitment and I told my wife and even called an old university mate I was going to do a triathlon.
Why a triathlon?
Well I need something that would scare me into action to get fit and run without feeling like a blob. So what could I do? A marathon? No – I’ve done four “London’s” and it just wouldn’t scare me – I’d probably do the minimum amount of training and get away with it. Now a triathlon would scare me. For starters I can barely swim a length of a 25 meter pool before I run out of breath.
So within a week I entered the 2013 Blenheim Triathlon which will take place on June 8-9th.
But what has been interesting is how I have responded since taking this decision about a month ago. In the last 4 weeks I have stepped up my running, joined a swimming class, and put my mountain bike into service. I’ve beaten my personal best for running 1km, 1 mile, 5km and 10km, run further than I’ve done for years, and swum further than I have ever. This week I weighed in at 11st 10lbs. It’s been as long as I can remember since I saw that weight whilst standing on the scales. That’s an 8lb fall. And the only thing I did that has made this happen is set a target – one which scares me into action.
So what’s my point?
Targets. What sort of targets should we fundraisers have? As fundraisers you can’t get away from targets. Should they be scary?
What are the options?
You could think of a target then cut it by 25% to something more prudent because your more likely to succeed, and that’s what you will be held accountable for. If you take it too far it’s called ‘sand bagging’ because your expecting the worse (hence fill the sand bags). But then chances are with such a target you probably won’t give that extra bit of effort to go further (a bit like me choosing to run a marathon instead of a triathlon).
You could still have a ‘secret’ stretch target that you keep to yourself. But what I find is having a public target really helps – by sharing my triathlon with my friends and family I now can’t stap back from that commitment. It makes you ask what can we do to make that goal every day. And what’s more everyone else is helping me achieve that goal – my family is supporting me so I can do more exercise and I’ve even got coaching advice lined up from friends. In the same way sharing your ambitious fundraising target with your staff and supporters will align them to help achieve that stretch goal.
So I would advocate having a stretch target and being public about it. It should scare you. After all fundraising requires us to be bold and get outside our comfort zone (by asking for money). I’d also recommend working closely with your finance team so they understand the nature of your stretch target – so they can factor this in their plans (not yours – which should be how to achieve this stretch target). That way you can aim for your goal (and have the resources and support to do this) whilst the organisation factors in a more prudent goal.
Of course I might not complete the triathlon – in the same way you might not reach your ambitious fundraising target. But I’m going to give it a damn good go – which currently means two runs a week and two swims a week (and my bike will be ready next week). And of course I believe I can do it.
A £5million success or an £8 million failure?
Ken Burnett tells a great story about Giles Pegram CBE setting a target for the NSPCC Centenary Appeal. “He aimed high. When one of his trustees baulked at his very ambitious target, suggesting a much lower sum because it would be more surely achievable, his response was to say, ‘Yes, if we aim for £5 million we will get it, whereas if we aim for £12 million we may fail and only raise £8 million. But which is better, a £5 million success, or an £8 million failure?’
So fellow fundraisers (or fellow triathloners) what do you do when it comes to target setting?
If you want to be amongst the first to sponsor me here is my Just Giving Page! crazyhaggis
Right I’m off for a run.
The charity headline this week is the worrying trend that younger people give less and less.
In short over-60s are now more than twice as likely to give to charity as the under-30s.
The take out is young people don’t give. But I think the message is charities don’t engage ‘young people’ in the right way (‘young’ in parentheses because the group that aren’t giving are the post baby boomer generation – and that includes me!). It’s clear we have grown up with a different mindset than the generation born between the wars or even the baby boomer generation. And as a general rule few charities have adjusted to engage ‘younger people’.
Sharing is in
Generation X (post baby boomers) want to be involved. They don’t just want to give a cheque.
Generation Y (post Generation X) apparently have a tendency to ask “Whats in it for me?“. In fact some expert labelled Generation Y as Generation Me! That says we need to give them a great experience when it comes to being ‘charitable’ (which may be the wrong word). Charities need to provide something that they enjoy, get a buzz out of (will do it again) and above all want to share. Sharing is in.
And when it comes to young people, especially Generation Y, who are their biggest influences? Their peers of course.
That has profound implications – possibly more so in the UK. How do we take a culture of giving, which tends to be private and one you keep to yourself, to one that people openly share. It means investing in an amazing supporter experience that is so good people want to shout about it. So they become passionate advocates. That’s what non-profits like Charity: Water seem to have achieved. It’s a totally different style of marketing about involving and engaging your audience not broadcasting to them to extract as much as you can.
Engage young people – and the money will come
So how can we engage young people? The Hult Global Case Challenge is about to kick off shortly – thousands of super sharp intelligent young people, from all over the world in their 20′s, will be working late into the night to come up with solutions to the social problems put before them. What an opportunity causes have – to offer up some of the worlds biggest social issues. And what a chance to impress the minds of future change makers and business leaders.
So here is my list of recommendations:
1. Think what can you offer that gives people a sense of purpose (many are looking for just that) and is something they would want to tell others. It might be your problems as much as your solutions. How can you enable people to be part of the experience?
2. Engage young people with something different that just donating. Check out Sunfunder – the new crowd funding platform developed by a team of young people in the US in which you get your money back whilst helping communities access solar power.
3. Partner with crowd funding sites that helps you reach other audiences, and enables young people to spread ground breaking ideas through their own networks such as SponsorCraft the crowd funding platform for students at universities and schools. Or engage online communities that simply want to do good such as good.is.
4. Offer a way of giving that suits young people such as Givey which allows you to donate (and share) via Twitter.
And the answer isn’t just digital (although that’s clearly a key way of sharing). The incredible level of interest generated in the Koni campaign by Invisible Children began from face to face talks on student campuses that created an audience.
So 5. Get face to face too.
