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You are the audience for this article
If you work in fundraising. If you brief creatives to design and write appeals for your organisation, or make fundraising materials yourself. If you sign off appeals at any level. Then this article is written for you. You are the audience. But here’s the thing. The fundraising appeal you are briefing/writing/signing off almost certainly isn’t intended for you. You are not NOT the audience. In every creative brief template there will always be a section, usually early on, called ‘Target Audience’. This vital part of a brief is often neglected and not given the attention it deserves. Be honest – have you ever copied and pasted it from a previous brief? Has it simply become part of the furniture of your brief template and not been updated for years? Has it grown into an incomprehensible treatise of contradictory demographics and data-markers? Have you ever even read it? And yet, understanding your audience – knowing who you are talking to – is the key to creating effective fundraising communications. Once you know who it is you are talking to, then you know how best to ask them for a donation. I was recently briefed by the RHASS to produce an emergency appeal to save the Royal Highland Agricultural Show. 1. I’m not Scottish. 2. I’m not a farmer. 3. I’ve never even been to the Royal Highland Show. 4. I know nothing about the Show except its name. So where did I start to consider how to develop creative for an audience that had never been asked for a donation before? With the audience. I had to understand who I was talking to, and get to grips with what the Show means to them. When I started to understand the audience, I started to realise that the Royal Highland Agricultural Show isn’t really about animals – although you’d be forgiven for thinking that based on the livestock in the show ring. Instead, it’s about the community. Scottish farmers and rural workers live in remote, isolated landscapes. The Show is, in many ways, a gathering of the clans. It’s the place to reunite with old friends, make new ones, compete against rivals (in a good way of course) – it’s even a place where romance often blooms. The Show is about 200 years of family heritage and Scottish tradition. This audience love their animals, sure. But they love the show as the meeting place where they can pass on the baton of agricultural heritage to future generations. It’s an unmissable and integral part of the farming calendar. This year the show couldn’t go ahead. And the loss of revenue poses a serious threat to the show’s future. As soon as you understand the audience, you know how to connect with their passion. The Royal Highland Show isn’t just a place to bring your cow or sheep. It isn’t just a shindig. This Show is part of the DNA of Scottish rural life. That’s why the ‘SAVE YOUR SHOW’ appeal, RHASS first ever appeal, has already raised over 250k in less than a month. Who is your audience? Next time you write a brief, don’t copy and paste or skip over the ‘Target Audience’ section. Go on, challenge yourself. Delete what’s there and write it afresh. Imagine the audience as a person sat in front of you. How would you talk to them? What are their motivations? What are their interests? How do they connect to your cause? What do they care about? Answer these questions and you can start to uncover how to tell your story in a way that appeals to them as an individual. You can mine the details that will resonate. Ultimately, you can motivate them to donate. After all, they are the audience. Not you.
Belief is EVERYTHING
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.
Developing a Philanthropic Orientation
Philanthropic orientation is a strategic orientation highly receptive to, and welcoming of, a variety of philanthropic sources of income. Importantly it is respectful of the nature of philanthropy and the role that all might play in developing it. But why should it matter to you? “An organisation’s strategic orientation is important because it shapes the strategy it will implement to create the behaviours necessary to sustain or enhance its overall performance.” (Gatignon and Xuereb 1997; Slater et al. 2006). For a non-profit organisation that performance is its ability to raise money to pursue the mission. That means fundraising. Therefore, a philanthropic orientation is vital for Great Fundraising – the ability to achieve substantial income growth – to flourish. The role of philanthropy As a concept, philanthropy focuses on love for others or love for mankind. So, if that is what philanthropy is, what would it mean for an organisation to be oriented towards philanthropy and thus appreciate philanthropy as critical for its future survival and success? Or, its ability to become a Great Fundraising organisation. A qualitative study led by Professor Adrian Sargeant, identified three key factors associated with a philanthropic orientation that emerged from interviews with senior fundraising practitioners in Australia. These were found to be: Donor orientation Donor orientation was seen as a high-level focus on donor (or supporter) needs. Rather than regard donors as a “piggy-bank” they are regarded as individuals with a discrete set of needs that the organisation should respond to and nourish. In a philanthropic culture, the organisation as a whole cares quite genuinely about the needs of its donors and the satisfaction of those needs is considered of equal importance to the satisfaction of the needs of the beneficiary. “If you’re truly serious about growth it isn’t optional. Fundamentally you have to understand the needs of your supporters and build all that you do around delivering that. But more than just the fundraisers doing that – its everyone’s responsibility. Just takes a while for them to get it.” Senior Fundraising