Friday, March 28, 2014

GUEST BLOG: Why Everyone Loses Over the World Vision Controversy

This week World Vision USA changed its guidelines to allow the employment of people in same-sex marriages. Sadly, a few days later they reversed that decision. From a fundraising perspective it is interesting to consider how the flip-flopping in policy could and would lose them supporters on both sides of the fence. But the story is bigger than that, and I asked my good friend Tom Read to write a guest post.

Tom was my best friend in school in Hong Kong and I've known him for nearly 25 years. He is a singer and a songwriter - topping HK iTune charts (beating Adele). He blogs, he tweets, he is one of my favourite people in the world. And he is a Christian.

This week’s controversy surrounding World Vision’s decision, then subsequent reversal of that decision, to allow gay married couples to work at World Vision represents one of the saddest turn of events I’ve witnesses as a Christian in recent years.

For those who haven’t followed the story, World Vision's initial decision was met with a swift backlash from many Christians, particularly those in the American Evangelical community, with many organisations renouncing their support and cutting their funding to World Vision. As more Christians began to cancel their sponsorships in protest, World Vision panicked and quickly released a statement reversing their decision.

Throughout this whole sad affair there really are no winners, only losers. Here’s a look at who loses out the most:

1. The Children
The biggest losers are undoubtedly the thousands of children that World Vision support. If reports circulating on the internet are true, as many as 5000 sponsorships were cancelled this past week. Each one of those sponsorships represents a genuine child in need, and the effects of this will be devastating. The idea that these children have effectively been held as ransom over ideological differences is sickening.

2. World Vision
You can’t help feeling sorry for World Vision, but there can be no denying that this has been a disaster for them, and their credibility as an organisation will have been damaged.

One must assume that their original decision was not something decided over night, but rather something that has been a long time in the making. A decision like this for a Christian organisation would have been talked and prayed through over and over and certainly not something they would have taken lightly. Which makes their reversal of the decision all the more tragic, because it’s makes them appear to be pandering to their donor base rather than standing firm on their convictions.

It’s unlikely that they will recover the majority of the supporters that they have lost over this, and in the process they have ended up disappointing both sides of the divide.

3. The Church
Some Christians will see this as a victory, but it isn’t. There is a time and a place to “make a stand” for what you believe in, and this wasn’t one of them.

The simple truth is that it doesn’t matter one single bit to the children being supported by World Vision whether those working there are gay, straight, single, married, divorced, black, white, or green. What this has done is further expose what I consider to be the "dark side of Christianity”, a side that has nothing to do with Jesus, and everything to do with religion, politics, and ideology.

It doesn’t matter how you term it, it’s rotten, and it’s something that Christians should be ashamed of. There is not a single instance in the bible where Jesus refuses to help someone because he disagrees with their lifestyle. He loved people unconditionally. The moment we put conditions on our love and support, we lose the heart of Jesus.

As I followed the events unfolding online, my first response was to try and counter the cancelled sponsorships by sponsoring a child. I proudly updated my social networks with a status declaring that I was a new supporter of World Vision. I now realise that this puts me in exactly the same boat as those people who cancelled their sponsorships over the decision. At the end of the day, my charity must be motivated by compassion and not agenda.

When charity becomes more about promoting an ideology than helping people, everyone loses.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

So I'm Delivering This Fundraising Seminar In A Swimming Pool...

"I'm delivering this fundraising seminar in a swimming pool." That's what I would have said if things had gone to plan.

Let me explain...

I love going to fundraising conferences because...well...fundraising. But also it's a little holiday for me where I manage to get away from the people I love the most. And the highlights for me are always getting room service, having a nap...and going for a swim.

But it's hard to find the time, and at last year's International Fundraising Congress in Holland I found myself with the tough choice of going to another amazing seminar or going for a swim.

I went for a swim.

And I found myself thinking: I wish there was a seminar in this swimming pool.

So I came back to Ireland and put in a proposal to speak at the 2014 IFC on Telephone the swimming pool.

All attendees would be in the swimming pool, relaxed and happy and wet, while they listened to me present stats and advice, and talk about why the telephone is probably the most cost-effective way to raise money for amazing causes.

We would then have a question and answer session in the jacuzzi.

That's the proposal I sent off.

And it was accepted.

But without the swimming pool part. Instead it's just going to be an amazing, fun and informative telephone fundraising session on dry land.

Still...the dream lives on...

So this is an open offer to any fundraising conference anywhere in the world that has a swimming pool. I would love to run a seminar in the pool. Please e-mail me if you're interested.

Monday, March 24, 2014

#NoMakeUpSelfie - What Should Your Charity Learn From It?

I'm usually sceptical of on-line 'like and shares', petitions and awareness raising campaigns. Not only do they achieve very little, but they can have a negative effect on donations as people feel they've 'done their bit'.

But I like the No Make-Up Selfie campaign - primarily because it's raised loads of money. As well as taking part, the friends on my Facebook timeline are also donating - I've never seen that before. I've never seen people actually post screenshots of their donation receipts. It's amazing. (And here's a nice post from Emma Hannigan).