So let’s not do more of what we’ve always done (the list of recommendations coming out of the Charities Aid Foundation didn’t do it for me) – because we will just get the same trend of declining interest amongst a generation. That will require a bit of bravery when all the statistics point in the opposite direction.
What would your recommendation be?
A BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOAL (BHAG) is one of the simplest and most powerful concepts I have ever come across.
It’s been a year since we set our BHAG at SolarAid. Our BHAG is simply to “Eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by the end of the decade”. Certainly audacious for an aspiring social enterprise. So what has happened since we set that goal? Has it made a difference and if so how?
It’s impact has been transformational.
To begin with, the BHAG engages people I share it with – it excites them. It has changed the dynamic of meetings when we mention the BHAG. Major supporters have commented on how they like it. Clear and simple. It helps create a conversation. “How are you going to do that? What’s so bad about the kerosene lamp anyway?“
When they buy into the BHAG and why its so important, it gives people outside of SolarAid a sense of purpose to help us and has set them loose in all sorts of ways to help us achieve this goal. In effect it has swelled our capacity.
Internally it is helping us strategically. We even stopped a major programme of work because it was suddenly clear it wouldn’t help achieve the BHAG. Our narrative is starting to feel more joined up . It has got us all behind one goal, which in turn has helped align communications. It has helped us in our planning – asking what is each team doing to achieve the BHAG? In Zambia they have even painted the goal on their office wall to remind them every day of our mission goal.
A year ago when we set it you could sense a bit of nervousness. Now you can sense the belief. It really could be done. But to do it we know we will need to work in collaboration, form partnerships, be bold.
And this is the bit that really excites me. It gives us a goal which in turn will need a strategy of how to get there and a plan to deliver it (and of course the funds we require). We can involve people, including funders and major supporters, in helping us determine that strategy and share with them what we need to deliver our plan. And of course we can share our aspiration with people who support us. We will need them to advocate and spread the word if we are going to do this. We need them.
That’s a great message to say to anyone – “You Matter” (Read and watch the TED talk by Angel Maiers) and it goes far beyond extracting a donation. A BHAG could be the most important tool in a fundraisers kit bag.
Still not convinced? Read Steve Andrew’s blog, SolarAid’s CEO, on the impact the BHAG has had in SolarAid : “Is a bee-hag the most important management tool ever?”. When confronted with a problem he will often say “What does the BHAG demand?”. More often than not the answer is obvious.
And I couldn’t agree more with this observation from a blog called innovateonpurpose : “A BHAG will force people to think differently and work differently”. It really is making us all think – “how the hell will we do this?” – every week.
God what if we all had BHAGS?!
On Friday I went to an inspiring talk in London by Paull Young, Digital Director of Charity: Water, who was over from New York. Earlier in the week, at the UK’s Institute of Fundraising Convention, references to the US based Charity: Water occurred repeatedly at seminars. You can understand why – their growth is the talk of many fundraisers. And it’s not just their growth that is admirable – it’s the way they have approached it. Their intention from the outset has been to try and “reinvent charity” so that people not only give but inspire their friends to donate too.
“Inspiration is the most important part of a digital strategy“, Paull began, and went on to explain how “fundraising online needs to be about where you tell your story”. The analogy being if you speak to people about your cause you don’t ask them for $20 straight up. Communicating on the web should be no different to how you communicate when people come to visit you – you show pictures, you tell stories, and if you do your job, you inspire people to take action. In fact it isn’t about ‘digital’ at all. It’s about people to people. In Paull’s words, “Every fundraising campaign is a word of mouth of campaign”. And you can see instantly why that works because word of mouth is so powerful.
Paull’s simple observation is the web has become about relationships and connecting people – yet much of what he sees when it comes to charity websites is “paper on the web” (in stark contrast to the people he meets who work for charities and how they talk passionately about thier cause).
And what does that mean? “We don’t ask people to give – we ask people to raise“, is how Paull summed up Charity: Water‘s way of engaging people.
That’s a totally different approach. To do this you need to give people an amazing customer experience which includes making them feel their contribution really does make a difference – which Charity: Water do by allocating 100% of donations from individuals to projects and geotagging every water pump they install so donors can see where their support goes.
The focus is getting people to share not to give. “No one is going to share a sad dog video unless they are a sociopath“. And Paull even admitted that, sure, by using a hard hitting approach, you will always get a better response. “People might not get their wallets out straight away. But I don’t want their wallets straight away – I want them for the next 10 years“.
So what is the implication? It is pretty profound.
Get people to give or inspire people to get others to give?
You need to make a choice. Is your charity’s marketing about getting people to give (classic response driven marketing), or inspiring people “to raise” and get others to give?
You can’t have two brands – one that aims to get money out of people and another that aims to inspire people. Those messages are totally different. Could you test them then? No. No you can’t. The former, getting people to give, will always win in a ‘test’. It will get the better response (note response). All those measures fundraisers are obsessed with (and bound to) such as ROI, response rates, cost of acquisition, are all measures for the style of response/broadcast based marketing. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and pears. This isn’t a change in tactics. This is a change in strategy.
Organisations with established direct marketing operations will struggle to embrace an inspired based approach as the pressure from within will be to remain in the safety net of what they know in uncertain times, despite declining response. And yet in an instant they could switch the donor acquisition budget ( the one that costs £100-£200+ for each new donor and has 2-3 years payback) into embracing this sort of approach – not getting people to give but inspiring people to raise and getting others to give.
That acquisition budget could be allocated to re-positioning the brand, realigning staff about the new approach, and creating a great customer experience. It will attract new supporters at a fraction of the cost. It will fundraise more net income. But the vast majority of established charities will find it so hard to change. It’s too unknown. So that leaves the way for newer organisations willing to embrace a totally different approach.