Leader, Australia. Embedding philanthropy at the heart of an organisation For a philanthropic orientation to be adopted, the organisation has to consciously reflect on the nature of philanthropy and how the organisation as a whole will respond to and nurture it. The development of philanthropy cannot be something that is the sole responsibility of the fundraising team, everyone (including members of the Board or governing body) must see it as their responsibility. Everyone should be offered training in the basics and everyone should have fundraising (or at least supporting fundraising) in their job descriptions. “Fundraising is routinely a part of induction for new members of staff. It isn’t that we expect everyone to ‘do’ the fundraising, it’s more that we want them to appreciate how it works and to be able to articulate and be proud of the case for support.” It was interesting to note that many Australian leaders took such trouble to integrate fundraising into the organisation that they found themselves with more relationships or “bridges” between functions than other members of the organisational leadership team. This created in itself an opportunity to add value for peers because they could often forge connections that no-one else could. This was seen as important because it reinforced the non-monetary value that fundraising could offer and helped with further embedding it into the organisation as a whole. Celebration of shared philanthropic successes A further component of philanthropic orientation is the level of pride that the organisation develops in respect of its income generation and those who facilitate that to happen. Many of those interviewed noted the pride that their organisation had in its service provision and the leaders and frontline service staff who were delivering their outcomes. What appeared to mark out a higher degree of philanthropic orientation was the extent to which the organisation was similarly proud of its ability to attract philanthropy and meet the needs of and steward relationships with, its supporters. Such pride arose out of a fundamental understanding that money and mission should be seen as one and the same thing. Oriented for fundraising success The overlap of these three factors and the requirements for Great Fundraising, as documented in the Great Fundraising Report, are abundantly clear. Both call for a culture where the whole organisation is focused and energised behind fundraising – and ideally, its growth. And both recognise the importance of the donor and meeting their needs as paramount to achieving this. Therefore, developing a philanthropic orientation is clearly one where Great Fundraising can thrive – and that in itself would be reason to celebrate.
Nailing the fundraising problem before the idea will raise more money.
Not long ago I had the privilege of being part of a creative session that led to one of the most successful fundraising campaigns in the UK in recent years. Here’s why it was so successful. If you want your creative to raise a lot more money, there’s one very simple thing you must do: Nail the problem. But here’s a catch – it’s really, really hard. Without the right problem, all the bright ideas and clever creative in the world will be just that – clever. And clever won’t raise money. What is creativity? To understand how powerful creative works, it helps to understand what creativity is. While many argue that the key to creativity is ‘divergent thinking’ (the ability to come up with lots of solutions to a problem); the key to brilliant fundraising creative is nailing the right problem. “Creativity may have to do less with solving problems than with finding the right problems to solve.” (Ghaemi, Nassir. A First-Rate Madness, p. 25). Therefore, our job as fundraising creatives is to focus on the problem for as long as possible, until we find the right one. As simple as it sounds, it’s often very difficult, because humans are hard-wired to solve problems. “Curiosity and the urge to solve problems are the emotional hallmarks of our species (…)” (Sagan, Carl. The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, p. 81). That means that we must suppress one of our core urges in order to develop the best possible fundraising creative. How the RNLI re-launched In 2019 the RNLI chose to re-launch their fundraising. They could easily have launched a we’re short of money appeal, like so many others. However, that’s only a short-term fix and the RNLI needed a long-term, sustainable and robust solution. To find that long-term solution, the brilliant fundraising team at the RNLI came to a two-day co-creation session where the goal was to nail the idea for their upcoming appeal. But to nail the idea, we first had to spend a significant chunk of time focussing on the problem. Of the 16 hours spent in that co-creative space, we spent 14 hours on finding the problem. A measly two hours was spent on the ideas. Because when you’ve nailed the problem, everything else flows so easily. Finding the right problem As an organisation you might have a plethora of problems that you’re trying to solve, but that’s far from enough. You need to find the right one. The right problem must be unique to your organisation. To get there, start off with as many problems as possible, figure out what problems you love solving, what problems you can become the best at solving and what would raise the most money. Sometimes it can help to break down a problem into chunks. That’s exactly what the RNLI did. After 14 gruelling hours, the team at the RNLI had expressed their most important – and unique – problems: · More people than ever need our help · Too many are still dying · And we don’t have enough money to rescue them all In other words, the RNLI were facing the perfect storm. Results The results speak for themselves: an immediate 138% increase in special appeals income.
