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.


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.



We fail community fundraisers. All the time, every day, for years and years.  Its time we were honest and did something about it.

I’m not saying community fundraisers are angels or perfect somehow. There’s a pretty long list of let downs you’d probably find far too often in that world. Inability to understand a spreadsheet. Convulsion at the prospect of filling a database in. Moaning about head office.

I’m generalising of course ..and probably very unfair, though I’d challenge you to not recognise a few of these or more characteristics at least somewhere nearby and recently which in itself is not good enough. Move this to one side for now. We are not all perfect. Good and bad, competent and not so is everywhere. But lets face it – its a tough job community. The front line, a real foot soldier, endless challenges, complicated requests, demanding people, conflicting priorities and expectations. It’s hard to get right with such demands. But its even harder when Community Fundraisers aren’t supported. Poor leadership, weak management, process that gets in the way rather than help is too frequent and widespread. Here are 10 specific failings;

  1. Having poor relationships with community fundraisers, not knowing who they are and not bothering to find out about them
  2. Displaying an arrogance and superiority complex
  3. Not understanding or having an affinity with the audience they serve
  4. Creating pointless rules and process
  5. Not hearing what’s needed and by when by the Community Fundraiser, who wants to help the supporter, and not delivering what’s needed and when, having involved everyone who doesn’t need to be involved
  6. Creating materials and tools for the field that don’t work, haven’t been thought through and that have nothing to do with the target audience
  7. Requiring reporting on things that don’t matter every 10 minutes rather than reporting the things that do
  8. Making the brand the principle excuse or reason to do the wrong thing or worse nothing at all
  9. Not taking responsibility to fix things or solve things, even when its their job and then leaving the Community Fundraiser to fix it, only to then be told off when they do because they didn’t do it right
  10. Not taking time to train people, not integrating, not joining up, not being part of and behaving as if Community is from another planet

This failure is in all of us. And it’s not good enough. But, failing can be good if we learn, adapt and move on. So can we do that? Are we able to be better? Probably, but only with goodwill, openness, honesty, a respect for the audience, an understanding of roles, some systems and processes that are efficient and effective, a brand that works at all levels and is pragmatic and flexible, standards that are adhered to, and above all – relationships, integration and the final two saviours –  donor first and leadership.


Here’s to the Independents alternative to The Sunday Times Rich List. The seventh annual Independent on Sunday Happy List – 100 people who, without thought of personal gain, give back and help others, rather than themselves.

Founded as an antidote to all those rich lists and celebrity lists, it celebrates a different set of values, embracing those who start charities, help troubled youngsters, give huge amounts of time to volunteering and raising money, foster children, care for wildlife, and much more.

It’s a joy. An inspiration. Celebrate.




The sun is shining. Early morning London stirs, its arteries held for the later procession of humanity. Road side places are captured, banners are hung, flags are raised as bleary eyed runners and families emerge from planes, trains and tubes. The stories are about to begin.

There are few words that sum up the unique and humbling collection of inspiration that is The London Marathon. Every year, from near and far, 36,000 take to the streets to achieve their personal challenge spurred on by a story. It may be their own recovery or survival, or it may be their memory of someone they love or have loved. Perhaps some connection they made that sparked a promise to do this huge feat to support a cause, some personal promise to another, some private moment we may never know. All matter. It’s a celebration of everything remarkable. Its spirit.

In the roads around the running stories are more stories. Streets swelling with crowds of families, friends, volunteers, charity staff, onlookers detached but swept up in the atmosphere. Hand made notes mingle with branded balloons and the noise of names called, and charities shouted for, and fancy dressed brave eccentrics sprinkling the never-ending tide of vests, numbers and names. Every one a story. The mother or father seeing their son or daughter defiant and alive achieve. The children, anxious for a glimpse of mum and their pride at their triumph. The partners who woke at 6 every day as their loved ones drove themselves to this beautiful sunday. Groups of supporters raising money because that is the best way they can help out, take part, belong, do their bit. Charity staff whose whole day for weeks, even months is taken up with the love, care and nurturing of their team. Charity staff who have turned up to cheer, first timers and veterans, and volunteers and supporters anxious to lift their people and help carry them over the line.

Story is at its heart. Struggle, resolution. No one leaves the London Marathon quite the same. Its humbling and inspiring, its dramatic, its warm and human, its full to the brim of the best where ordinary meets extraordinary. Monday, sore feet and legs, and the glow of Sundays achievement can soon get forgotten. So what can we learn and maybe do differently or a little better in the glow of sunday sunshine. 5 reflections.

  1. Every story should be heard, acknowledged and shared. Every story. It’s all personal.
  2. Charity staff should attend at least once wherever you work, whatever you do. It’s the most perfect opportunity to connect with donors
  3. Every family member and member of each runners group need as much recognition, love and looking after as each runner. They are as important
  4. Shared experience never dies. Connect them, keep them together, share memories and through them inspire others
  5. What could be better next time and how? The best time to make next year really wow is in the next few weeks

Not every one can do a marathon. But everyone should bow their heads in respect to the amazing culmination of personal journey and collective good. It’s what we are about.