I don’t even see it as a choice. How do we make choices now when we want to buy something of any value? We ask our friends and close networks (or check out how other customers rate a product before buying it). So just think how powerful it could be when our friends and close contacts ask us to do something they passionately believe in. Or when a cause is truly supporter led, as Charity:Water clearly is.
Why don’t fundraisers stick to areas which land the major grants and big donations? Why bother with fundraising from individuals or events that will take time to grow and brings in relatively small amounts of income?
I know instinctively focusing on the big money would be the wrong course of action.
To illustrate why i’ll fall back on my fundraising garden analogy. What I love about our garden is the way different plants compliment each other. It’s a fact they don’t grow in another plants shade. The combined picture looks great. But anyone plant on its own just wouldn’t have the same effect. The magnificent rowan tree we have would just look isolated, or the burst of geraniums, lost.
That’s what happens if we concentrated on just a few areas of fundraising like grants from trusts, or major gifts – the areas would be isolated. Fundraising isn’t just about individual areas – it’s how they all interact. For me this is the challenge, and the fun, of designing a fundraising programme and how magic begins to take place where one area of fundraising helps feed another. Another reason why it’s dangerous to separate out the ROI.
It’s all connected
As Head Gardener (Director/Head of Fundraising) you have to see that big picture and how everything works together. Your individual giving programme helps feed your major giving. Community fundraising and volunteering helps your legacy programme. Even statutory funders like to see support that comes from the public (it gives your organisation credibility and legitimacy). It almost certainly doesn’t help that most fundraising programmes are organised in separate areas – often referred to as ‘silos’.
In fact it’s all connected. The reality is that you just don’t know what connections that ‘volunteer’ or ‘regular giver’ has and what support they can attract for you. Once you ‘get’ that concept, it’s amazing what opportunities you see that you couldn’t before – in gardening terms we call it self seeding. And then your fundraising garden really does start to grow in ways you could never of imagined.
I think the time is right for Total Fundraising - taking people out of their natural position. Here are three ways to apply it.
Everyone is a fundraiser
People love to meet and hear from staff who don’t have fundraising in their job title. So all staff need to understand fundraising and how they can play a key role in developing relationships and engaging support. To do this you need to give non-fundraising staff confidence to play their part and permission to communicate their passion (such as blogging, tweeting etc).
Be a hybrid fundraiser
Fundraising staff need to understand all the ways they can maximise an opportunity. Increasingly you can’t silo people as ‘regular givers’ or ‘major donors’. In this networked world chances are there are multiple ways someone can help you, but if you put them in a box that’s where they will stay.
The fundraiser is dead – long live the fundraiser
This is perhaps the most exciting opportunity. Think of supporters as fundraisers, like you, not donors. I don’t mean organising community fundraising or doing a sponsored event. I mean helping to recruit donors, opening doors to funding sources, and engaging audiences with your organisations mission. This requires a different approach from ‘employed’ fundraisers - it’s no longer just about what can you squeeze out of ‘donors’, but how can you engage and inspire people, give them the tools, and set them loose.
Now, instead of a few isolated strikers, your fundraising team is suddenly a lot bigger – all with an eye for fundraising opportunities.
For those that enjoy the beautiful game here is the birth of Total Football in action.
It’s that question a 4 year old will ask you again and again to every answer you give to their initial question. My question for you is do you know the answer?
People care more about WHY we do what we do, rather than WHAT we do. That was the key message I took from a coffee with Grant Leboff, author of Sticky Marketing (a great must read about why marketing has completely changed).
Devising a why is very simple. In essence it’s completing the following statement “We believe …”. From this follows what you need to do. Get people to buy into the why and the rest follows.
Having a clear WHY can be very powerful – it’s a great engagement tool. ” Yes I totally buy into that belief. How can I help? Tell me more?”. You can proactively find other organisations which might share that belief, or attract those who would like to be associated with it, to support you. Here is one I passed on a school notice board this morning.
Equally without a clear WHY you will be weaker. This can apply just as much for profit making companies as charities – lose sight of the why and the organisation loses its way. An example Grant gave of a WHY was Bill Gates vision of a ‘PC in every home’. Pretty radical in its time and a great why to drive the domination Microsoft achieved. And then when it achieved it Microsoft sort of lost its way.
Making money is not your mission
Making money is not a good enough why. Even businesses who have set that as their raison d’être have flounded. At last years Fundraising Convention Alan Clayton gave a fantastic talk showing how profit making organisations which had a social mission did better than when they focused on the money. He kindly sent me his slides graphically illustrating the point that businesses with a strong why do best. Click on the image below for the slides c/o SlideRocket and just click back on the browser to return to this blog.
Charities can lose their way too. The why, often at the root of a charity’s origin, gets lost all too easily. Without a clear why an organisation can drift. It focuses on the what. Marketing and fundraising messages then focus entirely on the what and the how and not the why (it might still raise the money but that’s missing the point if the money isn’t delivering on the why). You know when that happens when as a fundraiser you are asked to raise more money but no one can tell you why!
Check out your website – it probably says what you do, but does it say why you do want you do? Yet to put one in place is easy. And fundraisers probably more than any other role have the function of that 4 year old to ask the question – “Why? Why do we do what we do?”
Grant reminded me of this great TED talk (and the best use of a flip chart I have seen in TED) by Simon Sinek (author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action). It’s a compelling case especially for charities and non-profits.
So what’s your organisation’s why? Does it have one or do you know of a great example? If so let me know.
If you found this blog post interesting check out Do you have a BHAG?
There is a paradigm shift happening.
People want to be involved. They want to be part of something. Think the growing trend in “crowd sourcing” in all its guises.
Yet all too often the message by us fundraisers is “give us a donation we have the solution”. That’s not very engaging. It’s a bit passive.
How could we change that?