Sometimes you win
Fundraising can feel like a battle. That’s because it is. I do not mean ‘battle’ as in some macho, populist faux-war-leader sense, but in the sense of ‘keep battling on’ … the relentless grind of solving problem after problem and overcoming fear and criticism in the expectation of getting a big result at the end of our labours. The battles of my fundraising career have been long. Apartheid, AIDS, famine, disease and even politics (which is never ending.) And, yes, COVID-19. When I, and the people I have been privileged to work with over the years, occasionally take the time to reflect, we realise that some of these long battles have been won or at least that massive progress has been made. Cancer survival rates are hyperbolically better than in the 1980s, apartheid is over and they have almost closed the last of those desperate orphanages in Romania. McDonald’s banned cruelly sourced meat. Much work was needed to win the ‘wars’ in all those cases, but sometimes the fundraiser does get to win a battle. Fundraising is founded in crisis and it flourishes in crisis. This is what we are for. The money we raise may fund organisation overheads and budget deficits, but the only reason we exist at all is to solve problems. Big problems. As quickly as possible. Culturally, we are battlers and our biggest responsibility is … … to help donors to win. It is clear how Great Fundraising leaders do this: In his seminal book on leadership, ‘A First-Rate Madness’, Nassir Ghaemi identified that the cool, rational leader excels in times of stability, predictability – or ‘peace-time’ if you allow the analogy. He also identified that the crisis leader excels at empathy, direct pragmatism and the ability to make quick, seemingly unreasonable decisions. Let’s call it emotional leadership. It’s no surprise therefore that professor Adrian Sargeant identified in the original Great Fundraising Report that emotional leadership is the key starting point for growth in fundraising revenue. So it was a given that when Professor Sargeant undertook a deep dive on branding and communications he found that donors respond to emotional leadership, too. Over the last six months or so I have seen the best and worst of emotional leadership. I have seen CEOs procrastinate and boards bottle it. I have also seen organisations across the globe such as: RNLI Lifeboats in the UK, show the most authentic and inspiring empathy with their donors on a national scale. The feel good and determination across the country was palpable and income rocketed. Lutheran World Relief in the USA accelerate a fundraising re-launch into the crisis rather than back off. They have increased their revenue by 40% in just six months. Trócaire in Ireland recover then increase their income through dramatic, fast, decisive leadership decisions from the fundraising team. Børns Vilkår in Denmark take the opportunity to re-focus, re-fresh and re-launch an already awesome fundraising programme – with the CEO leading the charge. Royal Flying Doctors Service in Melbourne, Australia, persevere and drive income ever upwards through the strictest of lock-downs. There are too many success stories to give credit to every fundraising leader here, but they all have one thing in common: emotional leadership. They are analytical, data-driven, financially astute, structurally aware and morally deep. But they also have intuition for people – what do staff, volunteers, board and donors need? The need to overcome fears and uncertainties. These are emotions. One cannot fight an emotional problem with a rational solution. Only confident, assertive and inspiring leadership keeps people going through the fear and drives momentum and results. If your leadership team have all come from the rational parts of the organisation, perhaps it’s time for fundraising to add that emotional excellence to the leadership team. If it’s already there, just keep battling on. Sometimes you win. It’s important, it’s hard and it feels great afterwards. Briefly. Until the next battle starts. We will win against COVID-19. Then we will take on whatever 2021 and beyond has to throw at us. Keep battling on, and occasionally help our donors win. That’s what fundraisers do.
Long-term growth out of a crisis
Nine months since Covid-19 brought the world to its knees and many nonprofits are still in crisis mode. Exhausted, frazzled, and out of the initial adrenalin that launched a thousand emergency appeals, many organizations still face an uncertain future. But as famously quoted by John F. Kennedy, “When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” And for nonprofits, there may NEVER be another opportunity like this one to transform your fundraising culture for the better. Survive or thrive The leadership behaviors that win the day now will determine which organizations merely survive and which thrive for years to come, powered by a committed team, passionate supporters and accelerated fundraising growth. There will no doubt be some organizations who will sadly have to close their doors. The most vulnerable of these will have cut back their fundraising spend the moment the health crisis broke out. These will be few and far between; as history suggests we will see many mergers or bailouts from other organizations with similar missions. Most non-profits — about 2 in 3 — will continue to fundraise but with a ‘business-as-usual’ mindset. They’ll proceed cautiously so as not to offend anyone. They’ll send an emergency appeal here and there that will bring in some cashflow, but few new donors and supporters. They will achieve a gradual recovery in the short term, followed by a longer term of flat or declining revenue. According to research carried out by Philanthropy & Fundraising International since the Great Recession of 2008, 1 in 10 will emerge from Covid-19 with a renewed passion and commitment to their cause both internally and externally, expanding their donor and supporter base often on a massive scale. This could be your organization. But how? Focus, energy and action What I love about PFI’s work, drawing on Professor Adrian Sargeant’s research and working with hundreds of organizations around the world, shows us that Great Fundraising organizations are the ones that know how to put long-term priorities into sharp focus. They apply crisp decision-making and focus the organization to create energy and momentum that will transform the fundraising culture for the long-term. My colleague Alan Clayton puts it succinctly in a seminar he recently delivered about creating the culture bounce back at this difficult time: “The very best fundraising leaders understand that in times of crisis, there is not only an opportunity in the marketplace, there is also an opportunity internally. There might never be a better time to improve the quality of the organization’s fundraising while making fundraising efforts better-embraced by the entire organization for years to come.”
