That was the (fundraising) week that was…

Sunday evening, and thinking about the new week ahead… Or rather, I should be but I feel I’ve only just recovered from the week that just was. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fabulous week as I spent a full three days at the Institute of Fundraising National Convention, with over 2,000 other fundraisers, talking about all things fundraising (or rather, not quite all things fundraising*). But all the listening, pondering, agreeing, questioning, tweeting (I made it into the top 10 tweeters – 2 months ago I didn’t even see why I should be on twitter…), networking, ‘small world-ing’ and more meant it took its toll on mind and body. So, if you didn’t make it, or indeed even if you did, I’ve shared some learnings below that I hope will make you think – as they did me. And read on after that for how the week ended!

  • Ken Burnett, Alan Clayton & Giles Pegram CBE (fundraising royalty – shouldn’t be allowed in the same room at the same time) held an amazing ‘pull no punches’ session entitled ‘Think BIG!’ in which they told us all that ‘fundraising is [currently] a very shallow profession’; that we have sub-contracted out talking to our donors; and that we should stop apologising for fundraising’. WOW. Alan Clayton encouraged us all to be a lion/lioness fundraiser, who isn’t afraid to roar – and who certainly doesn’t move around every 18 months. Fundraisers need to 1) Make Decisions; 2) Commit yourself; and 3) Invest long-term. A lot of what was said I fully agreed with, and look forward to roaring re fundraising strategy very soon.
  • A session on ‘Naked ROI’ (no disrobing involved) looked at the oft-talked of, and little understood/defined, ‘Lifetime Value’ (LTV). John Baguley (IFC) and Charlie Keep (Freedom from Torture) gave a brilliant session on understanding the value of your donors (financial and non-financial, as campaigning/event activity counts!) , what is important and what not (organisation dependant) and how to calculate it. The maths blew the mind a tad, but real food for thought and a great reminder that to work all this magic you need good data, which requires a decent CRM system, and required joined up thinking with your fundraising strategy. Easy then…
  • Two great sessions came from different angles on the new fundraising buzz phrase in town ‘crowd-sourcing’. Nick Burne from Think, Ed Whiting from WeDidThis.org.uk, and Tamasine Johnson from the National Trust’s ‘MyFarm’ project were out and proud about it, and Tamasine was especially honest about what has (as yet) failed to translate into a real success for the NT (a foray into social media, and on a topic which has done more to alter perceptions of the NT than raise money – Ken Burnett would call that a fail, as per the ‘Think BIG!’ session). Ultimately crowd-sourcing (or crowd funding) means going to wider public to support/fund/power projects and make them happen. This is micro-projects with people power, vs mega-projects run by organisations. Interesting take on things, but I may be with Ken on the effectiveness of it vs ‘traditional fundraising’. Depends on how you value engagement in your LTV model perhaps (see what I did there?)
  • The next day AJ Leon (LaC Project), a ‘rogue fundraiser’ from the US, held a session about ‘unfundraising’. This quickly unfolded to me as a very closely related cousin to the ‘crowd-funding’ theme stated above – by involving & inspiring others to be evangelical about your project, spread the word, etc they then do the fundraising for you. The idea works on a micro-project model, reports in real time from the projects concerned (a $100 ‘back alley’ phone was handed to village resident so he could blog – he did, and it so worked), and allows supporters to sign-up to a project and be part of a project community. Hmm, I see how it works, I see how it inspires, and I see how small projects are easy to move – but that vs the experience of organisations who have been doing this for years, with the infrastructure, the experience and the ability to get economies of scale? I think my gut tells me to stick with the old school method, in terms of maximising beneficiary reach. But if you’re talking engagement and empowerment of supporters, then I guess you go the other way. Interesting indeed, in terms of what social media means for fundraising.
  • The last session to mention here was from another fundraising guru, Adrian Sargeant, and Jen Shang (‘Professor of Philanthropic Psychology’ – only in America!), about using psychology in fundraising asks. So you call up to join/make a donation and you are told ‘Mary joined last week and gave $300’ – in the hope that this will make you up your game against a simple ‘how much would you like to donate’. And it did increase uplift, giving an average gift of $112 against the no-prompt control of less than $100…But at what cost to the donors self-esteem? Maybe I’m a sensitive soul, but would it be better to let the donor decide rather than make them feel bad about not being able to give $300? Discuss. Prompts, communities (‘symbolic social identity’) and smilies (male response rates saw significant increase when a row of ‘smilies’ lasered on response form. No such uplift for the ladies!) all figured in this interesting, but to me, slightly manipulative, session. But hey, I’m sure you’re just going to tell me that’s what fundraising is all about…

* So, great convention. Lots learned, lots to consider and lots to take back to the office. BUT. One thing really stood out to me – and it’s the * bit. Whilst fundraising was considered from almost every angle, what seemed lacking across all three days was time dedicated to the systems that underpin matters under discussion. Technology didn’t get a look in, aside from social media and fundraising software/methods such as online & SMS. What about where your donor data resides? Does your CRM reflect your fundraising stategy? How do you tie all the streams of donor info together? Etc, etc. Still waiting for sessions on the above. Maybe next year. In fact maybe Purple Vision should start writing the session pitch right now.

To see how it all unfolded this year search for #iofnc on twitter.

Oh, and as for how the week ended after 3 full days of fundraising at the start… with the News of the World implosion – and subsequent offer to charities for free advertising space and/or donations of revneue to ‘good causes’. How’s that for a trustee challenge, ethical-dilemma, short-term gain vs long-term reputation, fundraising question? And with a response required in 24 hours. Twitter and online debate forums lit up like Christmas trees. Brilliant, but exhausting.

You simply can’t take the fun out of fundraising. Love it.