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As a new year brings new opportunities and partnerships, and in a world of Charity of the Years also brings others to an end, I’ve been thinking about what makes good relationships. I’ve been at my charity for three years now, and the way that I interact with the people supporting us has changed in that time. Here’s what I would say are the most important things to consider:
1) Friendship comes first. Don’t feel worried that you need to be professional at all times (see Lizzi’s wonderful article here!: https://www.charityconnect.co.uk/post/bringing-your-authentic-self-to-work/446. Don’t be afraid to be friendly with people, regardless of their position or who they work for – it doesn’t all have to be business talk. There’s always something you can talk about that will relax everyone from the beginning. If all else fails, talk about their journey in, what they are doing with the rest of their day, holiday plans. Soon enough you will be comparing notes and asking about their families or hobbies. Remember important dates in their lives. Remember that whether a corporate supporter, a major donor, or a marathon runner, they are first and foremost people.
And most importantly, don’t be too concerned with what you want one of your supporters to do for you, but remember that telling people you need money is not enough – every charity can argue that.Why does yours matter, to them?What makes them the right supporter?What difference can they make that is unique to them.
2) Understand your supporters’ aims. Yes, you probably know what you want them to do for you, but is that because you think it will be perfect for them or because you need to tick that box? Is your proposal the same as you are asking everyone else, or have you come with something specific that will appeal just to them? If it is one project you are selling, have you re-phrased it from their point of view to highlight why it would be great for them? If you haven’t met them at least halfway, their journey to you will be all the longer.
3) Appreciate their priorities and timescales. Don’t ask for things at a time that won’t work for them. Yes, you have deadlines, and yes, you have a budget, but if you try to force them into the wrongly-shaped hole you will not be making the most of what you could achieve together, and worse, you could be creating an experience which makes them feel unfulfilled or even pressured. Remember when their new annual budget starts. Listen if they feel that staff are starting to show fundraising fatigue. Back off, but take an interest if the whole office is being redesigned or the department restructured – and go to see it afterwards.
4) Keep them updated. Always. A supporter might not be doing much for you right now, and they might not have been clear on why yet, but stick with it and don’t give up unless they have made it clear that they won’t be helping again. For me, a large donation came after I had given up on expecting one but had carried on in a great relationship I had with one member of staff at a company anyway. When it was the right time for the company, we were the obvious place to turn and received gratitude for having always been in close contact.
5) New ways to say thank you. There are always new ways to do this. They don’t all have to be big things. The hand-written card, the short film made on a mobile, the quick email, the tweet, the involvement of wider staff, the invitation, or just the ‘I saw this article and knew you would like it’ can speak volumes. Make it sincere, make it honest, and tell them what difference they have made on a fundamental, human level – not numbers, but how they made the world a better place for someone or something.
6) Surprise them. There will be, and continue to be, a million tiny elements of life tied up in what your charity does. These details are not known by your donors nearly as well as you know them. The small aspect of someone’s day that can be made better through a donor’s support. The little thing that enabled them to sleep through the night or smile for the first time in ages. Share these details, because sometimes big stories aren’t needed. Sometimes it’s the little things, the extra care, that will make people say, ‘I didn’t know you did that’. That will make them want to be a part of it.
And most importantly, smile, relax, and have fun!
Coming back to work this January, it was with a sense of relief from the Christmas consumption and a renewed faith in humanity that I found a handful of donations waiting on my desk; it’s good, after the excesses of Christmas, to remember the goodwill and generosity that can go alongside it.
But in that first day at the hospice where I work, in these early January days, it was also impossible to ignore the weary sense of resolutions made and failed, a need to look to the next big event in the calendar, something exciting to brighten the days with. As we plug ourselves back into a routine, it can be easy to get weighed down by the everyday, to make resolutions we can’t keep, and to look for the next big thing we can shout about to donors.