Alan Clayton, Philanthropy & Fundraising International Leading out of a crisis Here are a few things that the truly great fundraising organizations have been doing for the past several months — and it’s not too late for you to follow suit: 1. Get through the emotional barrier of worrying about money.
Believe in yourselves and believe in your donors and supporters. Together, you can do this. 2. Appoint a team of experts, fundraisers and money people.
Give them the authority to create the ideas, make the decisions, then let them do it. 3. Move quickly.
COVID-19 will be here for a long time. People won’t stop giving but the opportunity to turn things around internally and transform fundraising exponentially will be relatively short. 4. Have the right people leading the fundraising function.
Leaders that understand the importance of uniting and aligning the whole organization behind the fundraising drive chain. 5. Reach out to your donors to meet their needs.
Put yourselves in their shoes. Ask how they are? Right now people need all they can to help them feel good. And donating to something they believe in will do just that. Done well they will remember you as we emerge from this crisis. Those that understand fundraising will get this. This week the UK charity RNLI Lifeboats shared their story at the IFC (International Fundraising Congress) of how, with upfront investment in fundraising, firing up the internal culture, and focusing their fundraising communications, they were well prepared for the Covid-19 storm that has hit. The results speak for themselves. If this was easy, everybody would be doing it. This could lead to some of the hardest decisions an organization ever has to make. Ensuring underlying fundraising resilience could mean the choice between layoffs, funding a beloved project now or investing in fundraising for the long term. When it is appropriate, this is the most difficult leadership decision there is, which is why it takes great leaders to make it. You can learn from the lessons of the past to help your organization build a better future. To learn more about the behaviors of the greatest fundraising organizations around the world, please visit philanthropyfundraising.com, or leave a comment. And if you need a bit of help, we are here for you.
The value of culture
Before I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was a salesperson. I sold shoes. I sold ski trip packages. I sold whitegoods. I was good at it. And I was good at it because I was working in a customer-centric culture. I learnt the golden rule in sales, that is, to sell with the same honesty, integrity, understanding, empathy and thoughtfulness that you would like someone else to use in selling to you. Finding the world of fundraising mid-career saw me move on from classic sales but not from the basic tenant of being customer centric. In the fundraising world, it means meeting the needs of donors. It gets talked about a lot in our industry. But if anything, the global pandemic has shown me how it is not actually a prioritised bedrock of many fundraising programs. Culture crisis When Covid-19 hit it became obvious that the decisions non-profits made at that moment would set the tone for their fundraising through, what has turned out to be, an enduring crisis. Some organisations were able to act quickly and focus on the business of fundraising. Others either hoped that relying on the strategy in place, business as usual, would work or even worse withdrew, assumed donors wouldn’t or couldn’t help and in some cases stopped fundraising altogether. The difference between the two? Those whose fundraising is still thriving have a culture that supports a clear understanding of, and respect for, donors. They knew the need to give is greater in a crisis, so they kept their donors involved and busy. In times of crisis, when our strategy is no longer relevant or needs to adjust, quickly, those without a strong culture falter. Led by fear Fear permeated the sector. Fear of the unknown. Fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear that donors were compromised and not in a position to help. Fear that our services could not be delivered. Fear that we may not be able to adapt to continue our good work. Many charitable organisations shied away from communicating with their donors. Those fundraisers who did communicate with their supporters got bogged down in internal sign-off procedures and endless amendments to messaging. A 12 day approval timeline for an email, once seen as acceptable, became obviously outdated practice and not useful. So, we need to ask: How were some organisations able to be confident about their fundraising and meet the needs of their donors in the face of this crisis and others were not? How were some organisation able to be more focused and energised in their fundraising than others? How were some organisations able to turn the crisis into a growth opportunity? The quality of the culture that supports fundraising was the great divide between the Great Fundraising organisations and the rest. The culture of Great Fundraising What was the difference their culture made, and still makes? Their leadership gets fundraising and they have the right people leading. They know where they are heading, they have clear ambition. And they trust those they have employed to lead their fundraising. For Aberlour, a Scottish Children’s charity, the Covid-19 pandemic could have been a real disaster for their fundraising. Fortunately, they had invested in fundraising training for the Senior Leadership team and had appointed an experienced fundraising leader. In the face of the crisis they had an internal culture that trusted fundraising and facilitated one of the fastest crisis pivots we’ve seen – six hours from appeal inception to launch! “Having trust gives you the ability to work at pace and that is what this process, starting with PFI, has helped achieve. It has given the team a sense of confidence and enhanced our credibility… It has raised our profile externally and, most importantly, enabled us to raise more funds…”
