Creative concepts: conflict, consensus and compromise
A focused and powerful creative concept drives fundraising growth. Every fundraiser knows this and most fundraisers have cried, banged their head in frustration or even left their job when their artfully created powerful idea has been destroyed. It has had so much added, subtracted, amended, redacted and opined on that it’s lost all its power, inspires nobody and doesn’t raise any money. Despite their lack of control over this process, it’s then often the fundraiser who is blamed for the poor performance. Why does this happen? Internal conflict leans to consensus decision making which leads to compromise. And compromise is the death of the Great Fundraising concept, as it is the opposite of focus and focus is what gives a great concept its power. If the organisation accepts a compromised concept (the lowest common denominator) in order to appease internal conflict then it compromises its ability to raise money. So the problem in creating great concepts is: internal conflict. How to solve this problem? We’ve studied and worked with over 300 organisations and concluded the following: If the conflict is caused by ignorance in other departments as to what the fundraising department needs, then a course of education is required. This is required for everybody from the board to administrators. Everyone must know and understand that fundraising needs focus and that it takes a serious professional to achieve this. If other departments do not like this, they must at the very least professionally respect it. ‘I don’t like it’ must not be allowed to compete with ‘I have evidence it works.’ The fundraiser must become the master or mistress of the internal conversation. Lunches, coffee and time invested in colleagues across the organisation must become a strategic priority. Have ‘No compromise champions’ in every department at your organisation. They are highly trained and responsible for managing input from their department to fundraising and making it excellent. The final decision on big concepts cannot be delegated to middle management or perhaps not even to the executive team. If different departments are left to negotiate the organisation’s ‘big message’ you will end up with a compromised concept and therefore compromised performance. Decide the decision-making group before you start your creative process and make sure everyone knows who the decision-making group. The job of the decision-making group is to make a non-compromised recommendation to the chief executive. From watching and working with the successful organisations, we can make an unequivocal recommendation: all departments, including the board, should input, but the final call, and refusal to compromise, must come from the chief executive or general secretary. Like it or not, that’s what works if you want to raise significantly more money for your organisation. These steps will help you to create a supportive culture of fundraising that gives fundraisers the freedom to develop the very best concepts for their donors. Why not give it a try yourself? Because in the end, embracing conflict and making crisp decisions separates the successful organisations, the ones that significantly grow fundraising, from the rest.
In 2019, Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health joined forces and a year later created Corus International as our parent organization. This gave an opportunity to relaunch Lutheran World Relief as a fundraising brand – and we are still in the midst of doing that right now. We brought our organization together with Philanthropy & Fundraising North America in December 2019 to work on this. What is the problem, solution and ambition for Lutheran World Relief? I will tell you that at one point we identified over 90 problems that we were trying to solve. Reach everyone. We thought this was good. But then, when we got to this point, we thought that maybe our problem didn’t quite get to the essence of who our Lutheran donors are. Lutheran donors live their philanthropy through the lens of their faith. It is a part of who they are. They are proud to do the work, to contribute, to make quilts, to do all the things they do to help solve the problem through the lens of their faith. So, we came back at it early in 2020 and rearticulated the problem in another way… That really nailed it for us and we were, and still are, very excited about where we landed with that problem statement. In February 2020 we had a big plan. We were going to do a launch and a year-end campaign and we were going to dive in and really dig in for the next six months and make that year-end campaign just perfect. So, we would really strike the right cord. Then we got the same curve-ball as everyone else. How can you live through coronavirus when you are living in poverty? That forced us to come back and really take a hard look at the problem, the solution and the ambition and what our organization was being called to at this time. We’re told to practice social distancing to keep our loved ones safe. We’re told to self-isolate to protect the vulnerable. We’re told to wash our hands to stop the spread. We’re told to stay at home. When we went through this part of our creative, one of the things that we knew, deep in our core as a team, was that we couldn’t wait. We couldn’t wait. Because we knew Paulina. Paulina, who has lived through two wars and is living in a Ugandan refugee camp and has just gotten to the point where she can feed her family. Is now facing another big threat. And it is because she has the very least. Because she is among the most forsaken. That we had to go fast. And so, our team got together and began very quick work to move everything forward. And we did it for another reason. We did it because all of those Lutheran donors who were supporting our organization. Who are isolating. Who are staying at home. Who are being told to stay away… are trying to figure out how to love their neighbor. In this, problem, solution, ambition, just became so much more important for them too. And so, we have moved everything forward. And our donors have responded. And yes, our revenue has grown. And yes, we are helping people like Paulina. But our work has just started. And our donors are saying they are in.
