I wish I’d thought of that

Published by Lucy Gower on

Last week I was proud to be one of the 22 speakers at the inaugural ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ event in London, brilliantly organised by the team and volunteers at sofii.

An excited audience heard about 22 campaigns picked by the speakers as something they wished they had thought of. It was a brilliant and buzzy afternoon with a great fast-paced format that included growing mo’s for Movember, which involved the audience wearing stick on moustaches, to Barbie’s destruction of the rainforest to the audience love-in for charity: water. In fact it was commented that the event felt like TED for fundraising. Pretty cool. Although I have never seen the audience in a TED talk wear stick on moustaches; I think TED are missing a trick.

Some fundraising excellence themes emerged; trust, honesty, truth, storytelling, simplicity, integrity, conviction, empathy and passion.

But for me, many of these celebrated ideas involve two more vital elements; bravery and risk. Trying something new is brave and risky because let’s face it – if it is new we don’t know for sure that it will work.

So while now it seems perfectly reasonable for guys to grow moustaches in November, and be part of a world wide tribe raising money and awareness about male cancers, back in 2003 those 30 guys in Melbourne were brave to give it a try.

Putting a pen in a direct mail pack, was revolutionary back in the 1990’s, no one had ever done this before. Amnesty didn’t know how the public would react or what the results would be. It was risky.

Charities should be forever grateful to Greenpeace for inventing face-to-face fundraising in 1995. Each year the UK alone raises 130 million through face-to-face fundraising. And charities are still being brave and developing new ways to enhance this technique, despite a negative public image.

In 2007 Prostate Cancer Research Foundation brought Bob Monkhouse back from the dead with the ‘give a few bob’ campaign to raise money and awareness about the disease that killed him. Imagine being at the initial meeting where someone was brave enough to suggest that the creative for a campaign involved bringing someone back from the dead. Thank goodness it wasn’t laughed out of the boardroom as a ‘stupid idea’. Today many men owe their lives to that campaign.

Live Aid was the first ever event of its kind, two huge concerts were held in London and Philadelphia and watched by over two billion people in 160 countries. It smashed its £1 million target, bringing in a total closer to £150 million. All this was organised in 12 weeks. A lot of people thought it wouldn’t be possible. It was risky for Bob Geldof, his personal credibility and career was at risk. Even today with far more technology to assist us, (remember the internet hadn’t even been invented in 1985) it’s a tall order.

Last Christmas Send a Cow launched a thank you campaign involving all staff. There was no ask and no fundraising target.  Charity: water did the same last September. Yikes – imagine getting something like that signed off in your organisation.  It would have taken some amount of determination and faith to deliver those campaigns that will deliver rewards in the long term.

Botton Village Trust were the first charity to give their donors choice about communication. Allowing people to opt out of receiving updates, or newsletters and choose how and when they wanted to be communicated with seemed counter intuitive. At the time other fundraising professionals thought it was madness, but Botton Village Trust had faith and really listened to their donors with great results.

Macmillan Worlds Biggest Coffee morning, (that most charities have tried to copy in one way or another) wasn’t an overnight success.  It took about 20 years and a lot of dedication and perseverance to become to golden ticket that it is today. Great fundraising ideas don’t simply happen overnight.

For every single one of these ideas. someone, somewhere was brave, resilient, determined, passionate, had faith, took a risk and put themselves on the line to push an idea through. The outcome is that not only do they raise more money and awareness for their cause, but they also up the game and therefore increase aspirations and targets for others in the sector.

Developing new fundraising ideas involves bravery, risk and failure. Not all the ideas we try will work. Often ultimate success is because we have learnt from our earlier failures and persevered.

I wonder how many of the 22 ideas we wished we had thought of were the result of previous failed and reworked attempts that no one was brave enough to share?

So I’d like to propose an, ‘I wish I’d failed at that’ event, as often, we learn so much more from each others failures than we do from the things that finally worked.

Who is going to be brave and step up to sharing what they learned from their failures? After all failure is just a practice for ultimate success.

Lucy Gower

Lucy has been a fundraiser for over 10 years and is passionate about innovation and how it can transform organisational and individual performance. Lucy is an independent trainer and consultant specializing in innovation in fundraising. Lucy also blogs for fundraising website sofii.org and is a conference speaker both in the UK and overseas.


Tara Lepp · June 7, 2012 at 15:52

I wish I could have been there. It sounds like an inspiring event. Thanks for sharing.

    Lucy Gower · June 7, 2012 at 17:25

    I hope there will be a next time – so see you there! :)

Mary Cahalane · June 8, 2012 at 02:14

I didn’t have any problem persuading the power that be in my organization to have the board come in for a “thank a thon”. Maybe it was asking them to do a phonathon first? :)

But it went very well, and people were so pleasantly surprised. We didn’t go into it looking for immediate payoff… but I think it signals an attitude toward our donors that will cement loyalty in the long run. Besides, it was so much fun!

    Lucy · June 8, 2012 at 10:49

    Exactly, you are totally right – and the fun bit – for staff and donors is so important too

Ivo Le Maistre Smith · June 8, 2012 at 12:18

Legacy marketing is notoriously difficult. How do you get people to consider their own demise and connect your cause with their departure? I can give an example of a legacy promotion I designed to use very light humour to get people to talk about leaving a conservation cause a legacy. Wow, it did that.

Here is some of the feedback: “copywriting genius”, “never has such a simple message had such an impact, I talked about it to 2 or 3 people last night, and they are already talking about it”, “A friend of mine currently has late stage terminal cancer and I know he’d certainly see the funny side.” “If we wanted a viral campaign we have it here.” “A bold, clever and worthwhile move”. The project was approved by fundraising, marketing and the CEO before being pulled on the morning of the launch by hysterical staff (not donors). Some of their quotes: “No offence taken by me just maybe for others”, “the older you get, the more people you have lost, the less funny these things seem. But look – you’ve made us all think serious thoughts!” “I did actually find the messages darkly humorous, but I think I would be in the minority.”

I still think that the message was perfectly aimed at its audience, was backed by a solid and justifiable rationale, would have provoked widespread discussion of our need for legacies , and I have no doubt generated many more legacies in the future.

Brave and risky? You’re not kidding. I thought the staff were going to form a lynch mob.

Happily we decided instead to go with a leaflet called “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Hmm. I see legacies are down again.

    Lucy Gower · June 8, 2012 at 21:40

    I’d love to learn more about the legacy campaign you mention. Would you be happy to share?

Amy Eisenstein · June 8, 2012 at 13:14

What a great conference and a fantastic summary! Thanks for sharing.

I think taking a risk and bravery often pay off. Hopefully the campaign works, but if not, you’ve learned something valuable. As they say, if you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

I encourage all of my clients to try at least one new campaign or effort per year. Often it’s being more strategic with their individual giving campaigns, especially when they are highly focused on grant writing and fundraising events!

Marjorie Brown · June 11, 2012 at 16:35

Thanks for sharing — I was hoping that London was London Ontario Canada, and that I could attend the next Wish I’d Thought of That event. Looks like I will have to ask to have my PD budget increased for 2013 :)

    Lucy Gower · June 12, 2012 at 08:00

    Or maybe I wish I’d thought of that could go on tour?

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