Pippa Johnston, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Aberlour. Aberlour is a great example of the fundraisers position within the organisation, relative to other departments and roles being elevated to important. Their work is questioned less often, their professionalism, experience and expertise are respected. This sees them have increased motivation, confidence and productivity. 2. Their leadership gets fundraising and they take confident, decisive action. Consensus seeking compromises plague our industry. A lack of agility plagues our industry. 3. Their donors are seen as part of their organisations culture too. All too often the concept, and power, of meeting donor needs often remains just that, a concept. But not for Great Fundraising leaders. Approaching donors with honesty, integrity, understanding, empathy and thoughtfulness requires us to see them as important stakeholders. Listening, understanding and adapting to their needs reaps the rewards of loyalty as demonstrated by the Australia’s Flying Doctors; “I just got off the phone today to some major (and not-so-major) donors, just asking them how they were, how is life through Covid-19 – not asking them for money – so they all feel like they are a part of us and are on the journey with us.” Royal Flying Doctor Service Those who could meet donor’s needs were in organisations where their culture meant donor’s needs were understood, seen as important (not more important than the needs of beneficiaries but equal) and time, effort and consideration were given to understanding and meeting them. So, what is culture worth? For organisations wanting to be truly great at fundraising, it’s gold. When your whole organisation buys in to your fundraising ambition and understands the fundraising function and its importance to the mission, they will be able to build for the long-term. And in times of crisis, they won’t lose this momentum.
One lesson about fundraising culture that I learnt as a charity CEO
Being a charity CEO is no walk in the park. Especially when it comes to creating a fundraising culture. Most days it feels less like ‘wearing many hats’ and more like riding a unicycle on a tight rope while juggling torches. And balancing spinning plates on your forehead. As CEO of a small charity, my job was to find that perfect balance – to raise as much money as possible for the cause, while spending as little as possible on raising that money, or fundraising. To be pulled in two very different directions. Sound familiar? What makes it worse, it doesn’t work. Fundraising is an investment-driven business. And this means you won’t raise a lot of money if you don’t spend some money at the start. It’s a gamble. Not literally, but fundraising does involve a level of risk. And there lies the problem. Many charities and most Boards are risk-averse; they adopt a very conservative approach to financial management. They focus on managing the organisation and the cashflow, rather than looking at the long-term possibilities. If they are open to investing in fundraising at all, they expect the return to come back within the year. “Oh, and if it could all be unrestricted, that’d be just swell, thank you…” So, how do you make the case for investing in fundraising? You need to make them look at the future. And dream of what can be achieved. Go back to your Why. WHY was the organisation founded in the first place? No charity was ever founded on the premise that they would aim to improve the lives of 17% of people in need, and increment this by 2% a year. Those kinds of statements have never made anyone get out of bed in the morning. They don’t make talented and passionate staff stick around for very long. And most importantly, they rarely make a donor feel compelled to make a gift. Charities and non-profit organisations exist to solve a problem. To eradicate a disease, to end homelessness, to clean an ocean. Ask the question: “Do you want a bit more money now or a lot more money down the road? Do you want to help save a few more lives now, or save many more lives in three, five, even 10 years?” The cause DEMANDS that you think about all the lives that need saving. It DEMANDS bold investments and tough decisions today so that the problem your charity seeks to solve will indeed one day, be eradicated. Ask yourself: “Is it better to spend £100K on your project and safely demonstrate that you kept your overhead under 20% or to spend £100 million on your cause, radically making the world better, because at some point you made the decision to invest in fundraising?” Fundraising investment planning involves looking forward, not back Accountability is what drives the fundraising culture in most non-profits. This involves accounting for the past in order to demonstrate good stewardship of funds and thereby get more money in the future. Whilst this may be good for institutional fundraising, public fundraising requires us to draw a picture of what is going to happen in the future, in order to gain the necessary investment today. Great Fundraising Organisations are future-focused. Their financial analysis and planning is based on learning from the past, yes, but with an absolute focus on the future and their ability to adapt as the future changes. Their toolbox includes all your usual tools and indicators for financial management (balance sheet, cashflow analysis, cost per acquisition, etc.) but also some strong predictive tools, such as: · investment modelling · testing · forecasting · if/then budgeting · predictive key performance indicators (KPI’s) · cost/profit analysis · learnings reporting. These predictive tools are not there to manage cash flow but to deliver growth. Developed by the fundraising team, they are understood throughout the organisation with processes and systems set to deliver them. The importance of Lifetime Value While most non-profits will focus on keeping their costs (overhead) down, the Great ones focus on measuring and reporting on fundraising KPI’s. This is one metric I like in particular: Lifetime Value of their donors divided by Cost per Acquisition LTV / CPA That’s all the donations a donor will give during their lifetime (and beyond in the case of legacies) divided by the cost to solicit the initial gift from that donor. What this means is that you shouldn’t try to keep your Cost Per Acquisition down at all costs. Because Lifetime Value matters in this equation. Maybe it’s worth spending a bit more money to attract more loyal donors who will give you more money and for longer? Meeting the needs of our donors When I first started as a fundraiser for Bread and Water for Africa in France, we relied heavily on premiums to recruit new donors. This seemed to work in the short term. The response rate on cold acquisition was 4.75%! But attrition rates were very high. The charity was literally leaking donors. They’d make a first gift and then never give again to subsequent appeals. We just spent our time and money recruiting donors over and over and then they would seep through our fingers. We therefore changed the strategy to improve the quality of the messages (both for warm and cold campaigns) and make sure donors felt rewarded and appreciated. The results: the cost per acquisition went up. BUT the average gift went up as well. People started signing up for Direct Debit, and before long we started receiving our first legacies. By slightly increasing our CPA – and overhauling our communications – we exponentially raised our LTV. The result? Cash flow took a dip in the first year, but that strategy paid off in the long run with a much better return on investment at year five. That required courage from the Board and the leadership team. Focusing on growth So, when I became the CEO of Bread and Water for Africa UK, I knew exactly how I would approach fundraising, and therefore influence a shift in the fundraising culture. And that was to focus on lifetime value as the key metric to deliver long-term, sustainable growth. This sounds simple. But remember those spinning plates? The tightrope? The unicycle? A change in mindset of this scale requires the whole organisation to be focused and energised behind fundraising growth. And this shift in fundraising culture needs to be led from the very top – the CEO and the Board of Trustees. And no one ever said that simple was easy.