Let me give you an example in a different context. Watch this concert at Wembley Arena. The singers on stage are soldiers raising funds for Help the Heros. But what I found amazing is the audience. Watch it for a few minutes and you will see, and hear, what I mean.
I wish I could have been there. You can sense the amazing experience it must have been. The audience is the show! They are members of Rock Choir – a growing sensation sweeping the UK. Rock Choirs are made up of ordinary people and exist in towns all over the UK. They meet once a week to sing. But they don’t leave it there. They create extraordinary moments like this when they bring different choirs together. From concerts to flash mobs.
What a great concept. I bet its addictive.
And yet too often we invite our supporters and donors to come and watch as observers or hear what we have to say to them.
Flip it round.
Enable them to be part of the experience. Think how can you involve them as ‘participants’ rather than ‘observers’.
It will be far more memorable. It will be something they will share with others. And, as you will gauge from the short video below, it will be extremely satisfying. Take it away Rock Choir & Mr Blue Sky.
Fundraising, and life, is full of paradoxes. I think there is one we need to be more aware of – ask not what can you ask people to give, but what can you give to people?
A story to illustrate my point.
My first fundraiser was when I was about five years old. We were camping with the caravan (no jibes now) on the west coast of Scotland just up from Oban near a place called North Connel. The farmer llowed us to place the caravan in a field close to the beach. The beach was awesome. Rolling sand dunes to tumble down and a great stretch of golden sand. It was a fab summer too.
To get near to the beach most people drove down a track. This took them through a gate right past our caravan. And that’s where I spied my opportunity (although I didn’t realise it at the time).
Because there was a working farm the gate had to be kept closed. Here is a cute picture of me, in red wellington boots (use your imagination) at the gate.
It was a real hassle for car drivers to stop their car, open the gate, drive through and close it again. So if I was nearby I would open if for them. I don’t recall how the first ‘donation’ came but others soon followed.
As the caravan was nearby I could race out when a car approached and swing open the gate, resting on the bars as the car carried on through, and (this bit felt important) … smile. That’s when the car window would wind down (although it was such a hot summer it was usually down anyway) and a few coins would be passed my way. To me it was a small fortune. I could stand by the gate at the start or end of the day when everyone was arriving or leaving. It was a great way to supplement my pocket money and my first taste of fundraising (ok the cause – ice cream aid – was a bit dubious).
So the point of my story is simply this – more than ever I think we need to give something of value rather than just take or ask. Ask “what can we give to our supporters and donors?”. Just asking the question might help you look from a different perspective. When I met supporters whilst working for ActionAid I was struck how often donors, even major donors, said that they weren’t ‘giving’ they were ‘receiving’. It’s a paradigm shift that I think we need into todays world. You might be surprised at what you can offer them – a great feeling, an unforgettable experience, or even expertise and advice (but not a private dinner to meet the Prime Minister in return for £250,000 which was a lead story in the UK recently). Ideally you want it to be ‘sticky’ i.e. something you can promote that helps attract your target audience to you.
And in return they will gladly help you and give back in return.
And dont forget to smile
Have you ever seen the movie Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner? In the film he builds a baseball pitch in the middle of corn field in Iowa. Everyone thinks he’s crazy but he does it anyway. “Build it and people will come” is the film’s punch line.
Two remarkable things happened to me this week. I can’t tell you about them but I can let you into the insight which led to them happening.
It is simply this.
Treat your supporters and potential supporters as much more than something to extract money from. They have so much more to offer. All you need to do is spark them into action and be ready to listen.
That’s it. Looking back over the last months most of my blog posts are about doing just that. It’s hardly a new revelation either (read Relationship Fundraising).
So here are my three top tips:
1. Can you inspire people about your cause? Find your story so you can.
2. Engage people as, well, people. Don’t try and trick them or play the guilt card – you might beat that response rate but you will miss something soooooo much bigger. Engagement needs a conversation – that’s two way. So many communications are really one way broadcasts.
3. Make time to meet and speak with supporters and potential supporters.
But, and this is where Field of Dreams comes in, you will have to be bold. You will need courage. Because against you will be those who only believe in things that can only be counted (they think that’s all that counts).
So you need to have faith. Like Kevin Costner.
And, believe me, the money will come.
Take it away James Earl Jones …
Meeting supporters: Inspire and the money will come
Story telling: What’s your story?
Engagement: Fundraising – It’s not about asking for money
So I’m going to say what I think and get something off my chest for my first blog of the year. You’re wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Yes you’ll get a better response but does the means justify the ends?
What am I ranting about?
Africa. It’s amazing. People living in poverty are incredible. But look at our fundraising wrappers and the way we market Africa. It is full of pity and guilt, sad music and serious voice overs. Yet everytime I visit Africa I come back inspired, and humbled, by what I see.
No doubt if you find the worse possible scenario and the direst situation you can say the message behind the needy marketing is true. But its portrayed as the norm not the exception. On the occasions I have visited countries in Africa I have come to appreciate how amazing people tackling and living in poverty are. Yet we, especially us fundraisers, portray Africa like a “bottomless pit”. Check out the Finding Frames research which concludes the UK public think that too. And what message is this approach re-enforcing? That Africa is just a hopeless case. All this amazing work taking place isn’t having any impact. The Finding Frames report concludes the UK public is “stuck in roughly the same place as they were in 1985″ and levels of support for international aid and development has remained static.
“The most widespread model for public engagement has been labelled as the ‘Live Aid Legacy’, which casts the UK public in the role of ‘dominant giver’, and Southern publics in the role of ‘grateful receiver’. In this model, the causes of poverty are internal to poor countries, and nothing to do with global politics. All the UK public can do is give money, and invariably they believe that some, if not most of the money does not get through to those in need; hence Africa in particular is described as “a bottomless pit”. In the UK public’s mind Africa is stuck, but at the same time the UK public is stuck in this transaction frame for development”.
