Even for a charity there’s no such thing as a free lunch

At least, not without some reciprocity.

I love people who do pro bono work. They offer their skills free of charge for something they believe in. They will inherit the earth.

My younger son Charlie, who’s just completed his training as a human rights lawyer, used to work pro bono on Fridays for the charity Reprieve on ‘death row’ cases and at weekends for people who need legal aid. He did this gladly, for quite a while, as it helped him learn his trade. He did it for good causes because he figured they’d need and value his services more than would, say, a big corporate client or its highly paid legal firm. He not only learned from this, he believed it was well worth doing too. (more…)

A debt to the master

How ‘the pope of advertising’ helped lay the foundations of my professional life.
by Ken Burnett

KB1a Ogilvymontage2When the advertising and communications agency that I founded in 1982 opened its doors for business, its proprietor 
– me – would most likely be found sitting on the front doorstep of the terraced Victorian house that was its first office with his nose buried in a book by David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man. It was my bible, though equally likely at that time, or perhaps a bit later, I’d be found engrossed in his second classic, Ogilvy on Advertising (see here). I never met the great man and I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have liked him if I had (he was famously authoritarian and right wing), but to say Ogilvy influenced me would be a bit like saying that Scotsmen are occasionally affected by whisky. To call this a massive understatement is, in itself, a massive understatement. Back then I was so immersed in the wisdom of what he was saying that I would have highlighted at least three paragraphs on every page. Truth is, I modelled the best years of my business life on the sayings of this man. And I prospered as a direct result. (more…)

10 Essentials of an Effective Volunteer Board

Prepare for the Fundraising Trustee

Not long after the start of the current great recession a bright young man from deep inside the British Government came to see me, to talk about how volunteer boards in the UK might be strengthened and improved. He told me that scheduled government cuts mean politicians will want to transfer yet more government responsibilities to the voluntary sector. He talked about contracts and capacity and increased flexibility of funding for local authorities, and things like that. Basically what was on the table was less money for all and more central abdication of social provision. But he was worried that, rather obviously, the voluntary sector doesn’t have the capacity to take on more. (more…)

Fundraiser, are you too busy to change the world?

email timeI wonder if, like me, you sometimes feel this modern world is going just too fast? Perhaps, as I am, you’re increasingly coming to doubt that the many technological advances of our times are actually making our lives easier and better, like they promised they would? By any chance, does your daily email mountain also seem to you ever harder to climb and less interesting to boot, as mine does? Or does it trouble you, as it does me, that while you can now be reached by telephone pretty much wherever you happen to be, (more…)

Fundraising on the edge

Just because they make verbs out of intuition and alchemy doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re about.


I’m sitting in a circle of nine apparently sane people at a beach resort just outside San Diego, California and I’ve just been passed the talking stick. As I grasp its fur-covered handle the eagle’s feather attached to the other end wiggles slightly, indicating that I have to speak. I’m told I have to end my thought, which I’m not allowed to prepare in advance, by saying ‘I have spoken’, to which in unison the group will respond ‘A-ho’, Native American for ‘So you have’. In the near background a barefooted guy with bells on his feet is playing a didgeridoo. These are so-called ‘wisdom circles’ and I’m in a workshop on transforming philanthropy, where on their business cards the organisers have job titles such as the questor, the integrator, the potentiator, the torchbearer and the tribal chief. Fear grips me as I grip the talking stick and wonder ‘What, in the name of sanity, am I doing here?


Is there room for experience fundraising?

Fundraisers should improve their storytelling skills so they can take donors effectively to where the action is.

‘Experience’ marketing is the fashionable new thing for today’s marketer. Apparently you don’t just sell your product, you live it. The aim is to immerse your prospect in a lifestyle that simultaneously stimulates all their senses.

An example of experience marketing is currently practiced by the manufacturers of those cunning designer ‘alco-pop’ drinks – Breezer, Schnapps and the like. Experience marketing for these products involves recruiting attractive, young, out-of-work male models – this is true – who are briefed to sit hour after hour in the most fashionable watering-holes with their Nokia mobile phone and Palm Pilot prominently in view, with the Gucci shoes, the Armani threads, the Rado wrist wear and the Trevor Sorbie hairdo – everything that successful youth might aspire to – and, of course, all the while knocking back bottle after bottle of Zippo, or Heave-up or whatever is being promoted to you, the unsuspecting punter. Just think, that stunningly attractive bloke at the bar who you thought had been stood up and were just about to move in on, may in fact just be coming to the end of his shift.

Silly, isn’t it?

Then I thought about it. Maybe ‘experience marketing’ does have some application for fundraisers… (more…)

Where are we going in 2012? A possible and promising new direction for fundraisers.

A direct marketing eminence recently described fundraising as, ‘the important art of cajoling money from people for good causes.’

Though rather obvious it’s nevertheless a fairly apt description, if perhaps more useful in summarising how others see us than in illustrating how we aspire to be. Although the phrase may hint at disapproval it’s neither negative, nor critical. Fundraising is undeniably important, for it fuels good works. ‘Art’ in this context simply means the creation of beautiful or thought-provoking works. ‘Cajoling’ implies effort, persuasiveness and determined persistence. But art can suggest artfulness and cajoling can also mean to elicit or obtain by pleading, flattery or insincere language. And it’s limited. The art of cajoling implies the mendicant mode. It includes no sense of sincerity, respect, rapport or accountability. (more…)

A tribute to George Smith, 4th March 2012

Out of respect for George Smith, who passed away over the weekend, we re-publish the eulogy that Ken Burnett has published on SOFII.

George Smith, writer, colleague and friend, died on 2nd March 2012 after a long illness.

We returned this afternoon from the marriage of George’s youngest daughter Jenny to Aaron Fenell at the Winters Barns in Canterbury. The wedding was a roller-coaster of emotions, both draining and spiritually uplifting; the festivities marred of course but not spoiled by the death on the previous day of the father of the bride, George Smith.

We came home to see many tributes to George posted on Twitter and various Internet sites from friends and admirers around the world. George was always leery of social media so we fear he might have felt this a bit unseemly, would have railed against it but, secretly, he’d have been both intrigued and chuffed. He was also a private man embarassed by limelight, not a seeker of personal accolades. So he’d have dismised those with a joke too, though secretly in his heart he’d have been hugely pleased.  (more…)