Thursday, 25 July 2013

What I learned at the IOF national convention and what I’m going to do about it

The Fundraising Collectivists are delighted to welcome guest poster Gary Kernahan, Head of Volunteer Fundraising at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign to our ranks with his first ever blog post! And a cracker it is too.... over to you Gary.

What I learned at the IOF national convention and what I’m going to do about it

I was very pleased to be asked recently to write this my very first blog! Originally I was asked to write about what I learned at the recent Institute of Fundraising (IOF) national convention.  But as several weeks have passed I thought it would be more appropriate to blog about what I’m going to do about what I have learned.

Quite often we attend training events and leave with the best of intentions meaning to implement everything learned back at work.  The reality of the day job, however, can mean those good intentions quickly fade and I was keen for that not to be the case.  So, with a spring in my step following the convention, I quickly went about working on my top 3 learning’s.

So in no particular order here are the top 3 things that I learned at the national convention and have taken back to my day job:

  1. Online fundraising and digital engagement
The list of convention buzz words certainly included digital and multi-channel.  Several sessions covered the topics of online fundraising and digital engagement and what did I take away from them? 

My team and I are all using social media at work and are always encouraging our supporters to fundraise online but have we ever stopped long enough to ask ourselves what does good online fundraising look like?  And have I stopped to ask myself and my organisation how we’d like to interact with our donors online?  No.

Walking away from convention my commitment was to help my team of fundraisers by being able to clearly articulate what good online fundraising looks like and how we would like them to engage and interact with our supporters online (which I think will help us make our communications multi-channel).  This is what I’m doing now and once these questions have been answered we will then assess current usage of our chosen social media platforms and provide support, if required, to plug any gaps.  I’m keen to stress that this isn’t about control (I’m quite relaxed on this point); the focus is on maximising the opportunity. 

I would like my fundraisers to be fundraising coaches helping our supporters raise as much as possible by providing the very best advice and the tools to inspire their personal networks to support.


  1. The post-event supporter experience
I attended a session titled ‘Lessons from Across the Pond: What's making community and event fundraising fly high in the US’ led by Shannon Doolittle (@sldoolittle), a freelance event fundraising strategist based in Seattle. 

Shannon’s talk covered a range of topics but the one that was of most interest to me was the approach that we, fundraisers, take to post-event communications.  Shannon felt that pre-event we do a pretty good job but there is significant room for improvement with approach post-event.  After completing an event our supporters are on a high, rightly proud of their achievement and Shannon argued that we fail to take advantage of this because the fundraiser can be found lying in a darkened room to recover for a few days before moving onto the next event. 


To improve the post-event event experience Shannon introduce a model which she referred to the ‘clock of coolness’.  I’m not overly keen on her name I do like the model and we, at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, will test a version of this in September with the Great North Run.

  1. Strategic planning

One of the things I love about this sector is how open our colleagues are willing to be.  Simon O’Leary and Loretta Bresciani from Cancer Research UK’s Volunteer Fundraising department shared their approach to strategic planning.  The session offered a valuable insight into the detailed thinking and planning that occurs in the UK’s largest charity.

Simon and Loretta took us through their journey in creating their 5 year plan which including environmental analysis, identifying organisational fit, clearly articulating your core business, managing expectations and effectively influencing internally.

A vital part of their plan was the ‘roadmap’ which helped them identify and communicate the inter-dependencies and what the consequences could be if that support wasn’t forthcoming.


A simple but valuable model which I’ll certainly be looking to introduce in my next planning cycle - which scarily starts soon!

So 3 great days at the IOF national convention and 3 key learnings on supporter engagement, strategic planning and online fundraising and digital engagement that I have taken back to help me in my day job.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you attended convention what you thought and what you have taken away.  Please do post your comments or tweet me @garyker.



Gary Kernahan


Gary is Head of Volunteer Fundraising at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.  He is also a member of the Institute of Fundraising’s Scottish executive committee and Chair of the Professional Development Committee.

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