What a difference a year makes – last year I was in Malaysia working with a brilliant Buddhist charity that helps orphans and elderly people sadly neglected, when the ice-bucket challenge hit and all the staff were busy soaking themselves in icy water. Fortunately, it being Malaysia they dried off pretty quickly, but I was amazed at the enthusiasm for the challenge; and to a large extent it was the challenge that they wanted to prove themselves against.
Along with the rest of the world, I loved the idea and thought how it could be replicated for my clients: do we first look at the challenge or gather celebrity supporters or… At that time fundraisers were happy, riding high and confident.
This year the media turned against fundraising, falsely linking the death of Olive Cook to the amount of appeals and calls that lady received; then going undercover to expose reprehensible practices of charities in the UK who are ignoring legal requirements on donors telephone preferences and putting undue pressure on them to give.
This year we are all looking at the frequency and appropriateness of our actions, which is no bad thing. Many codes of practice have been tightened and we are all not only aware that vulnerable people may feel much more pressure than you or I, but taking active steps to avoid creating that pressure.
So, what can we learn from these two unrelated episodes. I think there are four key things that should be at the heart of our fundraising strategies:
1. Spread the load
Many charities, if not all, have struggled with the falling take-up rates from traditional direct marketing and the increasing rate at which people drop out of our databases by ceasing to give; and this has led to such thorough marketing programmes, systematically throwing everything at the donor, that on one hand the remaining supporters may become cynical and stop giving and on the other hand telemarketing agencies can be driven to break or bypass not only the rules and regulations but also acceptable forms of behaviour.
So, to lower the sometimes unrealistic expectations and pressure to make dying techniques perform like spring chickens, we all need a mix of strategies. For example by building the online capabilities that will enable us to replace lost income from Baby Boomers as they retire, with income from the rising Generations X and Y. Of course, the more income streams we open up the more sustainable our fundraising will become, because we won’t be so vulnerable to a shift in giving patterns.
We all know we should all be testing each new idea whether it is crowd funding or getting that viral campaign off the ground, yet relatively few of us actively pursue new revenue streams until they become commonplace. Let’s be much more adventurous in the next twelve months.
2. Lighten up
We, as fundraisers, often deal with the worst things that can happen to people and it becomes all too easy to slip from feeling that people should give to our cause to trying to make them feel guilty if they don’t – “It only costs the price of a cup of coffee!” (No, it doesn’t, that is the price of reaching your target) – when there is no room for wit or humility there is no space for real human communication and badgering is not far behind.
Humour and the human heart have a great relationship and using humour in fundraising can be very effective to relieve the horrors we reveal to people. Don’t you just love the Greenpeace legacy advert that said “When you come back as a whale you’d wish you left a legacy to Greenpeace”.
Let’s be wittier and more human and communicate better.
3. Tighten up
My goodness have some of us let things slide! I was talking to the head of large charity a few weeks ago who had never sat in any of his agency’s calls, had ceased to read his agency copywriting, but was inordinately proud of the number of twitter followers he had. Social media is essential and it takes time, but we must not lose the rigour that makes the difference between great and good, nor the simple walking about that means people know we have our eyes on what they are doing and are deeply interested in it. I would have written ‘passionately interested’ but let’s not over use the word passionate.
Be curious – how are your rival non-profits doing? And just how are they doing it? Donate to several competitors and check their fundraising in detail, sometimes it is a wake-up call to us to invigorate tired fundraising techniques that we may have lost interest in.
4. The future belongs to the magicians
Frankly, we don’t know how to launch the next ice-bucket challenge and maybe we never will because we rarely move in the right circles, and by and large despise the celebrities and influential people we should be courting. Our personal connections are limited and our Board’s are often non-existent.
We live in a celebrity culture but many of us are in denial, and fail to grasp the truth that celebrities have command of a huge amount of attention on social media and beyond, driving thousands to your campaign. So, build up your list of celebrity patrons and then use them. Instead of just one patron who gives a limited amount of their time it is far more effective to sign up a dozen; then it is very likely one will be available whenever you need a patron’s help, and they can all open doors you didn’t even know existed.
My magicians in the headline are those who manipulate people not cards, who can create new situations out of contacts among the stars, the influentials and the media then generate fundraising ideas that these people want to see succeed.
Go – be a magician!