Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How We Can Make The Irish Charities Expo Work

I nearly called this post "Why The Irish Charities Expo Sucked". But that would be harsh, wouldn't it? And so negative. The truth is there were a lot of positives about today's first ever Irish Charities Expo: the charity turnout was good with a lot of effort put in, some fantastic speakers for free, and [initially] a really lovely, positive vibe.

It was especially good for us as a supplier as we got to talk to the charities about our free services and GiftCall.

But alot sucked: It seemed to have an identity crisis...who was this targeted at? It was expensive for exhibitors and the footfall of visitors was virtually zero. The general consensus was disappointment, and even  some anger.

Charities found themselves paying to exhibit because everyone was afraid it would be a huge success and they would be missing out on easy money. The Expo had said that 5,000 company representatives were might have been amazing. It wasn't. It was sad - for some charities they had paid a huge chunk of budget on this and put a lot of time and effort in to it, and it didn't pay off.

So what went wrong? A few things:

No Corporates
5,000 company representatives didn't appear. A couple of charities said they counted 4 company representatives. Not 4,000. Just 4.

And why would they come? Why would they subject themselves to a room full of charities asking them for money? Why would they throw themselves to the lions?

A company making the decision to donate to charity is relatively easy. They can do it from their office. They can respond to charities they want to respond to. They can meet who they want to meet. They can support who they want to support.

No Public
Similarly, the public wouldn't want to expose themselves to what someone described as "a room full of chuggers", but not to the same extent as the corporates. People love charities. And I really believe that a good chunk of the public would be interested in seeing all of these charities in one place, learning what they've been doing, hearing the excellent speakers, discussing volunteering opportunities, showing their support, and yes even donating to them.

But the public didn't show. Why? Probably because it wasn't marketed very well.

There was very little advertising, very little PR. Social media was not harnessed (the only Facebook presence was an event page that I set up a few days ago). Twitter was used incorrectly. Nobody knew about it.

And that's not necessarily just the Expo's fault - maybe charities didn't advertise it enough, maybe us exhibitors didn't push it enough.

The cost of exhibiting excluded a lot of charities. And almost certainly it was never going to be worthwhile. It needed to be cheap...or free...for charities. Easier said than done. But perhaps us profit-making exhibitors should have paid more. Or maybe the public (if there were any) needed to make a 'suggested contribution' on entry that was divided among all the charities involved. Or maybe they needed more sponsors. They didn't approach us for sponsorship (That always amazes me! Like the ICTR Tax Back Campaign - they are struggling for funding and they've never asked us to sponsor!)

The Charities
Maybe the charities could have done more? I spoke to a really nice print agency guy that I see from time to time. He was doing the rounds at the conference and pitching for business. He spoke to almost every charity there and then he spoke to me, at which point I asked if his company would make a donation to one of our charity partners. He said I was the first person there to ask him for money.

So What Is The Solution?
I believe this can work. I want this to work. I think it's a beautiful idea and can be a great thing for the charities, the corporates, and the general public. So how do we make it work?

Well, it needs to be better advertised. It needs an attraction: a celebrity, an amazing keynote speaker, free shit.

It needs to be cheap, or free, for charities. More of them will exhibit (perhaps with smaller stands) and this will allow the organisers to get more company exhibitors to pay. Make companies like mine pay double, half of which sponsors a charity of our choice to attend and exhibit.

It needs to be better integrated with the charity sector. What about partnering with Fundraising Ireland and running in conjunction with their annual conference. Day 1 is the annual fundraising conference, Day 2 is open to the public with the charities exhibiting and speaking. Maybe at a more appropriate venue.

But I'm writing this on the day of the conference. Let me sleep on it. Maybe I'm being too critical. It's easy to criticise. Maybe there's a lot more to it. We all want this to work, and I hope this will be read as constructive criticism.

On a final note, the other thing that pissed me off was one of the organisers walked by me a few times and blanked me when I smiled, nodded or said hello. I paid for four stands at this thing and the guy wouldn't even acknowledge me.


