There was a photo of Tony in the early days of the ICFM when Tony was still at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, where he had huge 80’s glasses. I remember this, not from the moment but some time later when we had cause to remember and laugh at a very long journey. It was all such a long time ago now.

I recall this for no other reason than it was one of many moments when Tony could look back, recollect and laugh but then as always and in an instance look forward and dream. Its odd what floods in to you when you hear the news that someone you knew for so long and so well has gone for good. I heard the news of Tony’s passing when hiding in sunshine a long way away. Every night I looked at a new sunset and now at the end of that far away sunshine, it seems those sunsets were saying much more than they usually do. In the brief moments since I have watched a small but equally huge world in fundraising share first reflections on their loss and words of great sadness. It’s a personal loss to many and that perhaps marks out the man we came to know, and loved.

I first met Tony when glasses were huge as were his and when Saturday Superstore and Bergerac were big TV. The truth is I don’t remember exactly when, it just seems that he was always there when I first became a fundraiser.  Conferences, bars, the newly formed Institute, an emerging tribe of people learning how to change the world. San Diego at AFP on a dance floor. IOF in Birmingham and Warwick. IFC plenary, dinners and gala balls where he brought people together. Tony so loved IFC. He was a driver and a thinker but more than that a force. He exuded life. Sometimes he shouted when presenting despite a mic and I tried to tell him to turn the volume down. Its only in moments like this that I realise that his volume was just his soul being amplified. I wish he shouted more now. Why be quiet when everyone else is? He believed and I think that’s why we all believed as well. He could perform and only in later life I discovered this was because he was once a dancer and performer in another world. He drew content and meaning and performed it so it would resonate and shine and challenge. It was theatre when we all needed theatre. But never light. Full. Always. How we will miss him when conferences need that unique mix. Tony at his best.

His quiet counsel was always the most valued. A small word or a direct telling. He could draw for England as well. Models, triangles, Venn diagrams. Notepads full of creative genius. He was a jackdaw, a collector. Ideas and grand schemes mixed with the hard practical delivery of a man whose experience always in the end tempered his creativity . He posed what if more than any one. He poked and challenged. He sought out can do’s and hope. He said it how it was and how it could be. He was irreverent. Knowing. And there. He was one of those who cared about people – talent. If he saw such talent he drew it out. Special. I used to meet him when I was a Fundraising Director to navigate the usual stormy waters we all understand. Last year at a conference in York, tea at Betty’s and just a conversation and catch up. Dinner in Amsterdam with a gathering as he only he seemed to be able to do. His hospitality was always warm and rich and slightly provocative like he meant for us to try a little harder.

In these last days he faced a monster. I met him the week before his diagnosis. He was having tests and wasn’t sure how they would turn out. At the time I was too and I remember being consumed with fear, as it turned out for no reason. But for Tony it was as he suspected. He focused as we would expect. Determined and positive. A task to be addressed so he could get back to the life he was living and the noise he created around the world. This in itself tells us about him. No one should judge how anyone deals with these things. Each to their own and each can be a light we can learn from, but he faced it and got on with it. I presented with him at a conference in the summer. He amazed us again and as always.  In the end, like for many but not all it overwhelmed him. And so here we are. Empty, shocked maybe and sad that he has gone from our worldwide family.

One thing rings true today. As lives go Tony made one helluva footprint. For all of us wishing today we had sent that last message or said that thing we planned to say or got on with that other thing we meant to get round to, he will remind us that life really is very short. I will as we all will, will have time to reflect, mourn a dear friend, a constant when constants so often get taken for granted. But for today, I just wanted to say I am so very sorry you have left us all and that I wanted to thank you for more than I ever got round to saying. Your gift was immeasurable and generous. You were a true friend, and a great man who made a great difference.

In the days ahead the best way we can honour and remember Tony is do everything he pushed us to do and to be.

God bless.

Hand made earth toy on hands

We have already opted in to charity. Its called a civil society. It our starting place that we need to assert and fight for.

If we want a thriving sector – and we all do, we need to confront the dangerous interpretation that some seem to be creating. There is serious unintended consequence. Here’s some principles we would be well advised to adopt and organise around. There are three levels we need to get clarity on and fight for:

  • Opt in is already in place – a civil society in a democratic state with thousands of years of history and a rich heritage of charity in a free society with collective norms and accepted behaviours doesn’t need a default position that says we start by being outside that. Change this at your peril. Invent nonsense for one sector and not others and see where it leads. We are all in – that’s how the greater good works balanced with individual liberty
  • Consent – In that opted in world (our society to our citizens), we can only operate with consent. That comes from 2 places. Collective consent from the public and institutions, and consent as an individual. You need my permission. I give it freely, I need to make it clear and you need to respect my consent. My consent is with you – I don’t need to give my DNA and run it up a flagpole ….once I contribute I recognise you will want to build a relationship with me but I always have choice and I know you behave in a way that shows that. Giving my details to someone else does involve my DNA, a flagpole and a loud yes or no.
  • Opt out – If I choose (in a free society) to say I don’t want any more from you, I can opt out. You will make it easy for me and I won’t feel resentful. Opt out works if we are open and transparent and bring together codes and existing structures and use them. We behave in a way that respects and we have systems to support it. If anyone doesn’t they should be punished.