How to make a strong business case for fundraising investment to your board
One of the most difficult things to do for many a CEO or Director of Fundraising is convince your Board and the rest of the organisation to ‘buy into’ a fundraising mindset – something that’s critical for your organisation to grow. More specifically, how do you convince your board to go along with, and crucially, sign off on bold but calculated fundraising investment? First, as we showed with developing a fundraising culture, you need to make them look at the future and dream of what can be achieved. You need to fire them up and help them reconnect with the fundamental reason the charity was founded in the first place. The Why. Once your board have operated that shift and are bought into the principle, give them the data and numbers they need to make the right decisions. Most likely, your treasurer is well versed in financial planning. However, their commercial/for-profit background doesn’t mean they understand how fundraising investment works. So, you need to show them: · Build up your financial knowledge and create a toolkit you can present to them. Make sure you use predictive KPIs as much as impact KPIs. · Include investment modelling. Show them different scenarios of returns over the middle or long term based on different levels of fundraising investment and different performance. · Use income forecasting. This way you can re-project results based on “real time” performance, giving your board up-to-date progress reports based on the initial plan. · Pre-agree on certain predictive KPIs before the next stage, so that you don’t need to go back to them for another decision (which could take months). Be clear on knowing that if you achieve X, you can move on to Y immediately. Ideally, give them only scenarios that you know you can live with. And the benefit is that you’ll be giving them a sense of control and the ability to exercise their legal duty of oversight, while assisting their decision-making in your favour. After all, someone has got to implement that plan afterwards and that’s going to be you. Get your board trained so they feel confident with fundraising investment. Finally, make sure your Board gets training in fundraising. Often, Board of Trustees are composed of people with vast experience in business and the commercial/for profit sector. But just because they understand business, doesn’t mean they understand fundraising. However, once it is explained to them, they WILL GET IT. Scott Chapman did this brilliantly as the CEO of Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in Victoria, Australia. An internal restructure meant that the subsidiary no longer delivered so many flying services and effectively evolved as a fundraising conduit for its sister RFDS across Australia. For 10 years they maintained a small, static fundraising programme. When Scott became the CEO he had to rebuild the business and services – but he soon realised that meant more vigorous fundraising. His first hurdle was to convince his Board of the opportunities for fundraising growth. “What I was trying to do was to get the Board to understand that fundraising is not the bit that is leftover. What I wanted them to do is understand that we are also in the business of fundraising.” Scott Chapman, CEO, Royal Flying Doctors Service – Victoria section. Having persuaded his Board that there was more to learn about fundraising, Scott arranged training for the entire staff and trustees, using emotional stories to reconnect them with their purpose and the cause and get excited about the opportunities that more income could bring. As Scott says; “It really resonated with the Board, coming from a world of business and number crunching. It was a shift in their thinking…an investment opportunity – and they have thought about fundraising in that light ever since. It resulted in the Chair standing up at the end of the day and stating an audacious fundraising goal because he was so inspired!” Training the Board in fundraising led to a complete overhaul of the organisation’s culture, but also its communications and processes. They now see themselves as three businesses: 1. A patient transport business 2. A primary health delivery business 3. And crucially… a fundraising business. Up until then they hadn’t been able to get the Board to invest in fundraising, they were always investing what fundraising made into services. At that point they were able to secure a substantial figure over a five-year programme specifically for fundraising outcomes. With their increased budget, the fundraising team thoroughly reviewed donor recruitment and the donor journey. Over this time the income of RFDS Victoria increased 145% to almost $50 million helping them reach more patients and provide more services to more people in Victoria. Once your board understands what needs to happen, things will start to change. Once your Board understands: 1. the opportunities that more income would bring and what that means for the cause; 2. how fundraising investment works, and 3. the numbers, indicators and different budget scenarios, …they will understand and respect the fundraising functions within the organisation and ultimately give them the support and authority to really drive fundraising growth with focus and at pace. This is particularly important during a crisis – i.e. right now! – when organisations need to react quickly, be nimble and agile, and adapt to rapidly changing situations. This could literally mean life or death for a charity. It is too important to overlook. Your cause and your beneficiaries demand it. Scott Chapman attended the Great Fundraising Masterclass in October 2015. You can join me for the next Masterclass on 8th March.