But let's look at the dos and don'ts of what fundraisers can learn from this:

  • DO have a mobile friendly donation page. It should go without saying by now, but around half of these donors are going to be on their mobile or tablet. If your donation page makes it difficult then they're going to give up.
  • DO have a SMS donation facility. But only if it's cost-effective. They can be pricey to set up but more and more it's getting affordable or even zero-risk.
  • DO engage. Thank everyone that takes part. Take part in the conversation.
  • DO encourage your supporters to reach out to their friends and family. Coach them on how to do so. Some call it 'member-get-member', which is such a stupid name, but think 'refer-a-friend'.
  • DO be ready to move quickly and make the most of these type of campaigns.
  • DO follow-up. If you're fortunate to have received donations then make sure you show how you spent them. This will be the end of the story for many donors, but for some donors it's the beginning of your relationship.

  • DON'T try to make your own viral campaign. You can't force viral. It'd be like buying a lottery ticket as part of your fundraising plan. Denisa Casement put it well: If it can't be reproduced with a degree of certainty it doesn't belong in your fundraising plan as anything but a contingency response.
  • DON'T believe anyone who tells you they can make a viral campaign.
  • DON'T entertain anyone that suggest you just do a #NoMakeUpSelfie campaign or something similar. You will hear this from your Board and other people with good intentions. It almost certainly won't work.
  • DON'T forget staff costs. When we look at social media costs we pretend they're free - we forget to take in to account all the hours your staff or volunteers spent cruising Facebook and Twitter. You could have spent that time earning or raising money.
  • DON'T forget that Irish Cancer Society (probably the biggest beneficiary of this campaign in Ireland) put years of work and money in to being the 'first choice' for people to donate to. If you're a small, young organisation you're not going to have that.
  • DON'T believe the hype. We're probably going to hear conference speakers and on-line consultants cite this as proof that social media is killing everything else. For every #NoMakeUpSelfie there are a million efforts that raised nothing. Get the basics right first.

Anything else? Please feel free to comment!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Would You Fundraise To My Face?

When I think of all the people I love or have loved I think of their big smiley faces. I think of their voices and their laughing and their crying and the jokes that nobody else would understand.

You're probably the same. Yes, there are (really) memorable phone calls and e-mails and text messages. But they really don't compare. Face-to-face, one-on-one...those are the life changing moments.

That's why it works so well in fundraising. The impact you can have on someone through your voice and tone and facial expressions and body language is huge.

Your message is crucial, but if it's not delivered properly then even the most important message in the world will flop.

The obvious problem is that you can't deliver your message face-to-face, one-on-one, to everybody. And what we forget is that other medium were invented as substitutes for face-to-face: Mail, TV, radio, billboards, e-mail, SMS - they are all cost-effective substitutes but they all work best when they feel like a single human is talking to you, and only you.

We forget this all the time.

When we sit in front of a computer to type our message we start to write words we would never say out loud. When we create advertisements we try to be clever. Our mail sounds robotic and our TV ads have completely lost the plot.

We need to work to be humans. We need to personalise. We need to tell stories. We need to be emotive. We need to read our copy out loud. We need to show our appeals to our mothers and children. Street fundraisers are a great testing ground - if you can't say it face-to-face to a complete stranger then why would you unleash it to millions of readers and viewers?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Chugging As A Career?

I've written and spoken before about how 'chuggers' - or street fundraisers - changed my life.

This year it's 10 years ago that I worked as a chugger, and made the leap from sales and finance jobs in to professional fundraising. It changed my life - it indirectly helped me meet my girlfriend, it helped me sleep better at night, it started a career I love, led me to set up my own fundraising business, and prodded me to become an 'international speaker' (To paraphrase Bernard Ross: How do you become an international speaker? Get on a plane, fly somewhere, get off the plane.)

I was reminded of all of this again when fellow Beatles fan Sir Ian McQuillin sent me details of new research focussing on individuals who started their fundraising career as street fundraisers. The research aims to map these careers and show how some street fundraisers went on to become office-based fundraisers and fundraising managers in some of the world's most respected charities.

I personally have worked with chuggers who have gone on to be fundraisers and managers around the world at Amnesty, UNICEF, Barnardos, Greenpeace, Habitat For Humanity, and more. I've worked with chuggers who set up their own charities and set up their own businesses.

I genuinely believe street fundraising is one of the best jobs in the world and gives you skills and experience that serve you for life - not just in working in the charity sector but also in your day-to-day life.

Chugging teaches you how to talk to people. It teaches you that you can talk to strangers about anything and, when you do, you can end up interacting with amazing randomers and learn bizarre things.

Chugging teaches you what works in fundraising. Looking a person in the eye, face-to-face and asking them for a donation is a very quick way to understand what works and what doesn't. It helps you get to grips with how humans - totally irrational creatures - think.

Chugging teaches you how to listen. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. I don't know why you have eyebrows.

Chugging teaches you how to deal with rejection. And life is full of rejection. Life sucks. It's really, really bad. But if you can get through the sucky, crappy parts of the world around you then you begin to see the amazingness. And then that's all you see.

Chugging helps you do good interviews and get good jobs. It helps you chat up women and men. It helps you deal with everyone around you.

Even if your career takes you elsewhere outside of fundraising I believe working as a street fundraiser will help you. If you want to work in charity fundraising I know it will really help you. And even if you're already working in fundraising, I believe a week or two on the streets would do you good.

If you want to read more about Flow Caritas' research or you're an ex-street fundraiser that wants to take part then read more here. I'll be following their progress.