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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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Some words matter more than others. Some have a rounder meaning, set a tone better and signal a mood more easily. In legacies the right words can be the difference between engaging or alienating.

The right words will help you and them nod with gentle enthusiasm, help them ponder on meaning or be moved by the string they form in the order they were delivered. They cut to the core, they sum up, they direct. So….here are my top 10 best words in legacy fundraising

  1. Consider – time after time a solid word in legacies. Being asked to consider is polite, respectful and appropriate. Would you consider leaving a gift? Nice
  2. Leave – leave a gift, leave a mark, leave something of yourself
  3. Gift – A legacy is a gift. Simple
  4. Future – Some time soon. Look to then and you made this possible – in the future. Hope. Now but to come
  5. Small – A small share, a small amount, small. Legacies get seen as large when in reality a small share of whatever is left after friends and family
  6. Share – a share of whatever is left after friends and family
  7. Family – its first and foremost and needs to be upfront
  8. Remember – the time to look back, with the donor and you
  9. Commit – a promise to leave a gift but no more – in time, when ready
  10. Thank you – its two words but lets break a few rules

This is not jargon. This is communication, connection, relational. Honest and real. Hope. That is a legacy.

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Working with fundraisers is a constant journey of discovery. We were discussing how to respond in a simple way to a supporter who said they wanted to do more….what else could they do? It’s a simple and frequent question. But the response is never simple is it?

So what is the problem that they identified as we discussed how to address this common question?

It’s this – firstly you probably can’t remember. Secondly, when you try you are almost certainly brainstorming your own list from various memories and prompts, and frankly its likely to be long and the prompts you remember aren’t always the right ones. The third problem is structure – this long random list has no framework. The fourth problem is no one is prepared to be able to respond when asked, so you are literally making it up in front of the questioner and then when it happens again you create another list. So here’s the solution to break the cycle.

You need to remember and then use these 4 headings.

Given. Raised. Time. Left

They are the 4 pillars of giving from which you can remember and offer choice. How? So, something like this then…( allowing for some things you may naturally say or not – this is an illustration!)

‘They are 4 ways you can help us. You can give – either a one-off or a larger gift or many of our supporters give on a monthly basis. You can raise money. Perhaps an event or a challenge such as a run or a trek or some other way. You can give your time, either as a volunteer or on our board or perhaps in our shops. You can leave a legacy. Many of our supporters are leaving a gift in their will after their friends and family so our work can live on’

Given. Raised. Time. Left

Better than a mind melt every time.

 

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Fathers Day. A moment to reflect on being and having a dad. A complex thing, boiled to a simple notion on a single day. But for all the love and reflection spare a though for the lost fathers, a breed somewhere else from the Facebook posts of admiration of fatherly love.

A father never sets out to get it wrong. On the contrary, they are usually full of optimism and hope, believing that all before them was a temporary thing and that this is their moment to correct, to look forward, to be a better man. My dad was and is a good man and father. I believe I am a good man and father. But for many and those whose expectations were never realised, there is a truth made more real than ever on a day like this, that they didn’t make it. For others looking at the father they knew or know, there is an equal truth that they remain without the beacon they needed or wanted. A lost father and lost children.

Spare a thought for them. The man who started with hope but became overwhelmed by expectation. The man who had no blueprint or map because he too was denied the father for him, the boy. The man who never shared or talked or cried because he couldn’t, without the language to express or the courage to open. The man who focussed on his work at the expense of his family, because it was easier. The man who tried to show his love but failed. The man whose anger was a mystery to him, yet lived with him all the time. The man who chose the wrong turn, who loved the wrong person, who fought the wrong battle, who missed the right thing at every turn. The man who wanted to be better but never was. The man without the father in him who meant he could not be the father in them.

No one sets out like this. Some are damaged. Some are empty. Some are vain. Some are not very bright. Some are just bad. But there is a tribe of lost fathers, some thinking about that today and for some a thought that may never occur to them as they remain in ignorance. For others they will look at their father and wish they had the unconditional, kind, wise, sturdy but open anchor, honest, funny, emotional and guiding light that other have or had. Lost fathers affect us all. So spare a thought today of all days.

