Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What Makes A Charity Good? #GoodCharity

This week saw the launch of

The initiative - currently just a website - asks What makes a charity good? It aims to not only answer some of the usual questions that come in the media and the public debate time and time again, but also to give the public guidance in what makes a charity worthy of their donation.

The idea came last year, believe it or not long before the Rehab and CRC scandals. But these things take time, and working with the amazing people at Fundraising Ireland, Dóchas, The Wheel and Whitebarn Consulting it took time to structure the language and content that was agreeable to everyone, while still staying readable.

And that was the key: it had to be readable and digestible. It was designed for the public, and so we (as members of the charity sector) had to always keep that in mind. For example, we were aware that many organisations object to being classified as a 'charity', but we knew that the public don't see it like that and if we tried to fight that we would immediately lose them.

The point of the site is to be a stepping stone: it is plain English and over-simplified, but the aim was to diffuse initial objections and generalisations and prompt the media and the public to look deeper.

That became very clear with the FAQ when we realised the answer to nearly every question about the charity sector is It depends.

That's because the 'charities' are actually thousands of completely unrelated organisations. As Hans Zomer put it, "Talking about the charity sector is like talking about the food sector." And that's part of the problem we face: It's trying to get across that you can't judge an organisation by the behaviour of others. We've heard plenty of people saying the Rehab/CRC scandals are the reason they'll never donate to charity. As someone pointed out to me, that's like saying I don't like that shop. I'm never going to shop in shops again. is the first step towards helping potential donors and volunteers ask the right questions.

I think it's also significant because it's one of the first times the sector itself has come out and said that "charity" does not equal "good". Yes, there are good charities and there are excellent charities. But one of the highlights in the project for me was when someone asked were we all comfortable saying that there were "bad charities". And yes. Yes, we were all happy with that.

I hope the website will help. It won't change everyone's opinions, and might not even change the way a journalist presents an article. But it might.

At the very least I hope it will give charities somewhere to point the media towards the next time they roll out the same old questions. I hope it will save them time so that they can concentrate on doing what they do best.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Known Unknowns (101 Fundraising)

[This article has been published previously on 101fundraising – Crowdblog on Fundraising]

Donald Rumsfeld said, "There are known knowns - These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns - That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know."

I don't make a habit of quoting Donald Rumsfeld but that was a phrase that keeps coming to mind over the last few months here in Ireland. You see, fundraisers (or at least some fundraisers) are taking a battering. Two big charity scandals resulted in Board resignations and disappearing CEOs and we're all feeling the effects in some shape or form.

Public surveys (and yes, I know the problem with public surveys) keep telling us that trust for the sector as a whole has fallen and people are now less inclined to donate. Some charities said their Christmas income was down a whopping 40% because of the scandals. Monthly donors cancelled across the board.

The charities that have fared the best are the ones with a strong base of regular donors and the ones that reacted quickly. Some charities were pro-active with a clear, strong message to distance themselves, while others were ready with excellent responses.

Some - completely uninvolved - just made a mess of it. The media and donors reached out to them for reassurance...and they didn't give it. And I was left wondering, why were they so unprepared?

A scandal in the sector is a known unknown. You don't know when it will hit or who will be involved, but as long as humans remain human you know it will happen. So shouldn't you have a reasonable idea of what you'll do to protect your fundraising? It depends on the specifics, but are you prepared to update your website, write a FAQ for your staff and volunteers, or pick up the phone to every single person on your database?

In the same way an emergency appeal will prompt you to reach out to your supporters, any sector emergency can give you an opportunity to reach out to your supporters and strengthen that relationship.

There are other known unknowns.

Every January we see a spike in cancellations from regular monthly donors. The whole sector does. Money is tight after Christmas and a percentage of donors decide to make a change.

Usually that's because donors see monthly giving as a switch: it's either on or it's off. They usually don't consider the other options, like taking a break for a month or reducing their gift amount. They don't consider these because we don't offer them.

Shouldn't you be pre-empting these January spikes by engaging with your donors? By treating them like can find an option that leaves them happier and keeps them giving. I've seen organisations reach out to donors and offer them a break in January and it's resulted in higher income.

Much has been written on the reasons your donors leave you: your content's not engaging enough, not enough updates, not personal enough, not emotional enough, etc. But you also need to look at the 'macro' reasons - I think there are 3 types:

1. Organisational
These are unique to your charity - your own mission will suffer. As a fundraiser, pretty much all of your time is spent ensuring these won't happen. Just this month we saw the UK's Trussell Trust handle an attack from the Daily Mail beautifully, with some help from the public.

2. Sectoral
All charities suffer - people lose trust in the sector as a whole or cancel their donation as a knee-jerk reaction. You're usually talking about a scandal. You're not involved, but your fundraising is probably going to suffer - or at least change.

3. Universal
Every organisation and business gets hit - we see it every January and we see it when there's a particularly bad budget announced. When the whole country feels the pinch then we all look at where our money is going and decide who is going to get the chop.

So are you ready for a storm? You don't need to live your fundraising life in fear, but you should be prepared. Have what you can in place.

Things will always take us by surprise, but the known can do something about them.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Charities & Fundraising: The Nice Little Touches Collection

I've been showing a few examples of (mainly) Irish charity websites and communication in my seminars (especially when it comes to transparency). I wanted to put them all in one place that I can keep here we go:


World Vision's Financial Info


SpunOut's Governance & Transparency Page
They have a nice page dedicated to governance.


Merchants Quay's 'Why We Send Mail'


To Russia With Love Costs
Newsletter. Written like a human.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Everything I Know About Fundraising In One Slide

Speaking at The Wheel conference today, I managed to get everything I know about Fundraising in to one PowerPoint slide.

Here we go:

1.People Donate Emotionally.
2. Keep It Simple.
3. It’s Not About You.
4. Make A Personal Connection.
5. Ask.
6. Transparency. Obviously.

*Obviously there's more to it than that. And the seminar itself was scattered with loads more insights, anecdotes, examples and stuff. It was just brilliant. You should have been there.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Scope Neglect In Fundraising

I read this last week:
"You can ask people how much they’d be willing to pay in order to rescue 2,000 birds from an oil spill, or 200,000 birds from an oil spill. And they say the same amount (about $80) in both cases."
It's a phenomenon called 'Scope neglect', where the human brain can't emotionally grasp large quantities.

If you've done any reading on fundraising or attended any decent seminars you've certainly heard it preached: talk about the one rather than the many.

Fundraisers like to quote Stalin: "When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it's statistics." (Did he actually say that?)

The truth is any ask that involves more than a handful of people is confusing and diluted. Tens of thousands - hundreds of thousands - it's meaningless. If you talk about hundreds or thousands of people the brain will try to picture one of them in an attempt to grasp what you're talking about.

You can save time and effort by talking about the one. And your potential donors will respond.