Three principled layers. Meanwhile, we are worrying about small details and what ifs, rather than organise around principle and the right thing. We need to stand up and push back. Nicely of course…

Talking problems with fundraisers recently, I hit on the idea of crowd sourcing a list of one word problems for fundraising – so thanks to fundraisers through twitter and linked in, we have this final shortlist of the top 30.

30 complaints

What does it tell us? We are stuck and not understood. It’s all about my favourite word. Leadership.

 

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Sometimes in adversity, good things can flow to greet you. Very often, the inspiration for that good comes from the past. A comforting place, when it was what it was and from its certainty, we can draw lessons to help guide us in a future of uncertainty.

As the sector embarks on ways to re-engage with the donor, including the welcome launch of a Commission for the Donor, it’s worth remembering that so many of us began fundraising where we learnt from wisdom learnt before us. Moments of clarity that will have guided us for years to come. For those who remember and believe in Ken Burnett’s book Relationship Fundraising, its worth reminding us of a perfect list in the book, fashioned by Ken’s mentor, guide and friend Harold Sumption, a fundraiser and pioneer, and who founded the International Fundraising Workshop. There’s a great blog by Mathew Sherrington in 101 Fundraising with more pearls and wisdom. Whilst Ken reminded us that there are ‘no absolute rules and slavish adherence to formulae’ there are some principles fashioned from that relationship that would do well to shine today. Here they are, lifted without permission but certainty that the author would very much like them shared as they were written, so here they are….10 key principles

  1. Fundraising is not about raising money. It’s about meeting needs and bringing about change
  2. People give to people, not organisations or even causes. Fundraising is a people business. Personal requests work best. Fund the development is people development.
  3. Friend making comes before fundraising
  4. Open their hearts. Open their minds. Then open their chequebooks.
  5. Communicate need to bring the problem to the donor
  6. Set clear targets. Communicate your goals to your donors. Communicate action and success to encourage full involvement.
  7. Know how much to ask each prospect for, and when
  8. The most important 2 words are thank you. Acknowledge every donation with a friendly, personal letter. Give larger donors special treatment
  9. Encourage donors to identify with your organisation, to feel a sense of shared ownership
  10. Always be honest, open and truthful with donors. Share your problems as well as your successes

I hope this helps guide another generation and reminds this one that going back is the right way to the future

freedom

Here’s the thing. Technique is actually in the way of fundraising. Targets have the wrong focus. Together, finally its clear – they are undermining fundraising.

Where do we really look when we focus on these two pillars that seem to dominate our boards, or meetings, or internal planning? What do we look for when we hire staff? What language do we use when we circulate ‘best practice’? What is the sequence we see?  Technique driving target or target driving technique – driving cost, driving net, ROI, investment, budgets, performance. This chain is the daily diet of fundraising. Like a hierarchy designed to drive short-term because that’s all that seems to really matter.

Results are important, of course. Without more we can’t do more. Fundraising results deliver change and that’s what we all sign up to, and realistically everyday we need to make micro and macro shifts to get the best value out of what we do. But with the pressure for visible results from donors and newspapers and seemingly everyone, we are forced to focus on the very one thing to be judged by. Targets. The benchmark of success or failure. So we fuel up our technique and race to the finish line. But its often the wrong finish line.

Technique is just a how. Target is just a where to. By themselves they are a transaction, a commercial process, a requirement. We can’t do without technique and target but we can’t let it dominate and we can’t let it lead. We need to relegate technique and reinvent target

We can do this by the rediscovery of the art, principles and values of relationship fundraising to balance the tyranny of technique. We start with the why and we answer the purpose. We champion service, experience, giving and relationships. We recalibrate time from short to long-term. We redefine targets and our view of success so they are aligned and we let judgement and intuition have space to breathe, create, innovate fail and succeed.

But above all, we need to get the leadership right in our organisations at every level. We need get people to behave in the right way and to do the right thing.

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After much soul-searching in the fundraising sector in the last few months, and much anguish about the future and direction of travel, I have compiled a powerful list of 10 ‘saviours’ for fundraising and the sector.

If done together and with heart, values, principles, stories, creativity, service and care, insight, humility and solid process to back it up and the cause and need as the engine the results could be amazing. Please share – they are groundbreaking and revolutionary. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Put the donor first
  2. Put the donor first
  3. Put the donor first
  4. Put the donor first
  5. Put the donor first
  6. Put the donor first
  7. Put the donor first
  8. Put the donor first
  9. Put the donor first
  10. Lead everyone and everything so they put the donor first

I know. Exciting stuff. Truly – we are saved.

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The torch is shining on us all right now, and it’s just got brighter. The sad death of Olive Cooke and the press feast unleashed has long been coming. Olive’s loss was not the reason – it was the excuse. Understanding and trust are being challenged. Right or wrong, we need to respond.

