10 April 2015
At the end of January I gathered together a small group of fundraisers in order to explore their appetite for an informal support network for Christian fundraisers in Nottingham. Fruitful Network Nottingham was born, and you can read about it here.
Already a quarter way through the year (yikes!) and now only a few weeks until the Network gathers again, I thought it long past time that I fulfilled my promise from the January gathering and type up the notes from our discussions.
At the start of a new year, we reflected on what we had each learned in fundraising through 2014.
Lizzie kicked things off, sharing what she’d learned about prospect research. She championed LinkedIn as a growing and useful resource to research individuals, be they Board members of a Trust funder, or prospective donor. Companies House also yielded helpful information – anything to gather intelligence and make the human connection with the person behind the donor.
– fundraising is all about making human connections!
Rebecca followed this up, highlighting that even when you’ve found the right person, in her experience “Shy bairns get nought!” There comes the time when you have to make contact, and in due course, people are not offended if you ask too much of them. Through communication (that means sharing your vision and listening to theirs), the right environment and time will arrive to make the ask, and as fundraisers we should not be shy about being bold. Rebecca has learned this important lesson through her involvement in a major capital campaign in 2014.
Leslie considered the importance of locality and context of the work we are seeking to fund. In 2014 he learned the importance of understanding the politics (both small and large “p”), and agenda of stakeholders, funders, partners, and no doubt internally within the organisation. Leslie’s experiences come from a consultant point of view, and no doubt he has to help clients to see beyond themselves into the fast-changing external environment.
This prompted Richard to reflect on the times of austerity that we have all faced in the past five years. He noted the pressure to do more for less. His experience, also as a consultant, and working in the field of public health, has been to see a significant impact on services and providers as funding diminishes and demands increase.
Sam offered some practical insight to this. His charity, established in Nottingham for 25 years, is responding to the changing funding environment by moving away from a dependence on Grants and Trusts. It is taking a culture change internally to recognise this as legitimate and necessary, and it means thinking forwards and not holding onto past reputations. A challenging but ultimately liberating period of development.
nurturing ideas and vision into growth…
Lizzie agreed, saying that for her international charity she is looking perhaps as far as ten years into the future, where up to 80% of income will be child sponsorship. The challenge, and the thrill, is getting from today, to that point.
Israel looked at it from the social enterprise perspective, suggesting that sustainability at the core of any organisation is key. Social enterprise requires a different skillset to classic fundraising, but does offer potential of long-term revenue to an organisation. More and more charities are looking at income generation opportunities.
Luke introduced yet another factor – contracted services. For his charity, 2014 was a year of grappling with the question: “To Tender, or Not To Tender”, which yielded yet more questions. “How might it impact our identity? What skillset will we need? How do we engage with the process practically? How do we relate to local authorities as a Christian charity?” These are questions that others of us may face in 2015 and beyond.
Sam rounded the discussions off well by reminding us that capacity is key, and that often, we can achieve more together than alone. Consortia of organisations working together, sharing ideas and resources, could help to address many and any of these factors.
– working together to achieve more…
For me, this is the heart of Fruitful Network Nottingham. Giving us the opportunity as fundraisers to support each other, build skills, and draw in more resources for the life changing work that we do.
I had started the discussion with my 3 lessons of 2014:
1) Sustainability is key, but what does it look like? For me, an ability to survive and thrive, by being: a) responsive and proactive in equal measure, b) by having a diverse range of activities, c) by being mission and vision focussed, not necessarily activity focussed, and d) doing so under strong leadership.
2) What does it mean when a funder states that “Unsolicited applications are not accepted”? Can I write to them or not? Try this approach: a) make a speculative introduction based on a clear and logical and evidenced affinity to the funder, and b) NOT making an ask in that first contact, but seeking an invite – a solicitation – to submit an application.
3) What makes fundraising fruitful? A) Communicating the right ask to the right people in the right way at the right time, b) the role of the fundraiser is facilitating this process, and c) it will often not turn out in the way you expected it to!
Thank you to all those, named and not, who turned up and shared their experiences. I hope I haven’t misrepresented anyone.
If you would like to know more, or join us when we meet in Nottingham in May, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.