Saturday, 13 December 2008

Our Further Adventures with Centrepoint

That's Tim and the lovely Debbie Warren of Centrepoint flanking one of our posters. Here are all three of the executions currently gracing London's mainline stations. Click the image to enlarge...

The original versions got banned (which I was secretly very pleased about) but even the toned down ones are pretty hard-hitting.

Or so I thought.

I took this snap at London Bridge on our way home from visiting a Centrepoint project down south of the river. It's run by a wonderful woman called Jenny who, after we'd done the official bit, came to the pub with us for a quick drink.

Now Jenny, through her work, has a unique window on south London's gang culture. And she has a way with words – which made for a series of stories that I still find hard to believe. I'm not going to try to re-tell her tales. But I will tell you one thing. Jenny told us that she'd been to ten funerals this year of young men who died violent deaths. Ten.

So, once again, Centrepoint opened a door for me into a world that I thought I knew about but, as it turns out, didn't. It seems that there's hard-hitting – and then there's truly hard-hitting.

God love you, Jenny. There can't be many people who could do what you do.


Saturday, 29 November 2008

I love Woolworths

There I've said it and it's true. I have a real fondness, a huge affection, a love for a shop.

I've known Woolies for as long as, well almost anything. This is where my Mum clothed me. This is where I'd 'borrow' the odd sweet, save up and buy my first single, and obsess over those impossibly long felt-tip sets.

Is it just me?

Surely this great institution has been a part of all our lives? And what a sad thought that I might not be able to share those same experiences with my children. I really don't want to watch the reflection of the screen in my son's eyes when we choose his first stationery set.

This is real potent emotion stuffed full of sherbet-smelling nostalgia.

And I know it's not just me. A friend told me the other night that if someone knocked on his door asking for a pound for Woolworths he'd "throw a couple in". Which is an odd thought because he'd probably tell a charity that "times were a bit hard..."

Woolworths and all its Britishness and commercial incompetence might be a million miles from the high street charity but I think there is a lesson to draw on.

My relationship with Woolies started when I was young - it answered my early desires. Perhaps not the clothes but a bag of pick 'n mix and some 80s Pop.

So not surprisingly, I find I have a deeper level of affection for charities that were part of my childhood. I have really fond memories of going out at night with my mum and doing the house to house collection for Barnardo's. It answered my desire to spend time with her, away from my siblings.

Charities should try and engage more with children and their families. Become integral players in childhood memories. I know this might seem like long-term planning but it's really not that long before a child in primary school will be graduating and starting work.

So what went wrong for poor old Woolworths?

Well that's easy. They didn't plan for the long run. They didn't go on-line.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Harvest for Our World

Before I start, let me just say that we love Harvest. We recommend that you use Harvest. And we think that the people at Harvest are truly wonderful individuals.

Why such enthusiasm? Well...

We set Open up as a network business - one that can draw on the best people as and when it needs them. That network now includes people all over the UK, in Canada and in Australia.

Now this is all very well. But when your team are confined only to the same planet (rather than to the same building) then managing their time and money can be very tricky.

So we decided to use something called Harvest. It's a brilliant online app that means all our partners can enter timesheet information via a desktop widget while we can keep a handle on who's doing what, see how much it's costing, generate invoices and all that dull but vital stuff.

Anyway, when we signed up for Harvest I noticed that they do something called a New Founders Programme where every month they give a one-year subscription to the system to a recent start-up. So I wrote them a nice email, told them the Open story and guess what...

So, from all of us at Open, THANK YOU Harvest. We loved your product from the start. But we love it even more now that you've been so generous.


Thursday, 20 November 2008

Welcome to Scunthorpe

It appears that our blog suffers from the Scunthorpe Problem.

Apparently, a number people who read us at home are having trouble showing their colleagues the site at work because whoreallygivesatoss contains a rude word. Not toss. Another one.

It's nowhere near as rude as Scunthorpe's rude word but it's clearly enough to get us blocked by a couple of over-zealous filters.

We're planning to migrate off blogger in the next couple of months which should fix the problem. Until then, please tell your friends that they can subscribe via the link at the bottom of our homepage. Although perhaps you shouldn't use the word bottom.


Saturday, 15 November 2008

Who's in need?

I met with a senior planner on Friday who had just finished working on a large piece of research with a group of doctors. He said that the rise in visits from patients who 'just felt down' was noticeable. The suggestion was that the recessionary doom was impacting on our mental state. No surprise I haven't been jumping with joy recently. But what do you expect when everywhere you turn there's some miserable commentary on the recession? Apparently there's a link with negative thinking and brain neurons - too many bad thoughts and your brain actually physically starts changing (or something like that). So I figured that before I turn to the valium I might just stop watching the news.

But I was cheered up that evening watching the BBC's Children in Need.

If you are a fundraiser in the UK I don't think you have an excuse for missing it. Not because of its class acts (obviously) but because this would be the first time we would witness in real time what effect the economic downturn would have on public donations and support. It was generally believed that this year would not be the best for Terry.

But Friday night's show was a spectacular, positive, up-lifting and memorable event. And I think if you were watching you'd have learnt a lot. Because when times are tough people do come together – and in an amazing way. Unbelievably more money was raised that night than ever before.

