The Institute of Fundraising Convention is the largest event for professional fundraisers in Europe - thousands of attendees descend on London’s Barbican Centre at the height of summer for three days of expert presentations, keynotes and panels. Covering the experiences, insights and challenges of charity organisations of all shapes and sizes, it’s a treasure trove of useful information for anyone associated with the not-for-profit sector.
The speakers were diverse and the topics were broad, but we particularly took note of one key takeaway that cropped up again and again in different forms - the idea that moving away from the justification that something ‘has always been that way’ often leads to huge successes.
We’ll be delving a little bit deeper into some real-life examples of this that were shared during the three days, as well as adding some of our own thoughts on the insights that piqued our interest.
Feeling inspired to challenge the status quo in your own organisation? Here are three ways for you to get the ball rolling.
Status quo challenge #1 - break down internal silos:
The topic of breaking down the long-standing silos between departments was a common theme this year, as our Senior Planner Maxine discussed in her recent post.
There was an underlying message of collaboration, understanding and empathy – the core elements necessary to deliver amazing services to a charities’ beneficiaries - but being applied between internal teams as well as within them.
For example, the NSPCC’s Ben Ingram (Senior Philanthropy and Development Manager) and Debbie Boughtflower (Head of Planning, Programme and Operations) shared how collaboration across their teams and the introduction of a robust sprint process has enabled them to get quicker decisions from senior management and move faster in response to high value funding opportunities.
Ensuring fundraising and service delivery teams “own and commit to the same language” to describe the work of the charity has helped everyone remember that they’re ultimately working towards the same goals.
A motivated, multi-discipline team can achieve great things because everyone is pulling in the same direction. So it’s great to see the increased focus on circumnavigating the internal barriers that stand in the way of fundraising success.
Status quo challenge #2 - don’t make assumptions about supporter motivations:
We all know how it important it is to foster long-term relationships with supporters, but it’s equally important to consistently reassess these relationships - remembering that donors are human and that consequently their circumstances and motivations are bound to change.
It’s also key to bear in mind that an organisation’s motivations and concerns won’t necessarily mirror those of their supporters. The National Trust provided a fantastic case study on their recent White Cliffs of Dover appeal that proved this point perfectly.
According to the National Trust fundraising team, back in the 1960’s their acquisition appeals were driven by the idea that it was better for them to take ownership of the land over a less desirable buyer - a holiday park developer, for example. They considered this angle for their recent appeal (“If we don’t buy it, who will…”) but ultimately opted for something that they felt fit their current motivations better - that of preserving the environment and the wildlife within.
Interestingly however, when supporters who donated to the appeal were surveyed, it turned out that their motivation was not at all linked to nature preservation. Instead people were driven by what the White Cliffs represented to them, citing emotional memories like childhood holidays, links to their grandparents or the day they arrived in the UK for the first time.
The British Heart Foundation also shared how they used data analysis to identify and understand the most committed participants of their London to Brighton Off-Road Bike Ride, and then communicate with them as directly and relevantly as possible.
Despite previously considering professional mountain bikers as the least likely to fundraise, it turned out they were actually raising the most money per head. As a result of providing a better experience for this highly engaged community both in the run up to, and during the event, the charity have achieved an increase in the event’s income from £230k in 2015 to £435k in 2017.
It just goes to show that not only is audience insight hugely important, it also needs to be an ongoing process - no more relying on outdated assumptions.
Status quo challenge #3 – change needs to be inclusive and sustainable
Cultural change doesn’t come overnight and it can be tough. On Day 3 of the event, Tom Barker, Head of Digital at the National Trust, compared digital transformation to quitting smoking - you’ve got to really want it, and be prepared to make sacrifices.
There’s also a pervasive assumption that everything has to start from the top down, but all changes have to start somewhere and that doesn’t have to mean the CEO.
Ultimately it’s on the ground where the real change happens, and new processes need to be given space and time to evolve organically through a process of testing and learning.
It was clear from this year’s Convention that teams and even individuals can absolutely change the way they work to be more inclusive, insight led, efficient and ultimately more successful. We also saw how reaching out between departments often leads to the discovery that there are many opportunities to collaborate, to share knowledge and to fill in any gaps.
Finally, fundraisers also need to be sure that any plan for implementing change is realistic and sustainable - both for the charity and themselves. Resilience and self-care is as essential for fundraisers as it is for carers and support workers - all are professions/vocations where others come first as a matter of routine. This is especially important for those fundraisers who care enough to challenge the ingrained status quo of their organisation as well as meeting the income targets they've been set.