6849069753_4ab0ff4553_zLooking for stories, understanding them, capturing them and sharing them requires a mindset as much as practical tools. It all starts with defining what’s right in front of you, and then working out from there. In an article on storytelling for the Fundraiser magazine, i created five very practical things you can do to take action and become the master storyteller that every fundraiser really should be.

  1. Find your story. You are the connection and the storyteller, so make sure you know your own story and can retell it. Write it down as a letter. Hone it into different versions, including a final short one. Find the emotional connection in your story to your cause and organisation, and relive it.
  2. Connect with your organisation’s story. Find the story of how your organisation came about, the people behind the organisation and their lives. What happened, and how did their story make your organisation possible? Find today’s stories, too – the ones that show the continuing work and passion of your founders.
  3. Build your toolkit. Start with your eyes and ears – use them! Then get your smart phone working for you with apps that help you make notes, tools that dictate and record voices, video and still image cameras that capture words and pictures. Alongside this, get a beautiful notebook, a pen and a clean page – and write each story down. Become a collector.
  4. Find ‘narrators’. Build a tribe of people who will actively find and collect stories. It will change the culture of your organisation into an active storytelling world. It involves and engages others, inspiring them and, in turn, becoming infectious. Create a place to store and share these stories. Study other charities and brands that get it right, and learn from them.
  5. Ask. Use the three perfect questions: 1) How did you get involved? 2) What’s your story? 3) How has this made a difference? These work equally on donors, volunteers, supporters and staff. They are open questions, and allow people to be natural. Prompt sometimes, but listen and capture – then share

For a more in-depth look at storytelling, read the longer piece in Fundraiser

9V-SVK tailI’m flying at 37,000 feet. The lights are off, the film is in full swing, a gin and tonic soothing the blood.

The door near us continues to make a noise that we have all resigned to live with until we land. The seat belt sign comes on. The plane judders, like the brakes are on. 3 or 4 minutes. The lights come on and then weirdly go off. We have just made a 180 degree turn over Afghanistan, going back on ourselves. We glance at each other. Then, without warning, the oxygen masks drop down – “Emergency situation” a disconnected voice tells us. We start to descend. Fast.

Now this is not made up. Honestly. Here’s the news piece relating to it. I was there. Me. I took a selfie in the middle of it as a memento. Around me were scared people, concerned people, sleepy people, mildly hysterical. Quiet, reflective, anxious. On reflection, there were even characters from the film Airplane, including two lovely middle-aged Filipino ladies praying with rosary beads. Surely not? Don’t call me Shirley. Anyway, the point of this is not the story. It was the experience and the learning. Sitting in Baku Airport, Azerbaijan (won’t be recommending this place), after an emergency landing, I penned a few reflections as the experience and aftermath emerged. I put them away. Carried on with my holiday, and added to them as they emerged. Distilled them and here they are.
The point is that in crisis, people react differently, unexpectedly and what you think you might see or experience is different. But there is learning. Wisdom. Insight. People are remarkable. There are many who have been through real crisis much more than this – no one died here, no one was hurt. We thought at one point we might plummet into Taliban central, but in the end we didn’t. So proportion matters. But for what its worth my 21 lessons are here to share.
  1. Trauma and fear can be a gift as they help calibrate what’s next
  2. Life is a bit short, quite fragile and enormously precious
  3. How you are with others in a crisis will be remembered by others and yourself
  4. Civility, order, discipline, kindness and respect are taken for granted 
  5. The experience of others can distort your experience and how you remember it 
  6. What’s normal and what isn’t get lost – a new normal soon emerges. Embrace it
  7. Be practical first and emotional second….but be emotional 
  8. Afterwards reframe things to move on 
  9. A cup of tea is mystical and sent from a higher order or spirit 
  10. A contribution, however small is more important than passive nothing 
  11. Human communication without words is more amazing than you though possible – a reassuring smile goes a long long way 
  12. Spirit emerges real fast 
  13. Knowledge of yourself helps before, during and after 
  14. Random acts of kindness shine very brightly – the lady who bought the largest bottle of wine in the airport and gave out a paper cup full for everyone springs to mind 
  15. Rumour and speculation don’t solve the crisis, but helps prepare and process solutions 
  16. The new currency in a crisis is – a phone charger, adapter and cash 
  17. Information is oxygen 
  18. Giving to others helps beyond words 
  19. Leadership comes from unexpected places and people – go with it 
  20. You are more resilient than you knew you were 
  21. A hard floor to sleep on is a hard floor anywhere – pack a pillow
I hope all this never happens to you – well maybe I do just a little…..
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