Wednesday, 2 December 2015

A letter that could (have) change(d) the world

Update: 7/12/15 - Oh, I should have been more sceptical...I still believe that there are positives here, but this is not philanthropy in the traditional form at all. A for profit limited liability company (LLC) is not exactly the massive charitable gift we were led to believe it was initially... How this will unfold in the future, who knows, but hopefully many will still be able to benefit from the funds and it will still inspire the rich to give away their fortunes. 


Mark Zuckerberg’s letter has been all over social media, (and the old school kind) for the last 24 hours and it has made me very happy (I'm ignoring any scepticism on this one, I'm an eternal optimist).

Mark Zuckerberg, his wife Priscilla and their baby girl called Max

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Three years on from that OTHER telephone call

Just over 20 years ago I was coming close to the end of my first term at the University of Nottingham, majoring in English and Classics.  The weeks of university life had slid by in a blur of lecture-avoiding friend-making crisp-eating sociability.

Some bits I liked, some bits I didn't.

Life on a campus university seemed kind of lame after growing up in the red brick metropolis of Manchester; the English department seemed all about grammar and post-modernism and people played rugby. Also, Southerners. Lots of Southerners from alien places like Kent and Bedfordshire. Eighteen year old me wondered if I should have gone to Leeds. I didn't know then that some of those Southerners would end up being friends for life.

And despite all the above there was always the Classics department. The wonderful, tatty, eccentric Classics department, presided over with constant welcome by the ever present Adrienne and comprising some of the world's most fabulous academics (who could ever forget Prof. Sommerstein announcing the meaning of rhaphanidosis in clarion tones?) - and a lot of goths.

When finals drew near, I started to experience a sense of panic that I hadn't squeezed everything I could out of this best-days-of-your-life experience. So I stayed on, pursuing my very real love of Ancient Greek drama for another year, working in a way I hadn't for the previous three.

Then I left. London beckoned with its gold-paved streets and tube stop parties. Those university days were quickly forgotten - merely a stepping stone to adult life. Plus, Classics aside, I hadn't been that bothered about Nottingham anyway. After all, guys wore shiny shoes to the indie clubs there. Just not right.

Between then and now I must have moved house about fifteen times. My parents moved house too. If it wasn't for the fact that my chosen career was fundraising - and much of that in the higher education sector - I could well have severed all ties with my alma mater. But professional curiosity stopped me (it's always handy to see what other Development Offices are doing).

I updated my contact details and left it there.

But Nottingham didn't. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Three Years on from THAT Telephone Call

Is it really three years since I wrote about being mentally bludgeoned with Chinese medicine, the plight of the tigers and goddamnit more tigers in what might well be the world's worst fundraising phone call?

Yes, yes it is.

And in that time the fundraising world has spun on its axis and ended up teetering precariously like a dirty dish on the edge of a sink piled high with crockery (alright, I'm looking at my own kitchen right now). 

Well, as it happens it must have been time for an upgrade because a couple of weeks ago I got that phone call again. From the very same charity that REALLY WANTED TO TALK ABOUT TIGERS. A bit of me was impressed by their confidence. I feel like applauding that charity for daring to call anyone in the midst of the welter of fundraising angst we've all been negotiating. But the resentment from that earlier phone call lingers. 

I don't want to talk to them. Ever. 

"Hello, I'm calling on behalf of [insert name]. Have you got a minute to talk?" 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Do the same principles apply to sales and fundraising? Or not...?

I recently heard of a fundraiser being described as ‘too sales-like in their approach’ and it made me think. This fundraiser has always over-achieved when it comes to targets and is seemingly a good fundraiser, so is a sales approach really a problem? Do the same principle apply to sales and fundraising?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Getting Campaign ready: where to start?

Sorry for being so quiet recently, I've been busy. I've launched a major organisational-wide campaign and here are some thoughts I've gathered in the process that I thought were worth sharing.

Perhaps we should start at the beginning.

Why on earth would you choose to move into campaign? 

