Monday, 27 January 2014

2014 is all about innovation. And sugar.

“Innovation” is a word we bandy around a lot in fundraising, always on a quest to find news ways to engage donors, and to communicate more effectively and meaningfully with the supporters that we have. 
As we start 2014, it is a word which seems to feature even more prominently in virtually every article or blog about the future of the sector, and the services we all provide. Its prevalence is matched only by the number of articles I see about sugar. 

What has prompted this? I am guessing some new research – I don’t read the articles myself, everyone I know seems to have decided sugar is evil and giving it up, and I’m worried I might follow suit if I find out why.

It’s also a word I find myself using increasingly as a kind of generic, catch-all term for something a little bit different, or new-ish, and I was feeling increasingly guilty about this – a nagging feeling that I am not really being innovative when I use the word. 

How often have you, or a member of your fundraising team, spotted a campaign or strategy, and then gone into overdrive trying to work out how it could be adapted for your charity? Or brainstormed ways to make an established event new and exciting, again often appropriating what has worked for others? 

I secretly wondered how many of us were actually coming up with new ideas, compared to those of us borrowing and adapting, and estimated a ratio of about 3 to 10,000.

This was one of the reasons I was so excited to attend the Institute of Fundraising’s Festival of Fundraising Innovation at the end of last year. An opportunity to explore the concept of innovation and what it meant in practice. 

And possibly steal some ideas be inspired by my professional colleagues. 

The event attempted to embed innovation into the event itself, as well as the title, calling it a festival rather than a conference. Some of it – the venue, the different “stages” – worked well. Other aspects, not so much. (No biscuits? I know they are not standard festival fare, but then there was no pear cider on offer either). 

Perhaps IOF were pre-empting the 2014 sugar backlash. I even tweeted about it during the event. Yes, while others were using the hashtag to share ideas and responses, I was moaning about biscuits. (I have no shame).

The best part of the day for me was learning that, actually, most people were doing the same as me – looking at existing techniques, borrowing concepts, adapting them. Innovation isn’t necessarily about constantly creating new ideas, it’s also being imaginative and creative with existing ones. 

The exception really is when it comes to technology – where there really are opportunities to do new things. There were some words of caution here though – because some possibilities are so new, the temptation is to jump onto the bandwagon without taking more time to consider how it would really add value to your organisation. 

In the Open Space discussion facilitated by Janine Chandler of Cancer Research UK, several participants commented that when smart phones took off, they had been under pressure to look at developing mobile phone apps – without much thought to how or why.

Not only did I come away feeling reassured that I wasn’t a fraud when it came to innovation, (reinforced by Sue Kershaw, Development Director at SOFII when she explained that some of the most successful fundraising campaigns ever were imaginative and creative recasts of existing concepts).

But I, as always, found the chance to talk to other fundraisers inspirational and invigorating, and resolved to actively seek opportunities to do more of this in 2014. 

And I’ll bring the biscuits. 

Jemma Saunders

Friday, 17 January 2014

Buzzword: a term or phrase that sounds good, but means nothing.

Buzzword: The real dictionary defines it as: "a word or phrase, often sounding authoritative or technical, that is a vogue term in a particular profession, field of study, popular culture, etc."

Urban Dictionary has a number of definitions. I like this one: "a term or phrase that sounds good, but means nothing."

Here are a few of my fundraising favourites together with some light-hearted thoughts and potential definitions!

Donor: the person (which should include you and me), that gives money and keeps us in a job. 

Stewardship: A fundraising friend and I were laughing about this the other day. It was her son’s birthday and afterwards they wrote to everyone and said thank you for the presents he’d received. 

She jokingly called this her ‘friend stewardship’ plan, because how on earth was she going to make sure people didn’t forget her son, and celebrate his birthday the next year by kindly giving cards and gifts, if she didn’t do this. It’s quite simple really.

Donor journey: No, not a coach trip together to the Munich Christmas Market. Apparently this is about getting people to give again, and give more. Or do something else (‘cross-selling’ the opportunity) for your charity. 

Engagement: Not Beyonce encouraging us to put a ring on it, but basically talking to people in a human way. The crucial words here being ‘talking’ and ‘human.’ So when I meet my friend Mark at the pub, we don’t ‘engage’ for the evening. We talk, laugh, listen to each other, have fun and appreciate each other.