It is easy to be excited about large donations, an appeal for a new piece of equipment, a new appeal that can make donating tangible and appealing. But what about ongoing care? Ongoing needs? The everyday work? With the new year’s energy still present, I’ve started to wonder – how can we make the everyday interesting? Make it appeal? Make the tiny, routine moments resound for donors as much as the big events?
I know that tiny things matter. So much. Families having time to be together, parents taking the chance to have an evening as a couple, a child recovering from an operation, or a care team member singing to a patient to make them laugh, are tiny things, but impossibly huge in their effect. In their honesty and bravery. In their ability to build hope. How can we make those tiny everyday moments, those small steps, nourish us through the year too? How can we share those elements of human kindness and dignity that come with no fanfare?
At a time of wild resolutions, new goals, and big dreams, my new year’s resolution is a counter-weight – to take it slow when it’s appropriate. To think about long-term goals and the everyday. To lift the mundane and explain why it isn’t mundane. To honour the slow and small.
As a relationship manager it often seems to me that relationships – the everyday phone calls, emails, meetings, the ongoing conversations – are not appreciated enough. They aren’t celebrated, until they culminate in a large donation. It’s easy for them to be forgotten, so that when that donation comes in we tell ourselves it was just chance, just luck. It’s not. It’s a million small pieces of a jigsaw.
This new year, I’ve realised that the small, behind the scenes, unadvertised parts of my job are what make it wonderful, because they speak with a whispered but tidal force, showing that the work that goes on here is often unglamorous, everyday – but that it is at the same time wonderful, incredibly generous, amazingly resilient, bravely hopeful, and courageous.
If donors know this – if they care about the little details, the ongoing care, then I know I’m doing the right thing. That we, as charities, are. Let’s do it more. Let’s make the everyday worth talking about. Let’s shout about not just the great money-making moments that we all need, but the small stories that make us proud to be fundraisers. Let’s be story-sharers, explainers, conduits, and inspirers, as well as raisers of funds.
So, this year, I’m taking the time to make a plan. I’m taking time to think about exactly what I want donors to know and feel about the many, varied, everyday lives that are playing themselves out at this hospice. I’m taking time to go and see them for myself. I’m making small steps, in the faith that they will turn into the leap. I’m going to keep talking, loudly and quietly, about small moments of human dignity and why they make fundraising much more than just raising funds.
This year, I entered and got through a competition to attend and speak at my first I Wish I’d Thought of That (IWITOT) fundraising forum, run by SOFII in London. I’ll be honest – I was nervous to present in front of a group of experienced and knowledgeable fundraisers, a group of people with their own fantastic ideas about how fundraising should be done. I started the experience with a certain amount of fear.
But I was also excited to hear new ideas at the end of a difficult year in which the support that charities can give is more important than ever.
It was one of the highlights of my career so far.
The most important lesson that I took from IWITOT had nothing to do with a fundraising idea, or a particular solution to a fundraising problem. It was everything to do with the people in the room and the energy that came from them.
People in fundraising are some of the most generous, supportive and passionate. In that one room in London on a cold November night, I never felt warmer. People introduced themselves and wished me luck. All night, people spoke in excited voices about the ideas that they liked, congratulated me as a speaker, lit up with excitement. All night we talked about fundraising, ideas, fundraising dogs, Santa costumes, saving tigers, and getting to where we want to be in this most exciting, creative, and warm profession.
Where else can you be moved by stories of miscarriage or cancer, and then laugh with Ken Burnett in a dress and a wonderful lady dressed in a bee costume?
Since that night, I have been thinking about what I learnt, what I can apply in a practical way. But what I really came away with is real pride at doing what I do with the people I do it with. And then I realised – perhaps I don’t need to remove that emotion from my thinking. And of course I should have realised – there is no doing what we do without emotion.