The Energy of Fundraising
Energy. Right now, I’m sure many of us are struggling to maintain it. Yet one of the most important factors I’ve noticed when fundraising really flies is the energy that’s behind it. That internal energy within an organisation and its staff, along with the focus that comes with it, is critical to Great Fundraising. I’m sure you will have felt it at some point. If you’ve chosen fundraising as a career and stuck at it. It’s when fundraising just flows. When we are prepared to push that bit further. It’s those periods we look back on with huge satisfaction, even if at the time it was hard work and felt like nose to the grindstone. Right now, organisations need their fundraisers to be at their best, so they are able to adapt and make quick decisions, which in turn helps fuel that internal energy even more. Energy in action Let me share a story that illustrates this energy at work during this challenging time. The Irish Charity, Trōcaire, was faced with a huge problem when Covid-19 broke last Easter. Their Lent appeal, their biggest campaign of the year, needed a complete rethink. They had already sent a home collection box to tens of thousands of Irish homes. National lockdown meant households could hand their box to the schools and churches who collect them on Trōcaire's behalf. It could have devastated their income. Then the fundraising team sprang into action. They immediately rewrote all their communications to supporters and the Irish public. They changed which media to use. They reallocated their budget to help achieve the same objectives. Within days the campaign messaging was adapted advising supporters either to donate directly to Trōcaire instead of handing in their box or hold onto their box for now. Next, they quickly switched their investment to other media, such as door drops, extra mailings, and lots of videos to share on social media. Instead of their planned door-to-door programme they switched to direct response television advertising. With changing behaviours by the population, forced by lockdown, they were finding media that didn’t usually perform were getting them phenomenal results. As a result they received €4.5 million in direct donations sent in for the Lent Campaign – that’s double what they would usually receive. Finally, they came up with innovative ways of obtaining the collecting boxes as the lockdown eased and, importantly, still enable supporters to be socially distant. Some priests opened their homes to accept lent boxes, or even stood outside the post office. One even set up a drive-thru outside a church so people could drive up and hand back their box. Word was spread to congregations on social media or even via online mass. Trōcaire made sure this was all supported with regional press and a radio campaign. During this time you could sense the energy about their entire Lent campaign despite the added challenges and obstacles that needed to be overcome. What kills great fundraising? Conversely, it’s the lack of energy that saps fundraising. Where internal blockages slows the momentum down and drains energy. Every decision you need to ask for permission. It kills Great Fundraising. One of the startling conclusions from the research by Professor Adrian Sargent and Professor Jen Shang, was the biggest block to fundraising taking off was not external factors (can you think of one right now?!). It was internal conflict. How do you avoid this? It’s simple (although do not confuse simple with easy). You educate the non-fundraisers about what behaviours the fundraisers need from the rest of the organisation to be at their best. It doesn’t take much in the scheme of an overall fundraising strategy. But it needs advanced thinking along with investment of time and leadership. And that’s exactly what Trōcaire had done. When the crisis hit they were ready to respond. Gwen Dempsey, on reflecting on how they managed to adapt their fundraising campaign so quickly, had this to say; “We’d built a lot of credibility up over recent years… we secured board investment to engage in all aspects of emotional storytelling… and in changing the way we work”. Gwen Dempsey, Director of Fundraising and Marketing. It meant when faced with a crisis fundraising they could just crack on. If that up-front investment has not been done you will find it harder to create that energy, which is key to fundraising success, when problems hit you square on. One thing we can be sure of there will be more uncertainty ahead. So, my question for you is this: "Are your fundraisers able to be nimble and adapt, move quickly and have that internal energy which will lead to the fundraising success you will undoubtedly need when the next problem strikes?" If not, prepare the ground now, so they will be.