Solicitation: Not the thing that happens after Mark and I have been to the pub (see engagement), but that thing that all fundraisers should be doing. Yep, asking for money.

Pipeline: I can never escape the mental image of a big pipe through which money flows, falling and cascading into our arms, as we sit smiling and sifting gold coins through our fingers. I suspect the people who are planning to give (potential donors) would be horrified at our use of this term. 

High Net Worth Individuals: Rich people

Elevator pitch: I have often heard people say that their brand doesn’t give them the words to describe their charity effectively. I find this interesting. If you care enough, have the passion and the love for the cause, you’ll find the words. And if they’re your words, talking in your voice, then this will come across. And will work for that solicitation.

Donor pyramid: A useful tool, admittedly. But it still brings to mind a big pile of people all stood on top of each other, wobbling precariously. All those donors, entering their journey, looking for a bit of engagement and stewardship before they topple and end up in the big pipeline. 

Funding landscapes: No, me neither

Change management: Apparently, an “approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organisations to a desired future state.” Sometimes a euphemism for ‘update your CV immediately because you never know what will happen.’ Often closely related to “period of consultation.”

Guru: I rather like the Urban Dictionary definition for this one; “somebody who is supposed to be an expert on something.” Quite often a white, middle-aged man.

Cultivation: According to the dictionary, cultivation is the ‘art of cultivating.’ Clear as mud then. I’m not sure that I, as a person who gives money to charity, like to be compared to something I equate to bacteria. Maybe I could be fostered (by a nice couple at the seaside), or nurtured (like a baby), or courted (like a lover). Or I could simply be made your friend and then you could ask me for some money.

Optimisation: Basically, doing something the best it can be done. So, “I’m optimising my fundraising,” equals “I’m fundraising in the best possible way so I can raise more money and change more lives.” (Normally involves engagement and solicitation)

There are so many, we could be here all day. But I have to continue being donor-centric and focused, so am off to maximise my income by optimising my solicitation statements and building the perfect donor journey.

I would love to hear yours!

Danielle Atkinson

Monday, 13 January 2014

"So, what do you do?"

When I started working in fundraising, eleven years ago, I naively didn’t imagine I would hear many negative comments about my job – I was working for a charity and that was a good thing, no?

What I find interesting about the responses I get when I say I’m a fundraiser is what it reveals about attitudes to the charity sector generally – a sector particularly under the spotlight with the focus on charity executive pay, increasing negativity towards face to face fundraising, falling donations, and rising demand for the services charities provide.

I’m lucky to have a job that I love, and wouldn’t want to do anything else – but I’ve learned that when I tell people what I do, I will almost always get one of the following comments:

1. "Are you one of those chuggers? <insert criticism of chuggers here>"

By far the most common response, and one which I find difficult to deal with. On one hand, I want to support my fundraising colleagues, and defend my profession; on the other, I struggle when approached by face to face fundraisers myself, principally because I have the unfortunate and unhelpful knack of making slightly awkward social interactions profoundly more so. 

I am so indoctrinated into saying yes and being accommodating to people that I cannot say no, even though as a professional colleague it should be easier, not harder. Instead I allow a conversation to start from which I quickly have to extricate myself. As I say, awkward. 

Interestingly the prevalence of this response suggests that face to face really has become the “go to” image of fundraising.

2. "Have you ever thought of holding a raffle / car boot sale / fashion show / charity ball hosted by a famous person?"

I heard the phrase “everyone’s a fundraiser” in my first week in fundraising, and have said it myself many times since. The tricky thing is, it’s kind of true. 

Everyone IS a fundraiser, and given my remit includes developing community fundraising, I am keen to encourage this involvement – even when the person making the suggestion seems to be under the impression you have never considered ways in which you can ask people for money. 

However it seems churlish and ungrateful to start pointing out that your target for the year is £250,000 or that a suggested activity will take about a month of preparation and net £50, and more than that, it is unfair to do so – after all it is my job, and my problem, and their intentions are nothing but good. 