It has been a tough year, and we as fundraisers face more changes soon. The world in which we work will always be changing. But IWITOT, and the people who went along, reminded me that there is no reason to fear change, whatever comes. There is no reason to fear what charity will do or become with such people at its helm – passionate, driven, honest, emotional and proud.
For me, the overriding message of the evening was not about clever techniques, although these can help us to get where we want to be. It was about a room full of people willing to put themselves last and the stories of the people who need support, or of those who have been garnering support of their own, first. A room full of people saying, look – this is the story of the life I came across that makes me want to help. That makes me proud to be a fundraiser. It’s not about me – watch this. Listen to this. This is the honest truth of what is going on out there in the world.
What a wonderful idea. A whole evening where you talk about someone else’s idea or experience. Is there any other professional field so willing to do that?
In a room full of passion – the passion of fundraisers, the passion of the people who fundraise for us, the stories that made you feel passionate as an audience, it was reassuring to know that we are so open to ideas, open to new opportunities and technology, but that we haven’t forgotten the basics. We haven’t forgotten who comes first – the people or animals that need our support. We haven’t forgotten the power of a good story, told first-hand. We haven’t lost our passion. We want to feel inspired, to be made angry, sad, happy. To help.
I am so proud to have been the runner-up in the audience vote for the night. But the biggest legacy of IWITOT for me? The pride in belonging in a group whose primary concern is to do everything they can to help put something right in the world. A group not afraid to laugh or cry. One driven to help each other. One that left me with several invitations for coffee and more chat – small acts of charity and friendship amongst the larger fundraising ideas.
We never get bored of talking about what we do. I hope we never will. Whatever comes, we’ll talk, together, and tell stories, and find a way to help, to fight, to inspire and be inspired.
There’s no fear in that for me.
(To hear some of the fantastic enthusiasm and ideas for yourself, keep an eye on the SOFII website: http://sofii.org/).
The thing that got me started in blogging about fundraising – and led to this, my first post – comes down to an emotion: that whenever I talk about what I do, read about it, watch films about it, I feel passionate, opinionated – I’ll bore people senseless about why I think it matters, what I think it’s important to remember when fundraising, how good fundraising works. It’s how I know I’ve ended up in the right place after trying several careers and never feeling fulfilled in any of them before.
There’s no denying it, fundraising is all about emotions. As great fundraisers we have them, and to really communicate with – not talk at – donors, we need them. We need to evoke them – the right ones, in the right way – and we need to harness them. But to do this, we need to be original. New. Honest. Creative.
There are so many wonderful fundraising campaigns out there. Sadly, out there is also the somewhat inevitable response to our information and image-saturated world: fundraising inertia. This happens when people see too much, read too much, know too much of the many worthy causes in the world, the many people, animals and places that need help.
When this happens, emotions can be overwhelmed until they become stale, withered, and stagnant.
What can we as fundraisers do to prevent this? How can we reignite donors’ passion?
Sometimes, fundraising campaigns solve this problem by ramping up the emotion often called upon to invigorate donors: sadness, pity, sorrow. Some fantastic campaigns have drawn on tragedies and been brave enough to hold no punches, to show an unjust or terrible situation for just what it is, with no sugar coating. And to great success.
The thing is, though, that one size doesn’t fit all. To recognise this might be our greatest strength, because there is no emotion that is better than another when encouraging donors to donate. We can tell more original stories, with more variety, more passion, when we accept that donors are varied, emotional, and adaptable. We don’t have to make them sad, if this time humour works best. We might need to make them angry, or joyful. Surprised, or afraid. We might be able to make them feel more than one emotion at a time.
We shouldn’t be putting donors in a box with limiting walls. And we shouldn’t be putting ourselves there as fundraisers either. We should be opening the doors to flexibility, responding to donors, to the situation, to what emotion best suits what we want donors to feel and how we want them to act.
Remember that bag of emotional tricks you have at your disposal. It’s a gift. Just for now, keep that box of cards that says ‘surprise’ at your fingertips.