Last time it was Innovation; now I found myself at another Institute of Fundraising conference talking about another “I” word- this time the word was 'Impact.'
I was lucky enough to receive a bursary to attend this event (open to organisations whose raised voluntary income is below £1million) and it definitely made it accessible.
I am becoming increasingly more selective in deciding which conferences and training events are a good investment, but the invigorating feeling of discussing issues with other fundraisers is one that has huge value, as well as it being a topic which is increasingly relevant to all of us in the sector – Impact.
When I started in fundraising, 11 years ago now, I worked for a wonderful organisation, Oakhaven Hospice, and impact was not a concept I ever heard discussed.
Certainly, the medical and care teams were rigorous in assessing their standards of care, but in fundraising the focus seemed much more on emphasising the need for funding – the increasing demand, the reasons why the type of palliative care hospices provide was important and made a difference, our work in the community, and how we continued to support families after the loss of a loved one through bereavement counselling.
Perhaps this was because the concept of caring for people who have life limiting illnesses needs less explanation than other causes, therefore people are less likely to demand to know what long term effect the work will have.
Or perhaps it was because the type of fundraising that at the time we carried out; one of the most interesting point for me from the conference was made several times, by different speakers – individual donors are much less interested in “investing in impact” and having this impact reported to them than other types of funders, particularly grant making trusts.
This was illustrated memorably by one of the speakers, Tris Lumley of NPC, who explained that the assumption that individual donors cared about impact and wanted to donate money where impact was greatest, resulted in what was initially an unsuccessful business model for NPC.
When I was at Oakhaven, the vast majority of our fundraising focused on individuals, whereas now the charity has won several substantial grants, and no doubt the concept of impact reporting is very different.
Aside from the pleasing feeling of being a UN delegate or international ambassador type (the event was held at the International Coffee Organisation, in a room where we all had our own individual microphones, and the back wall was festooned with flags), one of the most valuable parts of the event for me was being able to openly acknowledge the pressures that we face as fundraisers to do what we need to in order to get the funding, whilst recognising that this causes tensions around how honest to be with a funder – particularly if things are not going well.
It didn't come up on the day, perhaps because the mix of organisations in the room meant that it had less relevance for some than others, but I wonder what impact payment by results could have on the optimistic spirit of openess that ran through the session.
Richard Piper, CEO of Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity represented funders, and admitted that there was room for improvement from their side of the fence, not least actually doing something with the reams of impact data received through faithfully completed project reports. His talk made me, and I am sure many other people in the room, wish he could be cloned and installed at hundreds of other grant making trusts.
Of particular relevance to this blog, especially with International Women's Day just behind us - Katie Rabone asked the question early on in the event; why, when about 70% of the room was female, was every single speaker male?
This was no criticism of the men who were there – who then all felt the need to apologise for being, well, male - but is a continuing, and to be honest, really quite inexcusable trend.
There are many dynamic, accomplished, and high achieving women in fundraising, are they not seen at these events because they are not invited, or because as you move up to the most senior roles, those most likely to be speaking, the gender balance shifts? This needs to be addressed, but please do not mistake this for a pitch; I am an appallingly bad public speaker.
Finally, for anyone who ready my previous blog about an IOF event, I am please to report that there were biscuits on offer at every refreshment break, the 2014 sugar ban has obviously gone the way of all other resolutions.