Also if you then start to explain quite how difficult it is to plan and deliver a successful Ball, you will discover that they themselves organised one for the school PTA, got Cat Deeley to host, David Beckham to donate to the auction, the cast of Strictly to perform and raised £200,000, and you will feel like the smallest person that ever lived. 

My response is always to smile and say, what a great idea. Then get them to join your Fundraising Committee.  

3. "I think it is disgusting you get paid to do that"

I have heard many variations on this theme; but this is a direct quote from a family member. Yes, someone I am indirectly related to felt this was a socially acceptable, and not at all impolite, comment to make. They then upped the ante by confidently declaring that volunteers could do my job, and there was no need to pay fundraisers. 

I have no doubt at all that there are any number of volunteers who would be more than capable of doing my job, unpaid. But very few that would wish to.

Volunteers give their time for many different reasons, often because they do not have to work a 45 hour week, and want their skills and experience to benefit others. Frequently they give their time to more than one cause, or in the economic climate, combine their volunteering with paid work. 

Unsurprisingly, people who are themselves volunteers rarely claim that charities could do away with paid staff. 

Charity pay has been under increased scrutiny since William Shawcross made his spectacularly unhelpful comments about Chief Executive pay and charity leaders “moaning” (Does he know he is Chair of the Charity Commission? Should we tell him?). 

But his statements only gained so much traction because they tapped into what many people already think about charities – that despite the growing dependence on the voluntary sector to provide essential services and plug the gaps through which the most vulnerable people in our community, our country, our world, would fall - the people behind them should not be paid with “our” money. 

There is particular distaste for fundraising costs – how often have you assured supporters that you spend as little as possible on generating income? The assumption is that we would all donate to good causes without being asked, completely ignoring the reality that most people who donate to charity do so only because they are asked.

4. "Are you going to ask me for money? Fnar, fnar…"

You bet I am. In fact I’m going to go one better. I’m going to get you up Mount Kilimanjaro. Six months intensive training, months of fundraising, and preparing for altitude sickness. You’re going to have the time of your life AND thank me for it. 

5. "That sounds really interesting – I’d love to help, what could I do?"

I love you. No really, I LOVE you. 

Now - have you ever thought of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro?

This is my top 5 – what would you add?

Jemma Saunders

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

“It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day.”

In the words of the song: “It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day.” I’ve treated myself to over two weeks off work this Christmas/New Year, and I’m feeling relaxed, happy and full of ambition.

I spent a fair bit of time in the last few months of 2013 feeling sorry for myself. The charity I loved working for had merged with another. I felt sad, hard done-by and (honestly) pretty pissed off with it all.

Always look on the bright side of life

I make no secret of the fact that I have suffered with depression. It was the year off work with this disease that led me to the charity sector and fundraising, where I have had the joy of finding the career for me. I’ve worked with some amazing people, and made some wonderful friends. But for a little while I allowed myself to fall out of love with it and start to wallow in self-pity.

In all seriousness, I needed to get some perspective. After all, I have my health. I have a roof over my head. I can pay my bills. I can live my life. I have my amazing friends and family.  And, I do love fundraising. It fires me up.

So, in 2014 I am going to remember all the lessons I learned in my ‘wilderness year.’ I am going to focus on the positive and list three good things that happen every day.

Don’t be backwards in coming forwards

I’ve heard this phrase a lot over my life. From my family, at school, from friends, at work. I’ve always been a little bit proud of the fact that I’m happy to challenge things. Or to be the one to speak up if needed. Or to have the discussions needed to make change happen.

However, the last few months of 2013 knocked my confidence. I let myself lose my voice. It might not have been obvious, but I could feel the difference. I allowed things to happen to me rather than being in control. Whilst accepting there are things I cannot change, where I can I will certainly try.

I’m entering 2014 with a renewed feeling of vigour. The voice is back. I’m feeling powerful and strong.  So, I’m going to harness this and use it to push me forwards in doing what I want to do – raising money for an amazing cause.

And I’m also going to take time for the little things I enjoy about work. Reading fundraising social media, blogs and websites. Getting involved with the Institute of Fundraising. Writing blog posts on Charity Chicks about whatever takes my fancy. Making time to meet with fundraising friends.

After all, as Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.”

Happy 2014 everyone!

Danielle Atkinson