And how do Africans feel? When I was in Kenya & Tanzania recently I asked. Those aware of the marketing messages used feel its the wrong Africa that’s protrayed – one that’s totally dependent on handouts and aid – not the enterprising one working hard to lift itself out of poverty.
And I can see the panic amongst fundraisers. Response rates for donor recruitment is dropping so what do organisations do? They ramp up the volume on needy marketing even more! “But it get’s a better response” I hear fundraisers cry. Here is where I challenge even the business basis for such a short term approach.
Say you can run a hypothetical test to try out the two approaches and pack a room of 100 people. You market a hard hitting needy approach – you get two new donors (2% not bad in direct marketing terms). Then let’s say you try a more inspiring, more engaging, approach and your get one donor. So the inspiring approach gets 100% poorer results, so its worse right? Wrong on two accounts. First that one person is likely to be far more engaged. Not only will they give but they will tell others and advocate on your behalf. Believe me its like having an expanding fundraising team made up of passionate volunteers (the best advocates you could ask for). They become amplifiers.
Secondly in that room you turned off 30 people completely with the hard hitting approach. And the evidence suggests it’s a real turn off to attract a new generation of donors. I’ve increasingly come across this when meeting ‘young people’, that generation of 20-30 year olds who are the “least likely to give to charity”. I’ve been surprised at how aggresive and angry they are about the negative portral of people as objects of pity. They find it a big turn off. And why? Because they know better. They know Africa is not like that. They know they are being marketed to. You wonder why we are not engaging a new generation of donors – this is why. With the more inspiring and engaging way you will have made more of an impression. They might not give there and then using shock tactics but they will remember and think about your cause and when the time comes they will find you and give. And they will stick with you, AND tell others too.
See Africa Differently
No doubt turning up the volume will increase the immediate short term take up – but it doesn’t solve the problem and response rates will continue to decline with the ‘broadcast’ marketing approach (see blog post “It’s not about asking for money”).
I’m not saying don’t communicate the injustice or the hardship of poverty. It’s the portrayal of people I’m on about.
There are glimmers. Along with some pioneering causes that push the positive there are websites like See Africa Differently developed by Comic Relief aimed at the 18-35 year old audience that invites you to “Come on the journey with us and discover an Africa you may not have seen. Isn’t it time we started to See Africa Differently?”. I fear its a side project that ticks the box whilst the fundraising continues with its hard hitting approach.
And it’s not just the principle. Think about it – those guilt driven messages get a response because people want to get rid of a bad feeling full stop. But now more than ever you want people to go much further than just give. Now you need them to advocate on your behalf – it’s far stronger coming from them to get others to support your cause. People will share being inspired. They will keep any bad feelings you give them to themselves.
What do you want? Someone to give you money or someone to give and do far more.
So I am putting my hand up. I don’t believe in all this hard hitting – guilt driven – flies in the eyes – marketing. “Ah but people give to need I hear some cry”. Absolutely. But what sort of need? Fundraising must be about communicating a need but that doesn’t mean portraying people as needy. We all have to raise funds and we have to explain why we need someone’s donation. There is a better way.
I know there are plenty of fundraisers and direct marketers who think I’m wrong. Fine. Do what you do. It’s short term.
For others then please join me. There are plenty of people, particularly ‘young people’, seeking causes that inspire them that provides them a purpose. We need to engage them not turn them off. It’s harder work but in the long term it will make a bigger difference. It will raise more funds and truly engage more people both ‘here’ and in Africa.
On BBC radio I heard the singer and would be politician Youssou n’Dour say “Africa doesn’t need charity. It needs partnership. Win Win”. So my advice to you is think how can us fundraisers communicate this two way partnership. You will think differently. You will ask different questions and you will connect people. After all we all know people give to people.
There – I feel better already.
Does the organisation you work for have a BHAG? If not I strongly recommend you get one. A BHAG is a game changer. It’s the thing that can drive both you, your team and your organisation every day. What is it?!
A BHAG stands for a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Check out the definition on Wikapedia for a history of its use. In short it’s a goal that is just the other side of impossible.
A famous example would be Kennedy’s announcement in 1961 that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. They did it with six months to spare. What a BHAG does is it starts to align everyone to achieve that goal. When Kennedy met a toilet cleaner during his tour of NASA and asked what job he did the janitor famously replied “Sir, I’m helping to put a man on the moon”.
And if there is one sector that should have inspiring BHAG’s then it has to be the voluntary sector tackling some of the greatest environmental and social challenges we face.
A powerful tool for fundraising
Each week you ask yourself “what does the BHAG demand?“. How will you have to change your strategy to achieve it? It will undoubtably mean some tough but necessary decisions. The great (and scary) thing about having something the other side of impossible is invariably it’s almost certainly going to need funds you don’t have, yet. So for fundraisers it such a powerful tool. It is something to talk about and engage people. I have been in meetings when I have shared SolarAid’s BHAG which we set this year. It has changed the entire dynamic of discussions.
As I walked out of the meeting room, on the very day we set our BHAG at SolarAid, there on the wall was a framed picture of a man on the moon (I took a photo as you can see above). We took it as a good sign! Our BHAG is simply this: To eradicate the Kerosene lamp from Africa by the end of the decade. (To find out why kerosene is so bad watch our latest film).
I think it needs to be simple – so it is memorable and powerful.
An example of a BHAG’s that had a impact on fundraising would be NSPCC’s goal to end cruelty to children in the UK and its subsequent Full Stop campaign.
A BHAG provides a real and meaningful sense of why – it gives people a purpose. If you are one of the 7 million plus ‘views’ of of Dan Pinks RSA talk about what motivates us you will remember a sense of purpose is one of the three key motivators for people. Haven’t seen it?! Then when you have 10 minutes – click here The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
Now we have set a BHAG at SolarAid – the why - the next big, and obvious, question is the how?! How we will do it and how others can help. We believe it is just about possible – but we also know we can’t do it alone – it will mean we will need to brave and innovate. It will mean we need to collaborate with others. And of course we will have to raise money from donors and volunteers, because in order to achieve it we will need to.