Every charity or NGO was born out of a burning desire to change something in our society. To right a wrong, save lives or to give people a better life. No one ever founded an organisation and said, ‘we aim to reduce this problem by 2% a year’. They all said, ‘something needs to be done now!’. When asked about what set great fundraising organisations apart from the rest, Professor Adrian Sargeant from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and co-author of the Great Fundraising Report, said; ‘They re-connect with the vision, belief and passion which created the organisation in the first place.’ This can mean only one thing: Emotion. When an organisation gets emotionally united, magic can happen. When it does, fundraising can fly and the organisation can achieve growth that can transform their ability to bring about change and, in some cases, completely solve the problem they set out to solve. There’s one catch, though: You cannot think emotionally. Read that again; you cannot think emotionally. It’s an oxymoron. Thinking is rational. Emotions are not. Enthusiasm comes from connecting with your cause and why you’re there in the first place. That’s where stories come in. I have seen how storytelling has transformed organisations. Raw emotion connects people with the problem they’re trying to solve. All of a sudden, people find themselves in the emotional space that created the organisation in the first place. The Great Fundraising Organisations didn’t just tell their stories internally. They told the world. And when the world listened, transformational fundraising growth followed. Every organisation I have ever worked with has had powerful stories. Stories that not only could have fundamentally changed their fundraising income, but the behaviour throughout the organisation. Sadly, not all organisations manage to tap into their stories. Quite often it boils down to the misguided notion that they have to ‘protect’ their beneficiaries. This notion not only hampers their ability to transform their fundraising, but it robs people of the opportunity to be part of the solution. Storytelling is often healing. Storytelling is often empowering. Storytelling is always meaningful. The first time I discovered the awesome power of storytelling was when I told my own story, specifically for fundraising. I had told my story many times, but when I realised that my story could transform our impact, I experienced a rush like never before. The Great Fundraising Organisations understand this. They realise that they can maximise their impact on the world, as well as giving people an opportunity to feel really good about themselves. One example that I find utterly inspiring is the children’s hospice Claire House. When they realised that the act of giving was healing the person giving the money, they also unlocked the power of stories. They understood that letting beneficiaries speak wouldn’t just increase income, it would create a connection between the donor and the beneficiaries that would ultimately be healing for both of them. The results speak for themselves.
What Great Fundraising CEOs are doing to raise their fundraising game
If you are a financially ambitious CEO, this should be a useful story. If you are a frustrated fundraiser, then consider aiming to become a Great Fundraising CEO. It’s the best way for you to raise MUCH more money and make a massive impact on the world. For me, it is a real and humbling privilege of my job that I get to work with some of the very best non-profit CEOs in the world. There are many and I respect them all. For this article, I will analyse the fantastic work of five CEO’s who have increased fundraising income with dramatic results over the last few years: Daniel Speckhard at Corus International, Baltimore, USA. SallyAnn Kelly at Aberlour Children’s Charity, Stirling, Scotland. Cathy Yelf, at Macular Society, Andover, UK. Scott Chapman at Royal Flying Doctors Service, Melbourne, Australia. Rasmus Kjeldahl at Børns Vilkår, Copenhagen, Denmark. The source for this article is detailed notes I have kept of the behaviours, analyses and actions initiated by these CEOs over a time period of up to six years. They have all been supported by fantastic fundraising heads – Dave, Eddie, Pippa, Emma, Marie, Lisbet and Allan – but for now I will focus on the specific behaviours of these CEOs. I want to show you how they drove fundraising income to transform these organisations. As a prologue, it is important to note that all five of our featured CEOs admit that they came to the most senior position via non-fundraising careers. And they said they had held assumptions, misconceptions and even some prejudices about fundraising when arriving in post. None of them had appreciated the resources, power, independence or scale of opportunity that fundraising could deliver for them and their organisation. As an epilogue, all of them have delivered transformational levels of income growth and created, launched and succeeded with new programme strategies and projects on the back of the fundraising growth. All of them have reached more service users, clients and beneficiaries and they have all made the world a better place for a huge number of people. So, what’s the story between the prologue and the epilogue? It’s a consistent story for all five featured Great Fundraising CEOs. Are you sitting comfortably? 1. They researched what other organisations have achieved. If there was no equivalent in their country, they looked internationally. They did not believe ‘it won’t work here.’ They looked at markets, statistics and communications, and they spoke to their peers in successful Great Fundraising Organisations. They came to believe transformational growth was possible and increased their ambition. 2. They took their time to learn and understand fundraising. They investigated the difference between fundraising and grant funding and developed clear insight into the different communications required for both. They immersed themselves in the strategy and metrics of investment leadership and management. They studied the different leadership styles and behaviours required to bridge the different cultures needed by fundraising and all other departments. They made themselves ready. 3. They took ownership of kick-starting fundraising. They understood that the whole organisation needed to get behind a fundraising surge, and it was their responsibility to achieve this. They took command of initiating the change. 4. They achieved organisational wide buy-in. They took the time and allocated resources for training, immersion, cultural development programmes and co-creation sprints for communications. They dealt with politics and nay-sayers. They remembered to include the board throughout. They got the right people on the bus – and got a few wrong people off it. 5. They made the three key decisions. They prioritised meeting donors' needs, optimum investment levels and focussed, powerful communications. They consulted and involved widely but realised the buck for the final decisions ultimately stopped with them. They did not compromise. 6. They set their fundraisers free. They set ambitious targets and gave fundraisers the resources to achieve them. They moved organisational chaff, politics and bureaucracy out of the way so fundraisers could move with the speed required. They invested in the professional development of their fundraisers. They permitted testing and learning. They stopped amateurs blocking fundraising with mere opinions. They treated fundraisers as respected professionals. 7. They kept involved. They left their fundraisers free to fly, but they touched base regularly. Partly they were monitoring progress, but mainly they were using the authority of their position to make sure fundraisers have the required resources to deliver on increasing targets and evaluating if there were any blockages which only the CEO could clear. They led but did not manage. 8. They used the money to create innovative projects. They used the increased income to deliver more activity in direct pursuit of the mission. Some created innovative new projects that only fundraising could fund. Others scaled existing projects in a way they could not otherwise. They fed the results of these projects back to the fundraisers and to the donors. They inspired for the long term. We know of many CEOs beyond these five who have delivered Great Fundraising. With and through their teams and boards. All five CEOs I have mentioned did all eight stages of the story, plus the prologue and epilogue. This is no coincidence. Philanthropy and Fundraising International enables Chief Executives and fundraising leaders to become Great Fundraising CEOs. Why not take a look at our seminars to find out how you can become one?
