The ‘F’ word

Taking risks and failure go with the territory. (Image © francesconegri) Coming back to the office after IFC, I made an overarching discovery that touches on everything else I learned: I am terrified of failure. Read more…

A perfect pitch?

© fallingfifth.com

If you work with creative agencies, there’s a good chance you will someday be involved in a pitch process.

I’ve been involved client-side in two separate pitches, each of which have taught me where I’ve made mistakes, and where a few good choices can make everything run smoothly for all involved.

Here are a few of the tips I’ve learned that I hope will be useful if you ever find yourself conducting an agency pitch. (more…)

I Wish I’d Thought Of That

On Thursday afternoon, SOFII (brainchild of fundraising great, Ken Burnett) presented their first ever ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ event. 22 speakers from agencies and charities, large charities and small from across all cause types, spoke about ideas from other fundraisers that they wish they’d had first.

It was a great event (there was a running joke of those who wish they’d thought of I Wish I’d Thought of That), not least because it was fundraisers sharing what they learned from each other, which is at the heart of SOFII.

The 22 big ideas ranged from the very, very old (Aline Reed of Bluefrog spoke about Great Ormond Street Hospital’s wartime appeal from 1940) to the very new (such as MSF’s innovative pills campaign in Spain, brought to life by Reuben Steains); from direct marketing to events to campaigning to social media; from big international names like UNICEF, Amnesty International and Greenpeace to UK charities like I CAN and Botton Village.

But across this diverse range of campaigns, two words seem to creep up time and time again. And it’s these two words I wanted to share with 101Fundraising: authenticity and conviction. (more…)

Protect one of your greatest fundraising assets

It’s not a killer creative proposition. Or your favourite go-to copywriter. I’m talking about your database.

paper database

The predecessor to the modern CRM (© adesigna)

Databases are often seen as a necessary means to an end, but time and time again I have seen this major asset overlooked even by experienced fundraising teams. Here are just four tips I’ve used in the past to protect this asset and make it work even harder for fundraising.

Tip #1: Standardise your database rules
Having a single CRM software system in place is not the same as breaking down silos. If three different teams use the same database – but use it very differently from each other – then it’s not really one database. You may interpret one field to mean one thing, but for another fundraiser it can mean something entirely different. That could mean they get irrelevant letters from the charity, or that two very distinct donor groups end up getting treated the same way through a misunderstanding.

Create a glossary to define each term or flag on your database so if someone wants to know what something means, there is an organisation-wide definition. That means there is a single, consistent interpretation of the non-transactional data.

Tip #2: Beware static segmentation and ring-fencing (more…)

What I learned about fundraising from the brazil nut

Brazil but (photo by dinesh_valke, Flickr)

The brazil nut has an interesting story, even for non-botanists like me.

For starters, it’s a seed, not a nut, but that’s not really important. It grows on large trees with yellow flowers. Although their nectar is sweet, their coiled hoods make it difficult to get to. That is, unless you’re a long-tongued orchid bee.

As the name implies, this particular orchid bee has a penchant for orchids, so you might think that doesn’t really help the Brazil nut tree. But fortunately, there’s the orchid Coryanthes vasquezii that likes to hang around our friend the Brazil nut tree. The male bees are attracted to the orchid’s scent, the female bees follow the males, and females pollinate the Brazil nut tree.

It’s like a dance between three parties that rely on each other to exist. It’s not unique necessarily, but this symbiotic triangle dawned on me as a perfect example for fundraising.

Okay, get to the fundraising part already… (more…)

Through the letterbox

As Reinier discussed in his recent 101fundraising post, the 90-degree shift isn’t exactly breaking news… but is it really happening in fundraising? Or are we perhaps seeing it as just another box to tick, another marketing incantation to bandy about the meeting room (think ‘synergy’ or ‘paradigm shift’ – you know, the kinds of things Lindsey Naegle of The Simpsons might say).

But I have to admit, sometimes the theory is easier to grasp than the practical implementation. Here are some rules of thumb I try to bear in mind to make sure I keep the donor front of mind in everything we do.


Tell me a story

I’ve seen countless blogs and articles about the importance of storytelling. The thing is, we know it’s important. People give to people. Giving is an emotional response to living in a world you want to change. A good story brings your cause to life.

But I see lots of fundraising asks that miss the story altogether. Who am I kidding, I’ve worked on a number of fundraising campaigns that have lacked good stories completely.

Well, for one, we’re professional fundraisers. We deal with budgets, targets, staff meetings and mail packs. Our charities often strive to be seen as professional, expert, sometimes even scientific in our approach to solving the world’s problems. We are no longer the sector that blindly delivers charity in the old (potentially demeaning) sense. We understand poverty/healthcare/animal welfare/international development/arts/higher education. We portray our beneficiaries with respect. We are experts in our field. (more…)

Sofa cushion forts and fundraising

When I was a kid, I used to spend hours building forts: in the living room (generally of sofa cushion construction), outdoors (up a tree or in a bush), my bedroom, even once under the sideboard in the dining room. My setting never really changed – my sphere was limited to my family home and our backyard – and yet I spent years of my childhood doing this, always trying to build a better fort, or adapting the imaginary story that involved me seeking refuge in said fort. My most imaginative was probably pretending to be a cow escaping the slaughterhouse – you’ll be relieved to know I escaped thanks to a hiding place built in my closet that functioned as a railway car.

(You’re probably wondering how this relates to fundraising. I swear, I’m getting there.)


The next big thing in fundraising is closer than you think

A few weeks ago at the Institute of Fundraising Direct Marketing and Fundraising Conference, the question was asked of the panel: What do you think is the ‘next big thing’ in fundraising? Their answer wasn’t entirely surprising, but was particularly refreshing.

They unanimously said that it’s better to use traditional direct marketing but to hone the skills so you’re doing it as well as possible. Sticking to what you know, but doing it better than it’s been done before, is more important than some fad.

Personally, I agree, but it’s interesting that in spite of no fundraising panacea, as a sector we still talk about ‘the next big thing’. And we’re still worried about jumping on the bandwagon too late. Take door-to-door fundraising. It’s been hugely successful for years for a number of UK charities, mobilising a core base of Direct Debit donors. It generates largely Gift Aid-able, predictable, unrestricted income from a large base of donors that can tend to absorb the effects of a bad economy. There’s strength in numbers.