For too long we have relied on the unsaid goodwill of the donor. The trust and quiet acceptance that charities are good and need funding and we don’t need to know how you do what you do so long as you do it are over. That quiet bond is under attack from some and questioned by many. There is a simmering resentment among some that we need to understand and shift if we are to continue to raise more to do more. Scale gives the chance to make the greatest impact. But to drive scale we have invented a big machine and its starting to creak. Fundraising is central to a civil, kind and effective society. The good being done requires a connection and understanding between the hearts and minds of those who give, those who receive and those who create the climate and framework. To continue that good we must all be prepared to sign up to the true cost and the truth. It is this. That we need to ask. That what you give to is largely people. That we have to pay these people and pay them enough to get the right people. That these people are amazing value. That we need to run organisations well to get the best value. That you need to judge us on value and impact. That without these organisations and these people no one else can afford or will be able to achieve what we do. Have the debate, but tread carefully.

So where are we? Lost I fear, possibly even trapped. We need to do something different. We are all responsible. As we have grown and scaled and done more some people and organisations have become detached from some central truths and despite the words and well-meaning of most of us, to be honest these truths are getting lost in the forest of complication and expectation we have created. Let me explain. When fundraisers pursue their technique at the expense of connection and understanding of a donors needs we undermine ourselves. When we expect bigger returns without cultivating people we create transaction rather than a beginning. When we hire people who don’t get it and then we don’t help them get it, we dilute ourselves. When we see a machine and not an organism we chose the wrong science. When we fail to connect that its donors who are the heroes who make things possible not charities we lose our humility. When we drive short-term gain over long-term trust we are as guilty as any corporation ignoring the environment. This is not everyone of course. But its more than enough. It’s about leadership. All it takes for good fundraising to fail is good people who should no better do nothing.

There’s another dimension from our colleagues in charities and it goes like this. When our communications and brand teams indulge themselves in activity that actually distances ourselves from donors, when some seem to wake up and invent a way fundraisers can’t connect with donors, when we scrub, wash, clean and sanitise emotion because we don’t want to offend we disconnect ourselves. We become our own PR. When our finance colleagues drive cash at the expense of relationship, when we need to report every second on everything that’s wrong and on nothing that’s right, when we invent rules we don’t need and when we behave like a grand corporation rather than people who save lives we lose our way. When we seem to create work we don’t need that stops fundraisers asking and engaging we deflect our resource. When our colleagues doing the work prevent us from speaking with emotion, telling a story, trying to present things so donors can connect, when we indulge intellectual and principled opinion (often just personal) at the expense of what a donor might need we create distance and aloofness. When boards or CEO’s bleed Fundraising Directors dry, don’t invest, seek cash for now, and hide when it gets warm we expose ourselves. It’s not just fundraising that needs a look at the how and why.

This is not true everywhere of course. There are plenty of examples of brilliance and right and pride. But its true enough somewhere and we will all see some of this, even if some have the misfortune to see it all. The sum of this is what the public and the press are sensing and scrutinising. They are looking because they see the how and way more importantly than they see the why or what. In so doing, unused to such scrutiny and maybe even a little drunk and complacent on years of trust we struggle to gain control because we do three things not anywhere near as well as we should

Firstly, we don’t defend well. Raising your head is a rare thing. We sound like we have been caught out all the time and even when some have we give mixed messages. Its simple. Deal robustly where bad practice happens. Show we have the means to deal with it. Define the context that it’s not the norm – but it won’t be tolerated. The truth is we must defend in a context. Our context is knowing why we do what we do, why its important, the safeguards we have and our openness to being better – but we must continue to ask and we need you to be ok with it or we are all screwed. Get the context right and we can defend better. Secondly, we promote badly. It’s not just about asking. It’s about how we ask, the way we ask, the frequency and the style. If we tried a little harder to work before a crisis on explaining, promoting, connecting, seeking and reaffirming a societal permission rather than person by person we can continue with the consent and trust we need. We have a behavioural norm – lets not sleep walk to its change the wrong way. I tried to get us to promote better in the past but was told this sounded like ‘motherhood and apple pie’. It was, it is, and we don’t have enough of it. Lastly, we undermine ourselves. When people behave in a way that doesn’t get donors, that deploys technique over relationships and people and make demands we can’t sustain because we need to feed the machine then we will run out of road. And right now there isn’t another one open yet.

What can we do? We can take a look at ourselves. If we have people who don’t value or respect donors they should leave. If we drive process rather than relationships we must change. If we don’t delight, love, respect and listen to donors in everything we do before we ask we should abandon trying. If we don’t run organisations doing good with donors at their heart we must re-engineer or we will go nowhere. If we hire people who don’t get it we need to lead better and make sure they do. If we drive short-term over long-term we will kill the very thing we need more of. If we don’t bring people at all levels with us and don’t defend and promote we will lose our place and be led rather than lead.

Fundraised income is not a right. It’s a privilege. Time we all got back to some basics.

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