Why do non-fundraisers need to understand fundraising? And why is this critical for fundraising growth. There is a misconception that fundraisers need to ‘just get on with’ fundraising. However, we know that real sustained income growth happens when the rest of the organisation enable fundraisers to perform at their best. Which means the rest of the organisation needs to play its part for fundraising to operate at its optimum. If you want to raise a lot more – say three, four or five times as much money in the medium term, typically over five years, this is critical. Let’s be clear, I don’t mean advocating for fundraising that compromises integrity or using aggressive techniques. It’s about removing the biggest blockage to fundraising: Internal conflict. It’s this internal conflict that can sap energy, waste time, and ultimately lead to fundraisers simply jumping ship. Which is not good. As evidenced in the Great Fundraising Report by Professors Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang, as well as from working with non-profits all over the world we can see that there are three areas where these conflicts arise: The first, unsurprisingly is communications. Roles outside of fundraising focus on the HOW and the WHAT, and the impact of work. They need to do this to build credibility with service users or government or academics and so on. But so much of fundraising is about the WHY – the problem that the organisation, and the donor is there to solve. To overcome this you need non-fundraisers to understand how fundraising works and equally importantly what they can do to be supportive, such as being proactive in finding the right stories so the problem the donor solves can be powerfully communicated. We’ve seen great examples of this transition happening from children’s hospices through to complex international NGO’s. The second conflict area is fundraising investment. Fundraising is often perceived as a cost – and the focus is on annual budgets and worse still short-term ROI. The challenge here is for the rest of the organisation to understand if we invest in fundraising now there will be much more money later (to reach more people/animals, have a greater impact etc). This often goes right to the top. Many boards see their role to mitigate risk – not ‘how can we maximise income for the mission?’, and few have had education on how fundraising works and that it needs to be viewed over several years and seen as an investment. Right now, is a great example – at a time many non-profit organisations are having to think about cutting back because they cannot deliver their services – that doesn’t extend to fundraising. Fundraising is doing well. Why? Well, that’s for another thought piece – but in brief, giving makes people feel good. Hence fundraising, done well, is meeting donors needs at this difficult time. The third and perhaps biggest challenge is the cultural conflict. This exists because fundraisers tend to attract a different type of person to other parts of the organisation. They have different values. Once you recognise this you can build respect between fundraisers and the rest of the organisation instead of constantly trying to integrate which will only amplify the conflict not manage it. These three conflicts need to exist – it’s how they are managed that distinguishes those charities and non-profits who are able to achieve transformative and sustained income growth. If you want fundraising grow – really grow – educate the non-fundraisers, including of course the leadership and board. So, they can not only remove the internal conflict, which is so damaging to achieving any growth, but get behind fundraising. This is when fundraising can fly. Make the understanding of how fundraising really works to the rest of the organisation a key part of your fundraising growth strategy by investing time, and if necessary, money, to do it well, alongside all your external work and communications to attract support.
The journey to becoming a Great Fundraising Organisation
Emma Malcolm started in her role as the Director of Fundraising and Marketing at Macular Society three years ago. When I got the call from Gatenby Sanderson asking if I was interested in a Director role at a smallish sight loss charity in Andover I said no. I was happy in my job and I thought Andover was miles away. But when they mentioned that the charity was working with Alan Clayton at Philanthropy & Fundraising International and had prioritised investment in fundraising growth. I had to find out more… Fundraising will help find a cure to the most common cause of blindness In 2016 the Macular Society raised around £3 million per year. There had been some growth in the preceding years, but income had started to plateau. And whilst the charity was helping around 25,000 people with macular disease, this was a drop in the ocean compared to the 1.5million people living with sight loss caused by macular disease. They knew if they were going to help everyone who might need them then something needed to change. In February 2017 the leadership team went to the Great Fundraising Masterclass at the Inch. To say that Cathy Yelf, the CEO, came back having had a lightbulb moment would be a massive understatement. The idea of raising money and in doing so awareness of macular disease, clicked. Cathy then persuaded the board that this was the way forward. If they wanted to stop macular disease they had to become a Great Fundraising Organisation. It was at this point that Gatenby Sanderson recruited me into a job that has been the hardest, most rewarding and most challenging of my life so far. Things had to change Three months before I even started at Macular Society, I headed to a seminar with 21 about-to-be-new colleagues and board members to develop our New Ambition. And it was incredible. Everything made so much sense. To see people I didn’t even know, but who would be part of the team driving this change, getting more and more excited was amazing. Then, in February 2018, I finally joined at the Director of Fundraising and the fun began…. The Macular Society is an organisation that has grown a lot in 33 years. But it was still operating like a small, local charity. Many of the staff had been there for ages. And whilst they’re all good at their jobs, they’d also got used to the way things worked, even when they found them frustrating. Now, I’m not the sort to change things for the sake of changing them. Life is after all far too short for that. But when I dug under the surface, I saw that pretty much everything they did needed to change. Despite having 15,000 members no-one was responsible for them. The cash appeals raised money but talked about ‘us’ too much. If a story was used at all it was only a tiny part of the appeal. There was no separate regular giving income stream. Any money given was lumped into the cash appeals. There was no system to calculate the cost per donor. And these were only a few of the issues. Things didn’t work: not for fundraising, and definitely not for Great Fundraising. To ensure that we had the foundations to achieve Great Fundraising we went through the building blocks and changed pretty much everything, from team structure to database coding. Some days it felt like the only thing that stayed the same was the address. We are not the same organisation It has been three years now. And whilst there are still some systems we haven’t quite fixed, we are in a completely different organisation to the one that I joined in 2018. So, what have I learnt? 