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.


Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing – consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.
– Lance Secretan

This word kicked off the day with Alan Clayton’s presentation on the brilliantly written Amnesty pen pack. Featuring a pen – a tool of torture around the world. But also an instrument of change.

The pack is hard-hitting. It is not for the faint of heart. It is hard to see and not care. But this is because it is true. As Alan said, Amnesty addressed the core issue and “cut the crap”.

It made me think of how often we can let all that “crap” get in the way. Concern about complaints or bad PR. Risk. Sign off by committees.

But time and time again, the truth of the biggest and best ideas was self-evident. From MNDA’s John Bell campaign, which showed a young thirty-something man’s changes as a result of the disease that ravaged his body, to Plan’s child sponsorship, featuring unedited letters written by the child herself, truth and authenticity made the connection between donor and beneficiary real. Viscerally, undeniably real.


Courage and conviction are powerful weapons against an enemy who depends only on fists or guns. Animals know when you are afraid; a coward knows when you are not.
– David Seabury

Conviction is the by-product of authenticity and the precursor to action.

Amnesty’s press ads, brought to life on the day by BurnettWorks copywriter Karin Weatherup, demonstrated a clear conviction in the cause that led to “fury”. Fury at what has happening in the world. Fury at the “million failures” they face.

When fundraisers at Save the Children had launched their Gaza appeal – and felt it still wasn’t enough in light of the images they continued to see from the region – they had the conviction and raw emotion that compelled them to do more. This led to an amazingly effective SMS campaign to ask the British government to act. Which they did.

Conviction in the public is what drives them to respond. And our conviction behind the scenes ensures that vigour and emotion seeps through every pore of our fundraising campaigns. This showed across the campaigns covered on the day, but do we as fundraisers see this level of emotion and conviction in the work we do, day in, day out?

Take away tips
Sometimes it’s hard to take vague ideas about conviction and authenticity and turn it into action when you’re back at your desk on a Monday morning. So here are some tips that I’m taking away from I Wish I’d Thought of That to reignite this in my own fundraising work.

Research. Know your cause inside and out. Speak to the right people. The knowledge of what goes on in the world is part of what fed the Amnesty press ads. The more you know about the topic, the more easily you can stumble on those very real, honest nuggets of information that can form the hook for a campaign. It may take time, but that’s far easier than trying to find information that suits your creative. As Tobin Aldrich pointed out while discussing Help the Aged’s ‘Make a blind man see – £10’ press ad, that came from the real cost of cataract surgery in India. What’s actually happening should be enough inspiration (and if it isn’t, that’s a far more worrying issue…).

Get the right people on board. Ever worked for a charity with ‘passion’ in your corporate values, only to have the passion ripped out of every appeal or campaign? Make sure you have the right people on board to defend your campaigns. Be willing to fight the good fight so your communications can say what your charity says it stands for.

Keep your approval list to a strict ‘need-to-approve’ list. People from across the charity may want to ‘sign off’ your fundraising work, but quite often this can lead to unwieldy bureaucracy that dilutes the conviction, which can in turn give even the most authentic the appearance of bland, corporate marketing speak. Agree with people on the approval list what they’re feeding back on – and on what grounds you can disagree with them. Have an arbitration process for when someone wants to take something out that you know to be accurate and real. Once that process is clear to everyone, it’s a lot easier to push back when your authenticity and conviction is at risk of being stripped.

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