  1. Hi Simon,
    I agree with your sentiments expressed and having spent time at this event yesterday afternoon I am delighted I made a decision last week NOT to invest in a stand... I’ve been saying all week – Why would a corporate want to go to this? They would have to be mad to subject themselves to a wide spectrum of charities looking for some of their money... It was a lot easier to stay at the office and pretend the event was not on!
    And as for publicity to the general public... it was very clear that nobody knew anything about this event! So who gained from this event?? The organisers and the hosts at the RDS all made money on the back of decent charities trying to get some new PR and a new audience. This event was a complete failure and was mis-sold to the charities and charity supplier organisations that attended. From talking to many of the stand delegates the total turnout was in the low hundreds and that included all the staff at the stands!
    I’m glad ORM decided to opt out on this “opportunity” and we still have the thousand Euro in the bank. How the other charities can justify spending this money on a wild goose chase is beyond me! I suggest the organisers take a look at the profit they made on the day and divide it equally back to the organisations that invested in stands for no return !
    Ernie Mooney - CEO -Outreach Moldova

    1. Thanks for the comments Ernie. I wholeheartedly agree with you and I'm glad you made the right decision for ORM.

      Interesting suggestion on dividing the profits!

  2. (commenting in a personal capacity!) Very interesting what you say about the printer pitching for business (a man after my own heart!) and not being asked for money or a partnership etc! Someone else commented to me that they had asked a few of the charities what their approach/strategy for the day was and most of them said they didn't have one! Surely charities should have a pretty good idea what sort of companies would make a good partnership? Maybe those that do don't need to attend such an expo - they are probably too busy building relationships with Corporates on their own initiative. It's a shame the day didn't work for those that paid big money to be there.

    1. Thanks for the comments, mysterious EH.

      The other thing to say is that ONE charity asked me for sponsorship, and that was someone I knew pretty well. We agreed to sponsor two holes on their next golf classic.

  3. Hello Simon, not wanting to be negative but wanting to remain a realist this Expo was doomed from the start.

    Encourage charities to attend and pay a fee in the hope that marketing the Expo to corporates would see teams of staff from marketing, sponsorship and CSR departments arrive in their droves.

    The reality is that companies are being very strategic about the charities they work with.

    They were never going to go down to the RDS, pick up leaflets and decide then who to work with.

    We are all very aware their research is done online, by sourcing information and by arranged strategic meetings and charities should be equally as strategic. We should be researching companies, identifying their challenges and key business objectives and deciding if there is a good fit for both entities before using resources to tailor our approaches.

    I feel sorry for those who attended, it feels a bit like the old story of the streets being paved with gold when that clearly was not the reality.

    1. That doesn't sound negative at all Micheál! :)

      Thanks for the comments. Yes, the reality that we're presented with time and time again is that there is no easy answer and no quick fix in fundraising.

  4. Hi Simon,
    Paddy Coyne here from iDonate.
    I attended both Expo 2012 and the previous Fundraising Ireland event.

    In my opinion, both events were extremely well organised (on the day), but I would have many concerns.

    - Having ‘Charity’ events in expensive / plush venues gives the wrong message.
    Both events came across as fundraising events for the organising bodies.

    - Expecting the charities to pay (fund the event) is definitely not on. The charities need all the free assistance / advice they can get.

    - There should be a nominal fee for those selling to charities / nfp.
    I include my own business (iDonate) in this. Our target market are the charities.

    - The public / corporates must has free admission + incentives to visit the show. Why would any corporate want to go to an event like this (with a big euro sign on their forehead). The corporates know who they are going to donate to. Those events should be used to present othet possible outlets for their donations.

    I got out of bed at 4:00 am on both mornings to travel from Galway to Dublin. The Dublin traffic alone would be enough reason for me not go go next year.
    If it were my event, I would hold it in a large very accessible hotel.
    The hotel gives the venues for free, on the basis that there will be 1000 of people attending who will be paying for the well prices food / refreshments available. Hotels will support this model.

    Both events were very poorly advertised, very poorly attended, to the point of misleading. If I were a charity. I would certainly look for my money back.

    iDonate got a lot from both events, purely because we are new to the charity scene, plus most of our services are either free, or at cost.
    I would not see any reason to attend next year, unless the the organisers can fill the room with cash strapped charities and ensure a massive public attendance.
    Paddy Coyne – iDonate.

    1. Thanks for your comments Paddy. I'm sorry I didn't get to catch up with you at the event. And sorry to hear you had to get out of bed at 4am!

      It is certainly difficult to find who should 'foot the bill' for this event going forward. And difficult to find the balance of a venue that is reasonably priced yet accessible.