1. Well, change is hard, and you don’t always get it right. A year in and something hadn’t clicked for us and we were compromising. The organisation lost momentum waiting for me to start three months after our New Ambition. And the step-change needed was so huge that we became nervous about going for it. We needed to go back to our Why? So, we went back to The Inch to remind ourselves of what Great Fundraising is and more specifically how we can talk emotionally about our cause. It wasn’t a popular decision with everyone but it was the right thing to do. We came back and things clicked. We stopped asking about what our hook was and remembered that all we need to do is Beat Macular Disease. It is so simple that it took us a while to trust it. 2. Every single person has played their part in getting us to where we are now. I may have lead this process, but I’m not the one making all of the changes and doing it so well. I work with an incredible bunch of people. So, the credit goes out to every single person involved. It hasn’t been easy. We got our structure wrong to start with. We thought that having separate Fundraising and Communications teams separated under one Director would work. And it didn’t. We don’t have a Communications team now. We have an Engagement team that looks after all of our audiences – including Individual Giving. We also don’t have a Brand person, because for us it’s not about the brand, it’s about all the people we need to be there for – our beneficiaries and donors. And of course, curing macular disease. It’s that simple! 3. All this change is exhausting. And three years of it feels like a long time. Trying to maintain energy through some very tough times has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. But it is worth it. When I speak to some of our members, donors or people who attend our groups. They have faith in us that we will cure macular disease. It might not be for them, but it will be for their children and grandchildren. And that gives me so much faith too! 4. If I were to do this again, I would remember to trust my instinct. The things we got wrong were those things we weren’t 100% sure about. And so now if we aren’t 100% convinced then we don’t do it. That’s not to say that we won’t get anything wrong again, of course we will. But as long as we are learning from it, then that’s ok! We care about all the people we interact with and they know we will look after them. We use their money wisely and that is all I need to keep leading the fundraising at this amazing, Great Fundraising Organisation. Because here we are. We are a Great Fundraising organisation. Over the last three years Macular Society has increased its Individual Giving income by 61%. But more importantly has increased investment in research to Beat Macular Disease by 50% as well as spending more on other services to support people with macular disease.
This week I read something that struck a chord with me: “Fundraising leaders should learn from the past but look to the future.” It’s a quality that is often overlooked in a sector that is obsessed with innovation and the ‘next big thing.’ But to be quite honest, having studied history at university, I’m rather partial to looking at what has happened previously – dissecting it, examining the contents and then reshaping it into something new. So, it’ll be no surprise to you that this attitude is what steers Great Fundraising. It is a way of thinking that is supported by a process of continuous learning and application of the scientific method – hypothesis, test, measure, learn. But I want to throw something else into the mix… belief. Great Fundraising is powered by belief Each time we learn from the past our belief grows. And it is this belief that drives Great Fundraising and allows our clients to achieve transformational fundraising growth. I am lucky to receive news of phenomenal results and initiatives that have been funded to bring us one step closer to a better world. These stories, from the non-profits we support, continue to inspire. Every day I am motivated by the belief that this works. And I’ll let you into a little secret… belief is everything. A stroll down memory lane My unwavering belief in Great Fundraising comes from that fact that I know that it works. And it is not just through our clients but lived experience, in other words – I have done it! In the spirit of ‘learning from the past’, I wanted to share my story with you… Almost 12 years ago, as the Appeals Manager at WSPA UK* I became the first ever client of a new approach to fundraising. It was inspirational, emotional and transformative. The results were staggering. On our first appeal income increased 235%. Attrition went down. Our supporters were more engaged. But most importantly, our organisation was united behind its fundraising ambition. For too long WSPA UK had been on the rocky road of compromise. It came to a head when we received the latest lacklustre appeal creative. We were appalled. It didn’t represent the project that we loved. We demanded a meeting with our agency to discuss what had gone wrong. As then Creative Director, Alan Clayton insisted that we bring our senior team. Alan asked each of us to tell the story of our favourite project. The CEO talked about a project helping cats in Cyprus that had been fed glass, a Director spoke about saving bears from cruelty. I relayed the story of an awe-inspiring man who travelled hundreds of miles to rescue donkeys in need. They were not our priority programmes, they didn’t necessarily fit with our strategy but they connected us to the cause. A new creative direction From these stories we created our big idea – a tone of voice that had the supporter at the heart of everything we did. We called it We Sell Powerful Anger. “Telling stories that make an emotional outlet, in this case anger (or outrage) at the suffering of animals, and giving the supporter the power to help that animal, and an outlet for their emotion, by supporting WSPA.” It was simple but not easy. Some staff were outraged themselves. Others insisted it didn’t fit with the brand. But we knew that it aligned with our supporter’s values and so we did not compromise. We applied this to all of our communications going forward. Three days later we launched the appeal. The response rate increased by 61%. The average income growth by 72%. We had thousands of letters of support to pass on to the project staff. And our team was on fire! We were propelled to achieve and we were eager for more. The impact could be felt for the next five years. Here are just a few of the results: Our appeals programme achieved an average donation growth of 42% and the response rate was up by 50% - as part of an intensive ‘test and learn’ programme. Our communications met the needs of our donors and the propositions were much more compelling. Our creative was syndicated to other regional offices. We established an award-winning stewardship programme. We went on to successfully apply these principles to other income streams. We could not have done this without the uncompromising leadership and engagement of our senior staff. After the initial inspiration they kept us motivated so we became a high-performing team who was given the belief that we could achieve more. In fact, we became desperate for it. *WSPA UK rebranded in 2013 and is now named World Animal Protection.