It’s potentially a fundraisers paradise.
So I suggest you ask yourself does your organisation have a BHAG?! It should to be scary (that’s the ‘big’ and ‘hairy’ and ‘audacious’ bit). If it has you would know about it (otherwise it isn’t a BHAG!). If not I suggest you get one. Could be the best tool in your armoury (or your garden shed – if like me you prefer gardening metaphors).
I am a great fan of having faith in my subconscious to help me solve problems or generate ideas. And we fundraisers are forever needing to solve problems of one sort or another.
Your brain is one awesome computer. In fact computer doesn’t come close to describing what it is capable of.
As I’ve said in previous blogs you can do a few things to help make the most of its capability – such as a priming the problem by writing it down and coming back to it (See blogs Are you really thinking? and What have you got to lose?). Sometimes ideas just come to you whilst on a run or in the shower. But sometimes it’s some external trigger that rings a wake up bell in your subconscious.
These can happen anytime.
So how do you make sure you hear it? What I’m on about is that ‘feeling’ that you have seen or heard something important – it could be a throw away remark or something you see on your way to work.
The trick is to work out how the feeling manifests itself as it’s different for each person.
When it goes off – it’s that subconscious of yours knocking at the door of your concious brain. “Oi did you notice that?!” When that happens you’re utilsing using the sum total of your experience – a vast library of stuff.
The Hairs on the Back of My Neck
So what you need to do is find our what yours is. How do you do that?
Next time you have a eureka moment, or get excited in a meeting about something someone says, just check in and observe what physical sensation you had. Did your eyes water, or maybe your mouth went dry.
For me its often the hairs on the back of my neck. I remember the first time I consciously used this technique. I was leading on a pitch whilst working for a marketing agency (the fabulous Cascaid). The pitch was for the Alzheimer’s Society. We were looking to come up with ideas to make the pitch stronger. I was standing next to the Art Director, Nick, when he started talking about how priceless memories are. The hairs on the back of my neck went wild and the concept of the million memories website was born (yes stealing the concept from the million dollar homepage). The idea was a show stopper and we won the pitch. I’ve used the technique ever since.
So when you have found your trigger, just be self aware – when that trigger goes off, STOP – rewind <<<. Your subconscious is saying something just happened and if you pause for a moment you might just find the breakthrough you are looking for.
Feed Your Mind
It also gives you a great excuse to try and stimulate that trigger to go off. Read a magazine you have never looked at before, go visit a museum, or explore the biggest museum of exhibits out there, the web (that’s how I came across the million dollar homepage). If those are too sureal you could always justify an hour a week exploring the fundraising exhibits on SOFII. These just might give you the external stimulus outside of your normal routine that helps release the idea you already have inside your brain. It also provides you content to store in your subconscious library that you can draw on in the future. What a great excuse to feed your mind!
Let me know if you find out what your trigger is.
Failure is a very sensitive topic.
As you may know I work for the charity SolarAid. Shortly after joining I was told a story about a celebrated failure.
As there were so few solar products being developed for rural Africa, SolarAid started devising its own. One of the ideas was very simple – a solar light that could fit inside a kerosene lamp. This would have a number of advantages – kerosene lamps could be adapted and families were accustomed to kerosene lamps, whereas, there was a lack of familiarity and trust with the new technology offered by solar lights. The light could also be easily hung or carried.
It’s sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? A solar light that fits inside a kerosene lamp.
Here is a picture of the solar light prototype which as you can see fits inside the kerosene lamp casing.
However the light was not a success. Why? One simple reason. The kerosene lamp is the symbol of poverty. People didn’t want to buy a solar light to fit inside a kerosene lamp. They wanted a lightbulb like the one you and I are used to, or something even better, but not one that reminds them of the kerosene lamp.
Now this failure is an important part of SolarAid’s history because it taught us something so important that it now resides at the core of who we are and what we do. Simply that we need to listen to our customers: the families and communities who we are encouraging to adopt, indeed buy, a solar light instead of kerosene (which is dangerous, expensive, bad for your health and the planet). And that is a paradigm shift – we have to treat ‘beneficaries’ as customers and indeed that is what SolarAid does. We absolutely need to listen to them.
So although the light was a failure it embedded a really important principle that has influenced SolarAid’s approach ever since. The principle I would say is priceless.
Stories of failure are actually great ways to remember and instil learning. I often use this story when I tell people about SolarAid for the first time. We even have the original kerosene lamp fitting solar lights in the office. If we are prepared to share our story others can learn from our failure too.
We all find failure hard to accept – the temptation is to hide it away when actually it can help determine your future direction or help tell your story. So what failures does your organisation have? Dig them up! What did it learn? What’s the story? Non-profits are tackling some of the most difficult issues of all. It can’t always be a success story – in fact the struggle is what can make our causes so compelling and believable.
I’ve just started reading Adapt - Why success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford. In the introduction he writes “There are three essential steps to successfully adapting – 1. Try new things in the expectation some will fail 2. Make failure survivable , because it will be common, 3. and to make sure when you know when you have failed”. I’ll let you know how it goes. Here’s a taster from his recent TED video (I like the bit about the new style politician).
I heard this great phrase the other day “fail, learn, leap”.
Failure is, in my view the key to success. Take it away Michael…
Recently I have been reading The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. In it the author breaks down how people learn new skills. Much of it has to do with making mistakes and then adjusting and learning. At some point people make a real jump in their ability.
Failure is in.
Now why do I believe failure is so important at this time?