All that extra added bonus pressure, the targets, the expectations? Apart from the blatant fact that many of us fundraisers thrive on a bit of a busy (work) life...well, a campaign can galvanise the interest of donors and improve engagement opportunities. It can encourage donors to aim higher, as well as accelerating the decision to make a gift. A campaign, if done well, will also improve awareness both internally and externally of what is going on across the institution. A campaign can improve awareness of unique projects are being undertaken and improve staff, and stakeholder commitment to the long term plans. It all takes a lot of time and effort through, and you can’t stop once you’ve started!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Threat or opportunity? The backlash against fundraising

It's been a dark few days for the world of fundraising, what with government ministers and others tossing about words like "vile", "disgusting," "grotesque" and "immoral" in connection with telephone fundraising and the likes of Dame Hilary Blume being reported as saying: "I'd like to dismiss all the people who are in charge of these big fundraising operations."

Nuanced it has not been.

We're nice people, fundraisers, or so I like to think. We've chosen to work in a field which is all about connecting people with causes that can make a difference to their lives and the lives of other people in society. We care about that. We want to do the right thing by donors and by beneficiaries.

This week, our official voice, the Institute of Fundraising has been unequivocal in damning bad practice - even if it takes place in third party agencies - and welcoming a stronger self regulatory framework. I doubt any fundraiser would argue with that: no one wants vulnerable people to be exploited or abused and many charities were set up to prevent that very thing.

We care about the people who support our causes and of course we want to add to their number. Who wouldn't? But we don't want to do it at any price. Our donors are part of of who we are and we want them to stick with us on our shared journey.  

So I don't disagree with putting a more robust framework in place. That's a good thing. But I do disagree with the way in charities have been attacked without recognition of the massive contribution that charities make to our social cohesion and to the wellbeing of most households in the UK.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

What do we really want from charities?

Did you know that over 9 out of 10 British households have used a charity's services - and four out of five housholds have used charity services within the last 12 months? 

Charities are part of the fabric of our society - but what do we really mean by charity?

The word "charity" comes from the French word "charité" which in turn derives from the Latin word "caritas". Originally caritas meant dearness, costliness but gradually it became more equated to love and in the King' James Bible was used as a translation of the Greek word "agape". Unconditional love. Love for your fellow humans.

You might recognise the passage. It's from St Paul's Letters to the Corinthians is a favourite at Christian weddings. It goes something like this:

"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

In the King James version the word "charity" is used instead of the word "love". Charity suffers long and is kind. Charity does not parade itself.

Those are the origins of the word which is used to describe the type of organisation for which many of us fundraisers work. Charities were born from the act of charity - the practice of giving alms. Almsgiving was a widespread medieval practice and it was one that helped to structure the economy and legitimise the social hierarchy.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Building Successful Corporate Partnerships for Charities

Last week I saw an article in the NonProft Times listing Five Tiers that can exist for a corporate relationship with a charity. These had been defined by Dale Hedding of the Arts Consulting Group and Jennifer Schwartz of the University of Maryland and were described as follows:

* Tier 5: Single point of engagement. The two entities are involved in a limited capacity.
* Tier 4: Managed relationship. This has few points of interest that require co-ordination.
* Tier 3: Tailored partnership. In this the parties work closely to identify value-added opportunities for a deeper relationship between them.
* Tier 2: Broad-based engagement. Both partners engage across multiple units or departments in a variety of ways, including participation by the corporation’s leadership.
* Tier 1: Strategic partner. This kind of relationship is long term, with significant and ongoing financial contributions. It also requires co-ordination with multiple offices.

I liked these categorisations - they are beautifully clear and simple.  To bring them to life, in my experience each Tier looks a little like this (if working for a higher education organisation, the examples would like different but the complexities would be the same): 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Campaign Planning is a messy business

As a veteran of a number of capital appeals, I was recently to explain how to go about campaign planning. Superficially, the question should be an easy one to answer, and when I first started out in the world of capital appeals I probably would have said the magic formula was something like this:

target amount ££ = nice tidy gift pyramid achieved by identifying, cultivating and asking x4 prospects for every gift needed, plus a kick ass case for support and sufficient resources to do the cultivation/asking bit. Simples.

