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  • Writer's pictureKerry Vandersypen, PF International


This week I read something that struck a chord with me:

“Fundraising leaders should learn from the past but look to the future.”

It’s a quality that is often overlooked in a sector that is obsessed with innovation and the ‘next big thing.’ But to be quite honest, having studied history at university, I’m rather partial to looking at what has happened previously – dissecting it, examining the contents and then reshaping it into something new.

So, it’ll be no surprise to you that this attitude is what steers Great Fundraising. It is a way of thinking that is supported by a process of continuous learning and application of the scientific method – hypothesis, test, measure, learn.

But I want to throw something else into the mix… belief.

Great Fundraising is powered by belief

Each time we learn from the past our belief grows. And it is this belief that drives Great Fundraising and allows our clients to achieve transformational fundraising growth.

I am lucky to receive news of phenomenal results and initiatives that have been funded to bring us one step closer to a better world. These stories, from the non-profits we support, continue to inspire. Every day I am motivated by the belief that this works.

And I’ll let you into a little secret… belief is everything.

A stroll down memory lane

My unwavering belief in Great Fundraising comes from that fact that I know that it works. And it is not just through our clients but lived experience, in other words – I have done it!

In the spirit of ‘learning from the past’, I wanted to share my story with you…

Almost 12 years ago, as the Appeals Manager at WSPA UK* I became the first ever client of a new approach to fundraising. It was inspirational, emotional and transformative.

The results were staggering. On our first appeal income increased 235%. Attrition went down. Our supporters were more engaged. But most importantly, our organisation was united behind its fundraising ambition.

For too long WSPA UK had been on the rocky road of compromise. It came to a head when we received the latest lacklustre appeal creative. We were appalled. It didn’t represent the project that we loved. We demanded a meeting with our agency to discuss what had gone wrong.

As then Creative Director, Alan Clayton insisted that we bring our senior team.

Alan asked each of us to tell the story of our favourite project. The CEO talked about a project helping cats in Cyprus that had been fed glass, a Director spoke about saving bears from cruelty. I relayed the story of an awe-inspiring man who travelled hundreds of miles to rescue donkeys in need. They were not our priority programmes, they didn’t necessarily fit with our strategy but they connected us to the cause.

A new creative direction

From these stories we created our big idea – a tone of voice that had the supporter at the heart of everything we did. We called it We Sell Powerful Anger.

“Telling stories that make an emotional outlet, in this case anger (or outrage) at the suffering of animals, and giving the supporter the power to help that animal, and an outlet for their emotion, by supporting WSPA.”

It was simple but not easy. Some staff were outraged themselves. Others insisted it didn’t fit with the brand. But we knew that it aligned with our supporter’s values and so we did not compromise. We applied this to all of our communications going forward.

Three days later we launched the appeal. The response rate increased by 61%. The average income growth by 72%. We had thousands of letters of support to pass on to the project staff. And our team was on fire!

We were propelled to achieve and we were eager for more.

The impact could be felt for the next five years. Here are just a few of the results:

  • Our appeals programme achieved an average donation growth of 42% and the response rate was up by 50% - as part of an intensive ‘test and learn’ programme.

  • Our communications met the needs of our donors and the propositions were much more compelling.

  • Our creative was syndicated to other regional offices.

  • We established an award-winning stewardship programme.

  • We went on to successfully apply these principles to other income streams.

We could not have done this without the uncompromising leadership and engagement of our senior staff. After the initial inspiration they kept us motivated so we became a high-performing team who was given the belief that we could achieve more. In fact, we became desperate for it.

*WSPA UK rebranded in 2013 and is now named World Animal Protection.

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