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It’s the end of the financial year for many charities. The reconciliation of numbers. The contemplation of budget versus actual. The gap or the excess. Important as they are, what should we really focus on?
The tribes in charities seek their own validation. The numbers for finance. The impact of message to communications. The turnover of staff for HR. The forecast achieved in fundraising. But as we exchange emails and swim in spreadsheets, have you ever been to a year-end meeting where you sat and talked and answered honestly these 20 questions?
  1. Did we serve our clients well?
  2. Did we raise as much as possible and what can we learn so we raise more?
  3. Did we make ourselves known and heard?
  4. Did people act on what we said and if not why not?
  5. Are our people happy? Really happy?
  6. Do the volunteers, donors and supporters get what they want when they want it?
  7. Do they love us and how can we help them love us more?
  8. Do we make it easy for our people to do their job and if not what do we need to do differently this year?
  9. Did we empower, inspire, and lead?
  10. What systems and processes worked and what didn’t, how can we make them work better?
  11. What could we stop doing?
  12. Did we honour our talent?
  13. Did we invest wisely and what should we invest in next?
  14. Is our purpose understood?
  15. Can everyone tell, share and collect the stories that make us connect and if not what do we need to do?
  16. What products and tools worked and why?
  17. What were the best moments, the sparkle we will treasure forever – why did this happen?
  18. Were we inspired and passionate or were we detached, bored and aloof?
  19. Did we laugh, have any fun, play together?
  20. What can we learn that helps us be better together and aspire more?
This is about leadership. Purpose. Aspiration. The moon and the stars. And there isn’t enough of this right now.

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There’s a beauty in the sun burning a London pavement. Bright and hot and very much alive. A bright light shone on me last week.

I was hurtling to the tube, beaming in the summer sunshine. A man sat outside, legs crossed, a small handwritten sign asking for £20 for a hostel. He was in his late thirties maybe, etched with all the trauma of a life on the street. But what made me catch his eye was a small window he chose to show. On his left, he had a wooden box with crayons and pencils. On his lap, a sketching pad, with the face of an unknown commuter stretched out in pencil, a passer-by, a face captured by a very brief moment and a longer reflection. He was observing, drawing, wondering, thinking, all in his isolation.

I sped past. But in an instant, inside the tube station I stopped. Literally. In a further instant, I reached in my pocket and found a crumpled cash note. I turned, found him staring at the stream of faces and leant down, handing him the note….’Keep drawing’ I said….’Take care’. He smiled, thanked me and I returned to the station.

I was puzzled, as I sat on the speeding, hot and crowded train. And then I realised what just past. This man, this human being, in all his circumstances, had just shone his life on mine. There I was, not him, surrounded by crayons and sketchpads and pencils, a small boy, alone, imagining and wondering and trying to connect. I saw me.

What was the gift here? Not my note. Not the moment in the sunshine on a London pavement. The gift was very simple. A truly personal human connection. Ourselves in another. Our fears, our loneliness maybe, our vulnerability. I had just made a gift to another by giving to myself.

We shy from the honesty of such an exchange sometimes. We need to be more honest. Ourselves in others….normal, real and very much alive.

 

 

Is it right to have a vision for fundraising. A grand aspiration. It is. I do.

I believe fundraising should be a movement. I believe it needs everyone at every level, at every place, in every corner to feel part of it. I don’t believe in small and narrow. I do believe in big and bold. I believe fundraisers must value their skill, be recognised, acknowledged and demonstrate trust but not by putting themselves above the donor or their cause. I believe in a generous society with generous people supported to be generous at whatever level and through whatever means. I believe in a generous society where people who ask for money and raise money are treated like the saviours and soldiers for change they are. Celebrated, thanked, admired. I believe fundraising is the primary way to make change….it’s not brand, its not logo’s, its work, it’s doing, its reaching, its value, its impact.

I believe in leadership at all levels. I believe technique is secondary and less important than emotional connection and passion. I believe our tools are a means to an end not the end. I believe in gangs of great people. working together and belonging to each other, and feeling a powerful joy in being together for a good reason or cause. I believe that if you are a receptionist or the finance manager or the HR professional or the CEO or the Chairman, you are a fundraiser, that you get it and want more, that you help do it, that you get others to do it. I believe that fundraising is art. I believe its beauty is its creativity, and inspiration and its stories. I believe we need more not less. Whilst we need machines, and process, and technique, and structures, and rules, and standards we need our hearts aligned wherever we are, we need more people wherever they are, we need joined up, together, connected.

I believe we are a movement. A story telling engine of human connection. Our movement is simple – ‘we need you’, ‘will you give’ ‘will you help’ will you make it happen’ ‘will you make a difference’ would it be possible to’. Our movement is positive. It is joy.

Fundraising. A movement for good, of the good, by the good.
(all those attending the IOF Convention – seize the day)
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