How to make a strong business case for fundraising investment to your board
One of the most difficult things to do for many a CEO or Director of Fundraising is convince your Board and the rest of the organisation to ‘buy into’ a fundraising mindset – something that’s critical for your organisation to grow. More specifically, how do you convince your board to go along with, and crucially, sign off on bold but calculated fundraising investment? First, as we showed with developing a fundraising culture, you need to make them look at the future and dream of what can be achieved. You need to fire them up and help them reconnect with the fundamental reason the charity was founded in the first place. The Why. Once your board have operated that shift and are bought into the principle, give them the data and numbers they need to make the right decisions. Most likely, your treasurer is well versed in financial planning. However, their commercial/for-profit background doesn’t mean they understand how fundraising investment works. So, you need to show them: · Build up your financial knowledge and create a toolkit you can present to them. Make sure you use predictive KPIs as much as impact KPIs. · Include investment modelling. Show them different scenarios of returns over the middle or long term based on different levels of fundraising investment and different performance. · Use income forecasting. This way you can re-project results based on “real time” performance, giving your board up-to-date progress reports based on the initial plan. · Pre-agree on certain predictive KPIs before the next stage, so that you don’t need to go back to them for another decision (which could take months). Be clear on knowing that if you achieve X, you can move on to Y immediately. Ideally, give them only scenarios that you know you can live with. And the benefit is that you’ll be giving them a sense of control and the ability to exercise their legal duty of oversight, while assisting their decision-making in your favour. After all, someone has got to implement that plan afterwards and that’s going to be you. Get your board trained so they feel confident with fundraising investment. Finally, make sure your Board gets training in fundraising. Often, Board of Trustees are composed of people with vast experience in business and the commercial/for profit sector. But just because they understand business, doesn’t mean they understand fundraising. However, once it is explained to them, they WILL GET IT. Scott Chapman did this brilliantly as the CEO of Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in Victoria, Australia. An internal restructure meant that the subsidiary no longer delivered so many flying services and effectively evolved as a fundraising conduit for its sister RFDS across Australia. For 10 years they maintained a small, static fundraising programme. When Scott became the CEO he had to rebuild the business and services – but he soon realised that meant more vigorous fundraising. His first hurdle was to convince his Board of the opportunities for fundraising growth. “What I was trying to do was to get the Board to understand that fundraising is not the bit that is leftover. What I wanted them to do is understand that we are also in the business of fundraising.” Scott Chapman, CEO, Royal Flying Doctors Service – Victoria section. Having persuaded his Board that there was more to learn about fundraising, Scott arranged training for the entire staff and trustees, using emotional stories to reconnect them with their purpose and the cause and get excited about the opportunities that more income could bring. As Scott says; “It really resonated with the Board, coming from a world of business and number crunching. It was a shift in their thinking…an investment opportunity – and they have thought about fundraising in that light ever since. It resulted in the Chair standing up at the end of the day and stating an audacious fundraising goal because he was so inspired!” Training the Board in fundraising led to a complete overhaul of the organisation’s culture, but also its communications and processes. They now see themselves as three businesses: 1. A patient transport business 2. A primary health delivery business 3. And crucially… a fundraising business. Up until then they hadn’t been able to get the Board to invest in fundraising, they were always investing what fundraising made into services. At that point they were able to secure a substantial figure over a five-year programme specifically for fundraising outcomes. With their increased budget, the fundraising team thoroughly reviewed donor recruitment and the donor journey. Over this time the income of RFDS Victoria increased 145% to almost $50 million helping them reach more patients and provide more services to more people in Victoria. Once your board understands what needs to happen, things will start to change. Once your Board understands: 1. the opportunities that more income would bring and what that means for the cause; 2. how fundraising investment works, and 3. the numbers, indicators and different budget scenarios, …they will understand and respect the fundraising functions within the organisation and ultimately give them the support and authority to really drive fundraising growth with focus and at pace. This is particularly important during a crisis – i.e. right now! – when organisations need to react quickly, be nimble and agile, and adapt to rapidly changing situations. This could literally mean life or death for a charity. It is too important to overlook. Your cause and your beneficiaries demand it. Scott Chapman attended the Great Fundraising Masterclass in October 2015. You can join me for the next Masterclass on 8th March.