The reality is a lot messier. The neat plan/pyramid is a little bit more like this... plus a few more variables.

1. Is this your first campaign?

Saturday, 6 June 2015

On Being a Donor and the Olive Cooke Backlash

A few weeks ago the body of 92 year old Olive Cooke was found in a gorge in Bristol. Tragically, she had taken her own life.  

Mrs Cooke was known as Britain’s longest serving poppy seller. She had devoted her life to charity work and charitable giving. However, upon her death, the media focused on one specific aspect of Mrs Cooke’s final years: the number of fundraising appeals she received from charities. This provoked a storm of outraged headlines such as: “Shame of charities that prey on the kind-hearted and drove Olive to her death: Organisations who exploited pensioner's kind heart admit to sending begging letters.”

Mrs Cooke’s family denied that charity appeals had anything to do with her death and stated that she would not have wanted this backlash against charities. "I know the letters were a nuisance and an irritation and very intrusive to her,” her granddaughter said, “but it wasn't the reason [she died].” That didn’t matter to the outraged press: within days the Daily Mail was talking about “Olive’s Law.”
It feels wrong that someone’s death should be used as an excuse to attack charities.
It also worries me.
At the Institute of Fundraising Scottish Conference last year, Martin Sime, Chief Executive of SCVO warned that there was a storm brewing and charities would soon be under attack. Charities had already been told to “stick to their knitting” and warned off involvement in politics. He suggested there was worse to come. And it seems that he was right.
The backlash created by the story of Mrs Cooke’s death has taken the fundraising world by surprise. No one expected it and officials from the Fundraising Standards Board have seemed unable to mount a convincing defence of fundraising.
Suddenly, we’re hearing about probes and investigations – the implication being that charities are involved with malign and shady practices to extort money from the vulnerable.
And that makes me angry.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The warm glow - and what to do next

Recently I arrived home to a small purple envelope with my name and address attached on a label. When I opened it, therein lay a wrist band and a postcard.

The note read,

“Just a little note to say thank you

Monday, 27 April 2015

The Gift Table Myth: Prospect Management

For Major Gifts officers in higher education, work revolves around gift tables and meeting stats and the never ending quest for prospects. Major gifts is full of received wisdom that is handed down, inscribed in tablets of stone from Fundraisers-Of-Legend to those aspiring to realise the same billion dollar campaign targets.

Higher education institutions are all about capital campaigns, whether those campaigns are public or private. They tend to be about buildings, equipment, scholarships, posts... things. Discrete, specific, wonderful, world-changing things.

Your average HE major gifts fundraiser is usually focused on trying to raise money for those things. That means finding enough people who are interested in those things, and turning them into donors.

The planning of that usually takes the form of a gift table. Gift tables tend to be constructing around the concept of a gift pyramid (aiming for a few big fat gifts, a middling number of high value gifts and a large number of small gifts). They look a little like this...

You need four prospects for every gift because in major gifts there is a 1:4 conversion rate from
prospect to donor. Call me Doubting Thomas, but I've never come across much evidence to back this up.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Wielding Words to Win or Wound

Early this morning I posted this on twitter.  It was an image a friend had shared on Facebook that morning and I'd thought it was an important illustration of how we language is a tool that we use to shape the world around us. I can't remember the original source or I would have credited it (if anyone knows the original source, please do comment and I'll ensure it's credited!).

I share this because I'm a fundraiser and language is one of the most blood-curdling weapons in our cuthroat armoury, no it's the shining pinnacle of our creative endeavours, oh darn it, language is important

The reaction to this tweet was astonishing. In the space of 15 hours it had been retweeted 747 times and favourited 304. It had received abuse, commendation, provoked argument and critique. I had never in my life seen anything like it on my timeline. To give a few examples:

Friday, 6 March 2015

4 Ways that Direct Mail is still the cat's pyjamas

Scope's recent foster appeal teamed programme and fundraising asks
I have a secret love and its name is Direct Mail.