    2. Hi Simon, sorry I missed you yesterday. I guess I wrote this after the frustration of yesterday and could be seen to accuse the Fundraising Ireland event of being 'very poorly advertised, very poorly attended, to the point of misleading'. This was certainly not the case. The FI event was more a trade event and we knew who was going to be there before we went. From a public attendance perspective, the RDS event was very poorly attended. I just wanted to clarify.
      I feel that both events need to be looked at from the point of view of being good value for the charities. If the cash- strapped charities cannot afford to attend, then the model is wrong. Talk soon.

    3. I think the main point here is that the concept of the event didn't work.

      Charities should invest in fundraising and pay to attend events whereby they think there will be some return on the investment. Charity is a business and like any other where you have to spend money to make money. Unfortunately the expo just didn't deliver what it said it would.

      (here comes the defensive bit!) In terms of the Fundraising Ireland conference, according to feedback it exceeded most delegates expectations and provided a very high standard of fundraising training and was therefore a very wise investment for those in attendance!

    4. Hi Ed,
      I agree that the Fundraising Ireland event was excellent for those that could afford it. I guess I expected the the Expo event would deliver the same at much less cost to the charities. That is where it fell down, plus my expectation were that it would attract many more charities. Most charities have no money, so investment is not an option. We manage websites for over 600 businesses, many of whom have no money, so consequently investment is not an option either. That is the unfortunate climate we live in.
      Lets hope that those type of events can deliver across the board, for both those who can afford a premium rate for premium events and those who need some free ideas to survive.
      In my opinion the events are targeting the 100 or so top charities. My vision would be that something would be done to assist a few 1000 of the 8000+ charitiy / nfp groups in Ireland.

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  6. Hi Simon,

    Just a small point of clarification re the 'ICTR Taxback campaign'. It's important to say there is no such thing. It is a phrase that seems to have stuck, but it is not factually accurate.

    What does exist is is a small group of individual fundraising managers who have come together to explore the possibility of running a consortium style campaign. The appetite for this is what needs to be pinned down, but it is impossible to do so until there is a clear proposal for charities to decide on. The smaller group is working on that at the minute.

    If and when charities do decide to put money behind it, the ICTR have kindly agreed to handle the banking for us, but are not endorsing or running the campaign in any way.

    And as such, there is no struggling for money...yet! I will of course put you down for a donation when we get to that point ;-)

    Ronan Ryan
    Irish Red Cross

    1. Thanks for the clarification Ronan. Definitely some confusion there.

      Sorry to miss you at the expo. But look forward to hearing from you about a donation...I'll be fundraising for a marathon so we will have a few things to talk about... :)

  7. Although the expo seemed to be reasonably well organised - in terms of physical set-up - I think it tried to do too much. How could one event allow charities to promote themselves both to CSR managers AND potential volunteers/supporters in the general public - AND allow suppliers to promote themselves to charities? And because it was trying to address all these very different audiences, it failed to get significant numbers of any. Certainly, I noticed relatively little marketing to charities/suppliers - and none to the public.

    The content of the seminars, although free, wouldn't have attracted many charity people, at least not to hang around for long. So it can't have been that valuable to suppliers - who would get much more business from the likes of Fundraising Ireland conferences because the people they want to talk to are there - and, having paid to be there, will make best use of it.

    (Simon - thanks for your interest in supporting the Taxback campaign - as KD said, we'll be in touch).

    1. Cheers for the comments Bruce.

      I'm embarassed to say but as a supplier the event was actually OK for us. A lot of charities in one room with nobody to talk to! But still, we want this to work for everyone.

  8. Thanks Hugh. Really interesting to see those examples of similar established events. Will have a thorough look through them when I get a chance.

  9. I was member of public who attended the expo to understand more about non profit sector as thinking of change in career.

    I heard about it from advert in print media (The Phoenix) and the seminars listed interested me.

    The seminars delivered and I enjoyed talking to charities at the expo.

    In my opinion the expo is well placed for the industry to collaborate and share best practice. The main reason corporations will be in attendance would not be to give but rather understand how they can build upon their social responsibility strategies.

    I hope this is the first of many charity expos in Ireland and agree the charities need all the support they can get and a solution to keep this free or cheap is required.

    Regs, Pete

    1. Thanks Pete. Great to hear the point of view of a member of the public, and very encouraging to hear it was a very positive event for you. I hadn't realised there was an ad in Phoenix - I didn't see any print ads.

      I agree that the seminars and speakers they had lined up were really impressive, especially considering it was a free event. Now if only we can ensure more people are aware of it next year.