Fundraising can feel like a battle. That’s because it is. I do not mean ‘battle’ as in some macho, populist faux-war-leader sense, but in the sense of ‘keep battling on’ … the relentless grind of solving problem after problem and overcoming fear and criticism in the expectation of getting a big result at the end of our labours. The battles of my fundraising career have been long. Apartheid, AIDS, famine, disease and even politics (which is never ending.) And, yes, COVID-19. When I, and the people I have been privileged to work with over the years, occasionally take the time to reflect, we realise that some of these long battles have been won or at least that massive progress has been made. Cancer survival rates are hyperbolically better than in the 1980s, apartheid is over and they have almost closed the last of those desperate orphanages in Romania. McDonald’s banned cruelly sourced meat. Much work was needed to win the ‘wars’ in all those cases, but sometimes the fundraiser does get to win a battle. Fundraising is founded in crisis and it flourishes in crisis. This is what we are for. The money we raise may fund organisation overheads and budget deficits, but the only reason we exist at all is to solve problems. Big problems. As quickly as possible. Culturally, we are battlers and our biggest responsibility is … … to help donors to win. It is clear how Great Fundraising leaders do this: In his seminal book on leadership, ‘A First-Rate Madness’, Nassir Ghaemi identified that the cool, rational leader excels in times of stability, predictability – or ‘peace-time’ if you allow the analogy. He also identified that the crisis leader excels at empathy, direct pragmatism and the ability to make quick, seemingly unreasonable decisions. Let’s call it emotional leadership. It’s no surprise therefore that professor Adrian Sargeant identified in the original Great Fundraising Report that emotional leadership is the key starting point for growth in fundraising revenue. So it was a given that when Professor Sargeant undertook a deep dive on branding and communications he found that donors respond to emotional leadership, too. Over the last six months or so I have seen the best and worst of emotional leadership. I have seen CEOs procrastinate and boards bottle it. I have also seen organisations across the globe such as: RNLI Lifeboats in the UK, show the most authentic and inspiring empathy with their donors on a national scale. The feel good and determination across the country was palpable and income rocketed. Lutheran World Relief in the USA accelerate a fundraising re-launch into the crisis rather than back off. They have increased their revenue by 40% in just six months. Trócaire in Ireland recover then increase their income through dramatic, fast, decisive leadership decisions from the fundraising team. Børns Vilkår in Denmark take the opportunity to re-focus, re-fresh and re-launch an already awesome fundraising programme – with the CEO leading the charge. Royal Flying Doctors Service in Melbourne, Australia, persevere and drive income ever upwards through the strictest of lock-downs. There are too many success stories to give credit to every fundraising leader here, but they all have one thing in common: emotional leadership. They are analytical, data-driven, financially astute, structurally aware and morally deep. But they also have intuition for people – what do staff, volunteers, board and donors need? The need to overcome fears and uncertainties. These are emotions. One cannot fight an emotional problem with a rational solution. Only confident, assertive and inspiring leadership keeps people going through the fear and drives momentum and results. If your leadership team have all come from the rational parts of the organisation, perhaps it’s time for fundraising to add that emotional excellence to the leadership team. If it’s already there, just keep battling on. Sometimes you win. It’s important, it’s hard and it feels great afterwards. Briefly. Until the next battle starts. We will win against COVID-19. Then we will take on whatever 2021 and beyond has to throw at us. Keep battling on, and occasionally help our donors win. That’s what fundraisers do.
One lesson about fundraising culture that I learnt as a charity CEO
Being a charity CEO is no walk in the park. Especially when it comes to creating a fundraising culture. Most days it feels less like ‘wearing many hats’ and more like riding a unicycle on a tight rope while juggling torches. And balancing spinning plates on your forehead. As CEO of a small charity, my job was to find that perfect balance – to raise as much money as possible for the cause, while spending as little as possible on raising that money, or fundraising. To be pulled in two very different directions. Sound familiar? What makes it worse, it doesn’t work. Fundraising is an investment-driven business. And this means you won’t raise a lot of money if you don’t spend some money at the start. It’s a gamble. Not literally, but fundraising does involve a level of risk. And there lies the problem. Many charities and most Boards are risk-averse; they adopt a very conservative approach to financial management. They focus on managing the organisation and the cashflow, rather than looking at the long-term possibilities. If they are open to investing in fundraising at all, they expect the return to come back within the year. “Oh, and if it could all be unrestricted, that’d be just swell, thank you…” So, how do you make the case for investing in fundraising? You need to make them look at the future. And dream of what can be achieved. Go back to your Why. WHY was the organisation founded in the first place? No charity was ever founded on the premise that they would aim to improve the lives of 17% of people in need, and increment this by 2% a year. Those kinds of statements have never made anyone get out of bed in the morning. They don’t make talented and passionate staff stick around for very long. And most importantly, they rarely make a donor feel compelled to make a gift. Charities and non-profit organisations exist to solve a problem. To eradicate a disease, to end homelessness, to clean an ocean. Ask the question: “Do you want a bit more money now or a lot more money down the road? Do you want to help save a few more lives now, or save many more lives in three, five, even 10 years?” The cause DEMANDS that you think about all the lives that need saving. It DEMANDS bold investments and tough decisions today so that the problem your charity seeks to solve will indeed one day, be eradicated. Ask yourself: “Is it better to spend £100K on your project and safely demonstrate that you kept your overhead under 20% or to spend £100 million on your cause, radically making the world better, because at some point you made the decision to invest in fundraising?” Fundraising investment planning involves looking forward, not back Accountability is what drives the fundraising culture in most non-profits. This involves accounting for the past in order to demonstrate good stewardship of funds and thereby get more money in the future. Whilst this may be good for institutional fundraising, public fundraising requires us to draw a picture of what is going to happen in the future, in order to gain the necessary investment today. Great Fundraising Organisations are future-focused. Their financial analysis and planning is based on learning from the past, yes, but with an absolute focus on the future and their ability to adapt as the future changes. Their toolbox includes all your usual tools and indicators for financial management (balance sheet, cashflow analysis, cost per acquisition, etc.) but also some strong predictive tools, such as: · investment modelling · testing · forecasting · if/then budgeting · predictive key performance indicators (KPI’s) · cost/profit analysis · learnings reporting. These predictive tools are not there to manage cash flow but to deliver growth. Developed by the fundraising team, they are understood throughout the organisation with processes and systems set to deliver them. The importance of Lifetime Value While most non-profits will focus on keeping their costs (overhead) down, the Great ones focus on measuring and reporting on fundraising KPI’s. This is one metric I like in particular: Lifetime Value of their donors divided by Cost per Acquisition LTV / CPA That’s all the donations a donor will give during their lifetime (and beyond in the case of legacies) divided by the cost to solicit the initial gift from that donor. What this means is that you shouldn’t try to keep your Cost Per Acquisition down at all costs. Because Lifetime Value matters in this equation. Maybe it’s worth spending a bit more money to attract more loyal donors who will give you more money and for longer? Meeting the needs of our donors When I first started as a fundraiser for Bread and Water for Africa in France, we relied heavily on premiums to recruit new donors. This seemed to work in the short term. The response rate on cold acquisition was 4.75%! But attrition rates were very high. The charity was literally leaking donors. They’d make a first gift and then never give again to subsequent appeals. We just spent our time and money recruiting donors over and over and then they would seep through our fingers. We therefore changed the strategy to improve the quality of the messages (both for warm and cold campaigns) and make sure donors felt rewarded and appreciated. The results: the cost per acquisition went up. BUT the average gift went up as well. People started signing up for Direct Debit, and before long we started receiving our first legacies. By slightly increasing our CPA – and overhauling our communications – we exponentially raised our LTV. The result? Cash flow took a dip in the first year, but that strategy paid off in the long run with a much better return on investment at year five. That required courage from the Board and the leadership team. Focusing on growth So, when I became the CEO of Bread and Water for Africa UK, I knew exactly how I would approach fundraising, and therefore influence a shift in the fundraising culture. And that was to focus on lifetime value as the key metric to deliver long-term, sustainable growth. This sounds simple. But remember those spinning plates? The tightrope? The unicycle? A change in mindset of this scale requires the whole organisation to be focused and energised behind fundraising growth. And this shift in fundraising culture needs to be led from the very top – the CEO and the Board of Trustees. And no one ever said that simple was easy.
Philanthropic orientation is a strategic orientation highly receptive to, and welcoming of, a variety of philanthropic sources of income. Importantly it is respectful of the nature of philanthropy and the role that all might play in developing it. But why should it matter to you? “An organisation’s strategic orientation is important because it shapes the strategy it will implement to create the behaviours necessary to sustain or enhance its overall performance.” (Gatignon and Xuereb 1997; Slater et al. 2006). For a non-profit organisation that performance is its ability to raise money to pursue the mission. That means fundraising. Therefore, a philanthropic orientation is vital for Great Fundraising – the ability to achieve substantial income growth – to flourish. The role of philanthropy As a concept, philanthropy focuses on love for others or love for mankind. So, if that is what philanthropy is, what would it mean for an organisation to be oriented towards philanthropy and thus appreciate philanthropy as critical for its future survival and success? Or, its ability to become a Great Fundraising organisation. A qualitative study led by Professor Adrian Sargeant, identified three key factors associated with a philanthropic orientation that emerged from interviews with senior fundraising practitioners in Australia. These were found to be: Donor orientation Donor orientation was seen as a high-level focus on donor (or supporter) needs. Rather than regard donors as a “piggy-bank” they are regarded as individuals with a discrete set of needs that the organisation should respond to and nourish. In a philanthropic culture, the organisation as a whole cares quite genuinely about the needs of its donors and the satisfaction of those needs is considered of equal importance to the satisfaction of the needs of the beneficiary. “If you’re truly serious about growth it isn’t optional. Fundamentally you have to understand the needs of your supporters and build all that you do around delivering that. But more than just the fundraisers doing that – its everyone’s responsibility. Just takes a while for them to get it.” Senior Fundraising Leader, Australia. Embedding philanthropy at the heart of an organisation For a philanthropic orientation to be adopted, the organisation has to consciously reflect on the nature of philanthropy and how the organisation as a whole will respond to and nurture it. The development of philanthropy cannot be something that is the sole responsibility of the fundraising team, everyone (including members of the Board or governing body) must see it as their responsibility. Everyone should be offered training in the basics and everyone should have fundraising (or at least supporting fundraising) in their job descriptions. “Fundraising is routinely a part of induction for new members of staff. It isn’t that we expect everyone to ‘do’ the fundraising, it’s more that we want them to appreciate how it works and to be able to articulate and be proud of the case for support.” It was interesting to note that many Australian leaders took such trouble to integrate fundraising into the organisation that they found themselves with more relationships or “bridges” between functions than other members of the organisational leadership team. This created in itself an opportunity to add value for peers because they could often forge connections that no-one else could. This was seen as important because it reinforced the non-monetary value that fundraising could offer and helped with further embedding it into the organisation as a whole. Celebration of shared philanthropic successes A further component of philanthropic orientation is the level of pride that the organisation develops in respect of its income generation and those who facilitate that to happen. Many of those interviewed noted the pride that their organisation had in its service provision and the leaders and frontline service staff who were delivering their outcomes. What appeared to mark out a higher degree of philanthropic orientation was the extent to which the organisation was similarly proud of its ability to attract philanthropy and meet the needs of and steward relationships with, its supporters. Such pride arose out of a fundamental understanding that money and mission should be seen as one and the same thing. Oriented for fundraising success The overlap of these three factors and the requirements for Great Fundraising, as documented in the Great Fundraising Report, are abundantly clear. Both call for a culture where the whole organisation is focused and energised behind fundraising – and ideally, its growth. And both recognise the importance of the donor and meeting their needs as paramount to achieving this. Therefore, developing a philanthropic orientation is clearly one where Great Fundraising can thrive – and that in itself would be reason to celebrate.