This may be odd in someone who has, for more than a decade, specialised in Major Gifts and Capital Appeal Fundraising but nevertheless Direct Mail has lurked there flirting around the edges of my consciousness with its teaser envelopes and delicious data insight.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

A reminder about timing

A little while ago I wrote a post about the importance of good timing in fundraising. I recently received a DM piece that reminded me of this.

In December I made a donation to a homeless charity appeal. Donate to support their Christmas centres, Christmas dinners for residents and so on. The centres would be open over the Christmas week.

Last week - at the end of February - I received a stewardship direct mail about my Christmas gift.

Now I don't know about you, but Christmas seems quite a long time ago to me. And this letter jarred with me as a donor. It felt too late to be telling me this.

As a fundraiser, and a donor, I was glad to know what my gift had done, and appreciated the reference to the appeal I supported. But I also feel that it should have arrived six weeks ago - when making the gift and the Christmas season was fresh in my mind.

So when you're planning your mailings - will they make sense to your donor? Will the stewardship  link with the gift? Will it be likely to encourage the next donation?

Perhaps the charity had to wait for design companies, copywriters and printers to put the pack together? We all know about that. But the centres closed on the 27th December.

Good stewardship links directly to the gift, is timely, and encourages the next donation.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, the momentum had been lost.

Want to learn more about Direct Mail? Join the Institute of Fundraising' Scotland's Direct Mail Day on 19 March 2015 in Edinburgh.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Forecasting Voluntary Income - Comparing Sectors

For many years I worked in higher education fundraising, which I loved with the fiery passion of 10,000 suns. Now I work in the voluntary sector and I adore it too. There is nothing - NOTHING - better than coming home at the end of the day having worked with amazing committed donors who are helping amazing commited colleagues to make the world a better place.

But anyone who has made that jump - either way - knows that it's a massive culture shock. Things are different in the voluntary sector.

A friend who is considering making the same jump asked me to articulate the main differences. "What has the biggest challenge been?" she asked. Immediately this infographic from Targeting Fundraising Talent sprang to mind:

But on reflection I said, "Planning." 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

How [not] to make friends and alienate people

In the UK, May 2015 will bring a General Election. That means RIGHT now political parties across the country are gearing up to get folks out canvassing on their behalf, because if there's one thing that the recent Scottish Independence Referendum campaign showed it was that people power is, well, powerful. Nothing is more persuasive than someone talking to you face-to-face. 

Well, we already knew that didn't we? We're fundraisers. 

Engaging and motivating people is what fundraisers do

That's because from major multi-million pound capital campaigns through to church fetes and bakes sales, volunteers are at the heart of successful fundraising. They might be getting you a spot in the boardroom. They might be running a marathon. They might be asking their friends to join them in donating. But one thing is for sure: without volunteers, charities would be dead in the water. Where fundraising is concerned, they are what makes the world go round. 

I think most good fundraisers know this. They know when you talk about your charity, you have to tell the donor what they are helping you to achieve. They know that you inspire and motivate people by letting them feel ownership over their cause. They know that you get engagement by listening, asking and discussing - not hectoring. 

This evening I stumbled across a political meeting in a local cafe: the first meeting of a candidate for Westminster, his campaign manager and the people who were interested in campaigning on his behalf in the local area. Fascinating - if you wanted a lesson in What Not To Do

In the ten minutes I observed the room turn frosty before my eyes, I clocked at least five six cardinal errors from Mr Campaign Manager. In the spirit of sharing....

Friday, 16 January 2015

Crucial top tips for a new job

I recently began an exciting position in a new institution after an eight year stint in a previous job. What a massive difference: it has been an intense learning experience after knowing my previous role inside out to starting afresh. But it has been hugely enjoyable and I have a few hints and tips that I have picked up along the way.

Don't panic

When you have been in a position long term, many aspects of the job become second nature. It is easy to forget that you need to learn EVERYTHING all over again: from who to contact for what, to who can help you with specific queries, not to mention learning as much as possible about an institution. Stay calm. No-one will expect you to be doing the job without having researched and taken in information about the organisation and how you fit into it.