It’s all in the name
Today CLIC Sargent changed their name to Young Lives vs Cancer. No fanfare, no bells and whistles. As they say themselves… “New name. Same purpose, same passion, same pride.” They even look the same. So why have they done it and why will this rebrand not only succeed but be welcomed by their community? Because fundraising is at the heart. Young Lives vs Cancer says: “Our research has shown that changing our name will mean we can reach more people who need us, and vitally, raise more money to support them.” This isn’t about them – the organisation – raising awareness and stoking their own egos. This is about helping young people with cancer. It’s achieving their mission. And the charity felt that their name was holding them back. Both from reaching people AND having the funds to actually support them. “Research showed us that adopting the name Young Lives vs Cancer would increase the amount of people who understood what the charity does and would donate or accept support from our services.” Even the most cynical person couldn’t argue with that and here is why. Research – Great Fundraising and Brands: Help or Hindrance? – by Professor Adrian Sargeant and Harriet Day, Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy shows that: “A distinctive personality is essential to drive fundraising growth.” A distinct brand personality is one that is focused and energised, but also one that clearly differentiates the organisation from everyone else. In other words, the brand. The academic team were able to identify with a great deal of certainty, four key differentiators that fundraising can use to define this personality: Purpose: The Why of the organisation. Proposition: What is in it for the donor? What problem can the donor solve and what direct benefits can we give them. Personality: Tone of voice – the words, the images, the colour palette, etc. used by the organisation to create a distinctiveness. Passion: The emotions and the stories. CLIC Sargent realised that they did not have a distinct brand personality to drive fundraising. The big headline being: If they carry on with the name they will not get the funds needed to support everyone who needs them – it doesn’t communicate the purpose, speak to their donors or reflect their personality. And so, they stripped everything back, looked at their core and became Young Lives vs Cancer. And I for one applaud them. It is a brilliant move and I wish them every success. If you want to find out more about the awesome repositioning of CLIC Sargent to Young Lives vs Cancer you can find out more here: Our name change: frequently asked questions - Young Lives vs Cancer You can download the full branding report from the PFNA website.
The truth well told
Every charity or NGO was born out of a burning desire to change something in our society. To right a wrong, save lives or to give people a better life. No one ever founded an organisation and said, ‘we aim to reduce this problem by 2% a year’. They all said, ‘something needs to be done now!’. When asked about what set great fundraising organisations apart from the rest, Professor Adrian Sargeant from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and co-author of the Great Fundraising Report, said; ‘They re-connect with the vision, belief and passion which created the organisation in the first place.’ This can mean only one thing: Emotion. When an organisation gets emotionally united, magic can happen. When it does, fundraising can fly and the organisation can achieve growth that can transform their ability to bring about change and, in some cases, completely solve the problem they set out to solve. There’s one catch, though: You cannot think emotionally. Read that again; you cannot think emotionally. It’s an oxymoron. Thinking is rational. Emotions are not. Enthusiasm comes from connecting with your cause and why you’re there in the first place. That’s where stories come in. I have seen how storytelling has transformed organisations. Raw emotion connects people with the problem they’re trying to solve. All of a sudden, people find themselves in the emotional space that created the organisation in the first place. The Great Fundraising Organisations didn’t just tell their stories internally. They told the world. And when the world listened, transformational fundraising growth followed. Every organisation I have ever worked with has had powerful stories. Stories that not only could have fundamentally changed their fundraising income, but the behaviour throughout the organisation. Sadly, not all organisations manage to tap into their stories. Quite often it boils down to the misguided notion that they have to ‘protect’ their beneficiaries. This notion not only hampers their ability to transform their fundraising, but it robs people of the opportunity to be part of the solution. Storytelling is often healing. Storytelling is often empowering. Storytelling is always meaningful. The first time I discovered the awesome power of storytelling was when I told my own story, specifically for fundraising. I had told my story many times, but when I realised that my story could transform our impact, I experienced a rush like never before. The Great Fundraising Organisations understand this. They realise that they can maximise their impact on the world, as well as giving people an opportunity to feel really good about themselves. One example that I find utterly inspiring is the children’s hospice Claire House. When they realised that the act of giving was healing the person giving the money, they also unlocked the power of stories. They understood that letting beneficiaries speak wouldn’t just increase income, it would create a connection between the donor and the beneficiaries that would ultimately be healing for both of them. The results speak for themselves.