Before I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was a salesperson. I sold shoes. I sold ski trip packages. I sold whitegoods. I was good at it. And I was good at it because I was working in a customer-centric culture. I learnt the golden rule in sales, that is, to sell with the same honesty, integrity, understanding, empathy and thoughtfulness that you would like someone else to use in selling to you. Finding the world of fundraising mid-career saw me move on from classic sales but not from the basic tenant of being customer centric. In the fundraising world it means meeting the needs of donors. It gets talked about a lot in our industry. But if anything, the global pandemic has shown me how it is not actually a prioritised bedrock of many fundraising programs. Culture crisis When Covid-19 hit it became obvious that the decisions non-profits made at that moment would set the tone for their fundraising through, what has turned out to be, an enduring crisis. Some organisations were able to act quickly and focus on the business of fundraising. Others either hoped that relying on the strategy in place, business as usual, would work or even worse withdrew, assumed donors wouldn’t or couldn’t help and in some cases stopped fundraising altogether. The difference between the two? Those whose fundraising is still thriving have a culture that supports a clear understanding of, and respect for, donors. They knew the need to give is greater in a crisis, so they kept their donors involved and busy. In times of crisis, when our strategy is no longer relevant or needs to adjust, quickly, those without a strong culture falter. Led by fear Fear permeated the sector. Fear of the unknown. Fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear that donors were compromised and not in a position to help. Fear that our services could not be delivered. Fear that we may not be able to adapt to continue our good work. Many charitable organisations shied away from communicating with their donors. Those fundraisers who did communicate with their supporters got bogged down in internal sign-off procedures and endless amendments to messaging. A 12 day approval timeline for an email, once seen as acceptable, became obviously outdated practice and not useful. So, we need to ask: How were some organisations able to be confident about their fundraising and meet the needs of donors in the face of this crisis and others were not? How were some organisation able to be more focused and energised in their fundraising than others? How were some organisations able to turn the crisis into a growth opportunity? The quality of the culture that supports fundraising was the great divide between the Great Fundraising organisations and the rest. The culture of Great Fundraising What was the difference their culture made, and still makes? Their leadership gets fundraising and they have the right people leading. They know where they are heading, they have clear ambition. And they trust those they have employed to lead their fundraising. For Aberlour, a Scottish Children’s charity, the Covid-19 pandemic could have been a real disaster for their fundraising. Fortunately, they had invested in fundraising training for the Senior Leadership team and had appointed an experienced fundraising leader. In the face of the crisis they had an internal culture that trusted fundraising and facilitated one of the fastest crisis pivots we’ve seen – six hours from appeal inception to launch! “Having trust gives you the ability to work at pace and that is what this process, starting with PFI, has helped achieve. It has given the team a sense of confidence and enhanced our credibility… It has raised our profile externally and, most importantly, enabled us to raise more funds…” Pippa Johnston, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Aberlour. Aberlour is a great example of the fundraisers position within the organisation, relative to other departments and roles being elevated to important. Their work is questioned less often, their professionalism, experience and expertise are respected. This sees them have increased motivation, confidence and productivity. 2. Their leadership gets fundraising and they take confident, decisive action. Consensus seeking compromises plague our industry. A lack of agility plagues our industry. 3. Their donors are seen as part of their organisations culture too. All too often the concept, and power, of meeting donor needs often remains just that, a concept. But not for Great Fundraising leaders. Approaching donors with honesty, integrity, understanding, empathy and thoughtfulness requires us to see them as important stakeholders. Listening, understanding and adapting to their needs reaps the rewards of loyalty as demonstrated by the Australia’s Flying Doctors; “I just got off the phone today to some major (and not-so-major) donors, just asking them how they were, how is life through Covid-19 – not asking them for money – so they all feel like they are a part of us and are on the journey with us.” Royal Flying Doctor Service Those who could meet donor’s needs were in organisations where their culture meant donor’s needs were understood, seen as important (not more important than the needs of beneficiaries but equal) and time, effort and consideration were given to understanding and meeting them. So, what is culture worth? For organisations wanting to be truly great at fundraising, it’s gold. When your whole organisation buys in to your fundraising ambition and understands the fundraising function and its importance to the mission, they will be able to build for the long-term. And in times of crisis, they won’t lose this momentum.