The world has changed and with that marketing needs to change. It’s no longer about shouting (i.e. it’s all about us – the charity). Its now about engagement (it’s all about you – the customer, the donor, the supporter).
To understand more read : http://ifundraiser.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/its-not-about-asking-for-money/
In a changing world you can do one of two things. You can stick to the old ways and ramp up the volume (which may work in the short term – which is a bit like shouting louder to someone who doesn’t understand your English). Or you can try a new approach.
The best way to adopt a new approach is to do something, make mistakes, learn, and try again.
And when something goes wrong, fails, you need to acknowledge it – don’t brush it under the carpet. The reason for this is it will help you make the next step towards success. So at a time when the world is changing so much we need to embrace failure.
So some months ago I talked Lucy Innovation who did a blog on a failure of mine. A campaign called What A Feeling by ActionAid. It failed but I still stand by its approach. You can read it here. http://sofii-foundation.blogspot.com/2011/09/can-we-say-f-word-please.html
The take out was the campaign had failed. Therefore in some minds, QED, the approach didn’t work. Final. The irony is when something fails people can do one of two things. They can go back to what they did before. Or you can learn and try again.
Learn and Leap
So what did I learn from this failure?
1. First get to know the problem. I realise I hadn’t fully understood the problem. I knew the symptoms – rates of donor recruitment were in decline across every channel. But I didn’t really know why.
Now I know. And once you know the nature of the problem you can start to work on addressing it. In the case of declining acquisition read books like the fantastic Sticky Marketing by Grant Leboff. If you lead a fundraising team you need to spend time understanding how things are changing (that’s the role of a “Director”!).
2. Second you need to be ready to fail. Have it built into your campaign. Have a long term view. Too many fundraisers are expected to pull rabbits out of hats first time round. If you aren’t given that scope your first failure will hit a brick wall and stop there. You don’t go on to learn and leap.
3. And finally a new approach needs a new way of measuring. In this new world where shouting is out and engagement is in you can’t use ROI or even Facebook likes. No really. Check out the blogs by David Meerman Scott http://www.webinknow.com/2011/10/roi.html and The BrandBuilder Blog by Oliver Blanchard http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/social-media-and-return-on-investment-some-clarity .
I’m already applying these learnings.
So in my mind failure and success are part of the same journey.The first step is recognise when you fail. Then you will learn and leap. Failure is key to succeeding. Be ready for it and embrace it.
What difference have you made?
Being a strong story teller is key to being a fundraiser. So here is a tip to help you be a better story teller. It starts of course from meeting people and hearing their stories.
Meeting people who share how their lives have changed is essential. The question I have asked time and time again is,”What difference have we made?”. Often I find you have to dig deep to get the answer. People tend to respond very with matter of fact answers.
“Before I didn’t have a goat and now I do”.
“Yes, but what difference does that make?”
“Ah well now I have milk that I can sell in the market”
“Ok. And what difference does that make?”.
“Well now I can afford to buy food and the enable my son to go to school”.
Now we are getting somewhere.
And of course that reflects the nature of fundraising we are accustomed to. Tangible differences.
Ask a different question
But last time I was visiting work in Africa with ActionAid I asked a different question. In my twenty years as fundraiser I have never asked this question. But I will always ask it in the future.
I can recall the moment. We were sitting in a circle with a women’s group in Mombasa, Kenya, who had been responsible for making change happen for better. As often in these exchanges, we sat in a circle. After introductions and an outline about what the group did we were invited to ask questions.
The first question was straight out of the fundraisers kitbag. “What difference has ActionAid made?”
The leader of the group spoke very eloquently. She spoke of how ActionAid had helped them build their “capacity” and the work they been able to do as a result. I recall nodding but I don’t really remember the detail of what she said. Still, it was a solid response. Just not memorable. Maybe they were accustomed to these questions from organisations that had supported them. They knew the response that we liked to hear.
Then I asked my question.
“Would you mind telling us how you feel – how you feel now and how you used to feel?”
The same woman replied, but it was as if the answer came from a different person. Her name is Bibi. Bibi, told an extraordinary story of how she had been a victim of early pregnancy and had been close to committing suicide (she felt pretty worthless). With support from the group, the same one she now leads, she began to help at a nursery. Ten years on she is a teacher and her work with children is making her feel so proud. She spoke of how despite all that happened to her, she now believes anything is possible if you accept your problems and take the step of moving on. “That step made me another person”, she said.
What struck me was the way she spoke. It was with an energy and emotion that hadn’t been present in her previous answer.
Emotions help us remember. So that’s probably why, nine months later, I can remember that moment, I can recall her name and picture what she looks like – well you can too, as here is a picture.
Most of all I can remember what she said. “Anything is possible”. I’ve no doubt she will continue to be an incredible leader in her community.
And what price can you put on giving someone belief in themselves? It’s priceless of course.
Giving is emotional
Fundraisers need to be the best storytellers. Armed with the simple question “how do you feel?” you will hear more powerful and memorable stories, and as a result you will be a better story teller.
And let’s not forget, giving is emotional. So ask questions that will incorporate feelings in the answer. Feelings connect people. And, as all good fundraisers know, people give to people.
So when you recount a story include feelings rather than just outcomes. The best way, as with all fundraising, is simply to ask. Try it. Next time ask, “How do you feel?”
We all like a good story. But why are they so important to fundraisers, and why will they be even more important in the future?
Marketing is changing (see July 9th post) – no longer can you broadcast your message and expect people to listen or remember what you have to say. It’s now about engagement. And to engage people you need to have something interesting to say in a way that people will remember.
This is why stories are so important. If something is presented as a story it is TWENTY times more memorable. If you want to know the science behind why this is the case, check out Brain Power by John Medina. But for now just take it from me, if you can wrap something in emotion you will remember it. And when you share it so do other people. And what’s more they pass the story on. They don’t remember lots of statistics or case studies, which we seem to churn out.
