Creative fundraising: lessons from the frontline

Published by Derek Humphries on

When did you last have a frontline experience with the cause you work for? Out of the office. On the ground. Sleeves up. Tough stuff. It’s more likely you did it if you work in a small organisation. Or an enlightened large one.

Personal experiences inspire great fundraising. I was reminded of this when I spent time in Borneo. I was there not as a fundraiser, but as a volunteer project manager. My mission? To reinvigorate a small run-down orangutan sanctuary. The place looked after primates rescued from hideous ordeals. Most had TB and so can never be returned to the wild.

Here are some of the creative lessons I was reminded of. I hope they help in your fundraising world:

1. Change your perspective: I began work by getting all the programme staff inside a cage. They had never been in one before. It changed their view of the world they worked in. New views drive creative solutions.

2. Orangutans love iced lollies: this is about creative-problem solving. We needed to find a way to give the orang-utans their food slowly, make it interesting for them. It’s boring sitting in a cage all day with a bucket of fruit. We knew this because we’d done it! So we made bucket-sized iced-lollies. We placed them on the top of the enclosures so that the ice slowly melted and released the encased chunks of fruit into the cages. Undoubtedly the best piece of creative work I’ve ever done. Slow-release food = happy and less bored animals.

3. Mind the gap: your job as a fundraiser is to minimise the gap between the need and the potential donor.  As a fundraiser visiting projects, my task is simply to find the most inspiring way possible to let the potential donor stand in my shoes. Raw authenticity generally beats polished alleged creativity. Too many organisations, and a lot of alleged creativity, get in the way of the donor, and obscure the need.

4. Make an arse of yourself: after we’d built a massive amount of rope ladders, swings, and other stuff to entertain the orang-utans, someone had to test them. I felt a complete idiot, like being in a brainstorm and suggesting daft ideas just to get the ball rolling. Soon we were all at it.




5. Challenge your comfort zones: funnily enough, no fundraising course or conference had ever taught me how to tranquilise, examine and transport an orangutan. I left the darting to the experts, but got involved in stuff that I found frankly scary.




6. Get involved, get upset or get out: a confession – before I went to Borneo I didn’t care much for animals. Then I met Tian-Tian. A tiny baby. I helped her make her bare cage comfy, with banana leaves and sacking. I swear she smiled (yes, I’m a soft sentimentalist). Six months later I heard she had died of TB. And then I really blubbed. A simple message: whether you work for a charity or an agency, if ever you stop caring about the stuff you work on, please get out fast.



Categories: strategy

Derek Humphries

@derekhumphries is a Creative Director at DTV Group working on worldwide DRTV campaigns and films, and a consultant Creative Strategist working with the Resource Alliance.


Lucy Gower · April 14, 2012 at 13:12

Love that this post is so honest and personal – and especially that you got the programme staff in a cage to get a new perspective.

Derek Humphries · April 16, 2012 at 13:38

Thanks Lucy, really appreciate your comment.
It was a fairly massive personal experience for me. I only went there because my wife had been in Borneo for three weeks working with orangutans and ‘coerced’ me into going out there as a volunteer.
I think I’ve been guilty in the past (like many conference speakers), of glibly challenging people to get outside their comfort zones. But when you genuinely push yourself into uncomfortable situations it is truly transforming.
Thanks again.

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