8 fundraising lessons: what can we learn from patterned bread and a Star Trek wannabe?

By Zoe Greenfield

Last week I attended the Institute of Fundraising Scottish Conference 2014 in Glasgow. This was an interesting role reversal for me, as I organise INSP’s annual conference.

The ambitious programme over two days covered five themes: management and strategy; individual giving; community and events; corporate and trusts; and marketing and communications.

First class content meant delegates, especially those working as sole fundraisers, were spoilt for choice! Here are some of my personal aha! moments.

1.    Strand strong, together
There is a rising gap between rich and poor and there needs to be more recognition that this inequality hurts and weakens society, not just those directly experiencing poverty in any of its guises. 

Martin Sime, Chief Executive of SCVO warned of a campaign to undermine public perception of charities: “If such attacks continue they risk undermining public trust in charities which will make it more difficult to raise money for good causes.”

Sime went on to argue that such attacks were a deliberate attempt to silence charities that criticise or challenge the status quo.  Many organisations have campaigning for social justice and giving a voice to the poor and marginalised at their core. We have a responsibility as a sector to protect and promote this.

2.    Paradox 

3.    #proudtobeafundraiser
Sometimes fundraising is treated as a taboo, a dirty word, down played and not acknowledged as a core activity within our organisations.

Fundraising should be integral to the mission of any charity.

Charities all over Scotland (and the world!) are doing great work, but without fundraising this simply would not be possible: “Unrestricted funds are SUPERCASH and they unlock the creativity of our organisations to respond to problems in society.” Martin Sime, SCVO

4.    Pareto Principle
“The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.” – Wikipedia

So what exactly does this have to do with fundraising? ‘Major Giving on a Shoestring’ with Margaret Clift-McNulty, that’s what. Major donor fundraising is an efficient way to fundraise and yields a good return. The main investment is time (oh, and a cup of coffee and your bus fare to those face-to-face meetings). What is considered a ‘major gift’ will vary – a donation which is ‘big’ relative to your organisation but they all have one thing in common, they can be transformative. The law of the vital few.

5.    Tell happy stories too
Lucy Gower, of Lucy Innovation, delivered an engaging and interactive session on storytelling. Always scary when a session starts with, “If you want to sit at the back and write your shopping list, leave now.” A few people did leave. And they really missed out.  

Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to connect with your audience and inspire them to take action. In today’s communication saturated world, the ability to tell a good story will cut through a lot of the ‘noise’ and inspire people. As fundraisers (and writers) we are often tempted to tell a sad story, believing this will have more impact and provoke a deeper reaction. Lucy argues that yes, this emotional connection is vital but it’s not just sad stories which stir our emotions. Watch The World’s Toughest Job to see this in action.

6.    ‘The little things’
All too often we hear stories of mishandled complaints and general dissatisfaction with customer service in shops, on the phone and online. What we don’t hear so much, are the gems of customer service which enter the realm of ‘amazing customer experience’.  

Rachel Hunnybun of Practical Action argued that the charity sector should look to the corporate world for examples of such amazing customer experience and learn from them in how we relate to our supporters. Using examples from some big names (including Starbucks, Innocent and Netflix), Rachel explored the ways the commercial world is creating these experiences at low cost. Here are two fun examples:

–    Sainsbury’s renames Tiger bread Giraffe bread
–    Netflix customer service rep answers complaint as Captain Mike of the good ship Netflix

But what can we learn from a patterned loaf of bread and a Star Trek wannabe?

Summary: be personal, be prompt, tailor language and style (mirror theirs), strike a balance between professional and friendly, get the job done – do what you say you’re going to do, use humour (appropriately!). And that’s just a start…

7.    Winning isn’t everything
The Big Sell-Off was Highly Commended at the IoF awards in the Community and Events Category. INSP was shortlisted in the same category as the National Trust for Scotland and the Prince’s Trust for Scotland (winner). This is a huge achievement, to be up there with those well respected household names. Amazing!

We were also delighted to be one of only two international charities shortlisted for awards this year, along with Mercy Corps which was Highly Commended for its partnership with Twinings.

8.    Cheese
Households across the country spend as much a week on cheese as they do on giving to charity.
Scottish households are the most generous, challenging the ‘thrifty’ stereotype. Does that also mean we eat more cheese?

I’d like to thank the IoF for funding my place at the conference through their bursary scheme.