What makes a powerful story
So what is a story and what are its key elements? I came across this definition when listening to a BBC Radio 4 programme some years ago called Jackanory Politics. The programme was about how politicians use storytelling. It was riveting, and I ended up downloading the podcast and listening again and again.
In this context they defined a story as “fact wrapped in emotion that compels an action that produces a change”. Hey, I like that. Works for us fundraisers – compelling action – producing a change.
So what makes one story compelling and another story less compelling? All the great storytellers – I’m thinking Spielberg here – include five key elements.
- The hero, who provides a point of view
- The a problem the hero is confronting
- An antagonist – sometimes that’s personified as a villain, but it’s really just an obstacle
- A moment of awareness that allows the hero to overcome that obstacle – the “ahhhh” moment.
- And finally the change that occurs.
Quite often people leave out the moment of awareness, but great storytellers always put it in. And for fundraising I would say it’s critical.
There’s one element missing from the list above and thats YOU i.e. the story teller, and the passion with which you tell it. This is where I often see fundraisers remove themselves from the story.
To inspire one another we had a storytelling session at ActionAid amongst us fundraisers. I asked everyone to think about the five elements above (six if you include the storyteller). We simply stood up and told our stories. It was a great session. Afterwards I asked people to give me a copy of their story in writing. And that was the interesting bit. What I found is that when they wrote the story people left out their own anecdotes and the feelings that they had shared when speaking it. The stories had turned into dry case studies. Those ‘moments of awareness’ had gone.
I think it has to do with when we sit down to write something. We seem to take out the ‘i’. The story we write is rarely the story we would tell around a camp fire or in the pub. To counter this I ended up asking a select few to record their story on digital audio recorder or video. Surprise surprise, the anecdotes and moments of awareness returned. What does this tell us? When we write, be concious not to drop out those moments. And it also says why audio and video will be, if they aren’t already, increasingly important – because it’s a format that allows people to tell great stories naturally. So when you have a great story, tell someone about it, maybe even record it, and then when you come to write it you have a better chance of keeping in all the aspects that make it a compelling and memorable story.
In a world where you now need to engage with people, not ‘shout’ at them, being able to tell memorable stories is going to be key.
Fundraising. “Its all about the money” – “its the bottom line that counts”. Well yes and no. Sure we want to raise money but I contend that the focus on asking for money isn’t what fundraising is about!
Pick up any book on digital or marketing and what will strike you is the same message comes across again and again. The world has changed. Now I think we all know this but I certainly hadn’t really stopped to think why. It’s the web of course.
In Sticky Marketing the author Grant Leboff explains so eloquantly why the internet changes everything. In the past consumers gladly received marketing material, it gave them useful information. But now we don’t need it. Think how you currently buy products (in fact try it out for a month as I did). For anything over £10 how do you decide what product to buy and who to buy from?
It comes down to two methods 1. you ask your network. “What camera do you use? ” “Have you read” … such and such? OR 2. you search the web. And when you search the web chances are you will be looking for people’s opinions and customer reviews. That’s it. All that direct marketing (shouting) is just becoming unwelcome noise.
Now maybe giving a donation to charity is entirely different to everything else we buy. But why should it be? And if that isn’t the case now then what’s stopping it being the case in the near future?
It’s now about getting attention
It’s no longer about ‘the ask’ i.e. marketing that effectively says ‘donate here’ or ‘give to us’. It’s now about getting attention. In other words engagement.
The ask is the last bit. If we fundraisers have done our jobs then the donor will have already made their mind up when they are asked to give. The ‘ask’ still has its place. Done well it says “we need you”, and that you matter. But the best way you can influence the likelihood someone says yes when you do ask them is to invest energy and time in all that goes before. i.e. engage them! If you want someone to marry you, you do a bit of groundwork first.
It’s why everything that has gone before is so critical. Great donor care, good communications and great stories so people remember you. Yet we get so focused on measuring the effectiveness of fundraising on the last bit – the ROI, the response rate – and not on what really matters!
And yes people give because someone asks them. But people give because someone they like asks them (think about all those friends you sponsor). So fundraising is not about asking its about getting liked, adored even.
This is not new (think Relationship Fundraising) but now it is critical because the old ways will soon stop working. The world has changed. The question we fundraisers have to ask ourselves is, have we?
In the Clint Eastwood Oscar winning film Unforgiven there is an extraordinary scene. Clint is facing a dozen or so gun slingers. The film wanted to show the reality of gun fights in those days rather than the one portrayed by Hollywood and all those spaghetti westerns that Clint starred in. It wasn’t the fastest draw in the West that won. It was the slowest – the one who kept their cool (guns were not that accurate as they had such a recoil so taking your time to take aim was key to hitting your target).
I wish in those times when faced with a crisis rather than take some quick shots I kept my cool and carried on.
Here are some lessons that could come out of the Clint Eastwood School of Fundraising which may seem slower but will give you the better result:
- Take your time to attract gifts from major donors. Make small but important steps to develop trust and engage them.
- If you are developing a new fundraising programme take each key stage in turn: strategy, then structure, then messaging. Try to complete one before starting the next.
- Get input on structure above and below you even if that takes longer. Not only will you get a better output you will have a structure owned by your team. They will be better placed to make the impact of a new structure quicker.
- A great case for support takes time to get spot on. Write it. Bury it. Dig it up. Share it. Make it better. Bury it. Dig it up. Share it again. Give it time. Then set it loose.
- New stuff takes twice as long as you think it will. The shortest time to deliver a project is often the one that looks the longest. Don’t be tempted to take short cuts. Find a project manager if you need one.
- Engage supporters so they become champions of your cause vs short term activities to extract the most money out of them. You will raise more.
Take it away Clint. Show us how it’s done.