It seems that rather than ignore the recession we should use it as a way to unite people. Judging by the night's success and the obvious pleasure felt by hundreds of thousands of people, helping others is a great way of finding respite from the otherwise relentless bad news.

This will be of no surprise to the hardened fundraiser but nonetheless with all the doom and gloom it's a useful reminder. Perhaps we should talk to those doctors. Maybe they should prescribe a good bit of fundraising before reaching for the happy pills.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Zipping up my boots

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of pounding the pavements with an outreach team working with street-homeless people. We met up for a bite to eat at seven and for the next five hours odd we walked around the west end talking to people who are sleeping rough.

The evening was fascinating, surprising, harrowing, inspiring, frightening, shocking and revealing. It was also bloody cold. At the end of it, the anonymous and marginalised people we walk past every day had become three-dimensional. And my perception of the lives that they lead had moved from hazy preconception to a chilling reality.

Anyway, I'm not telling you this because I want you all to think that I'm a nice bloke. This is my job, after all, and the whole thing was arranged by Centrepoint as a way to find stories that would make their donors dig deep this Christmas.

I'm telling you because the next day I sat down and wrote an appeal that just seemed to pour out onto the page. And at the risk of sounding immodest, I'm sure it's going to do very, very well.

It was a valuable reminder of the importance of leaving the office, meeting the 'real people' (i.e. the ones who do the work) and getting involved with the beneficiaries. It's all too easy to moan that we can't get the stories we need from 'them in operations'. But the stories are out there if you just get up and look. And they're the things that make what we do work.

As Kurt Vonnegut once said, "The truth is powerful stuff. People don't expect it."


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Time is money

I'm working on our budgets (what joy) and the question on my mind is how we should be charging for our fine services. 

We have obviously put together a rate card, which reflects our costs, and how long we think it will take to do stuff. It looks quite sensible and competitive. But is this the right way to charge? Is this really an efficient pricing method for the sector? 

The reason I ask is that for one recent job we priced by the hour - just for fun. And guess what? We only had two copy rounds and it took half the time we estimated. Was this because of our excellent response to the brief? I'd like to think so. But maybe, just maybe, it's because the hourly rate forces everyone involved, particularly those writing the brief and signing off the work, to focus minds and work efficiently. 

I think next we'll experiment with a one month appeal, from start to finish. This should cut down on accruing unnecessary additional hours – there simply won't be any spare. I'll let you know how it goes. Until then, I guess we'll stick to the rate card. 

Right, back to the budget. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A killer career move

We're looking for brilliant people to work with us. Finding them isn't easy. But it could be worse. At least I don't work for the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

You have to pity the poor writer whose job it is to persuade graduates that making nuclear weapons is a good career move. And you have to grudgingly admire whoever responded to that brief with the proposition that a job at the Atomic Weapons Establishment is one 'For Inquisitive Minds'.

However, when you look at the questions that supposedly exemplify this vital mental attitude, you have to worry. Take, for example, the oh-so-probing query bottom left – 'What Goes on at the Atomic Weapons Establishment?'

Hmmmm. Is it something to do with cakes? Lifesaving drugs? Bicycle repairs? Oh hang on. Is it about enhancing the effectiveness of weapons designed to slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent people?

The clue, as they say, is in the name. A name which, you can't help noticing, is admirably explicit. And acronyms very neatly into AWE. An emotion which might precede fear (and, obviously, violent death) for a nanosecond if you're ever on the receiving end of their handiwork.

But all this is knocked/blown into a cocked hat by the world-class irony of that little logo at the bottom.

AWE is apparently an Investor in People.

Anyway, if you fancy a career for enquiring minds that doesn't involve upgrading the Kiddy-cinerator 5000 then please send us your CV. We'd really love to hear from you.


Oh Happy Day

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Word on the Street

On the day that we declared our new business officially open, the UK officially went into recession. Timing, as they say, is everything.

The Daily Mail is prophesying doom. Rumours of slashed budgets are everywhere. And the air is thick with pleas from fundraising consultants NOT to cut back on fundraising spend.

No surprises so far.

What's lacking is information on what's actually happening. Which is why Fundraising Recession Watch – set up by Sean Triner – is getting several thousand hits a week. He's trying to draw together data instead of listening to rumours.

Anyway, while we wait for the numbers to tell the story, we thought we'd pop out onto the street and ask people if they had changed their giving habits as a result of the recession.

This is what they said...


Thursday, 23 October 2008

We finally have an office

So we've moved out of my house and into our new riverside abode.

I don't know who's more pleased – my wife Nicki or James.

Anyway, thank god we found some Aussie temp to help out with the flat-packs.

We're now Open. So please come and visit us.

Thursday, 16 October 2008


A couple of weeks ago, I bought Tim a guitar for his birthday.

It's a nice guitar (living on credit cards while we start the business seems to bring out the spendthrift in me). But the gift was more symbolic than practical.

You see, many, many years ago, Tim shared a flat with his friend Andrew. Andrew played guitar very well (and still does) while Tim played guitar very badly (and still does).

On a Friday night, the boys would stagger home from the Student Union with their friends. Tim would beg Andrew to play guitar. Andrew would refuse. So Tim would grab the guitar and flail away at it like a man chopping firewood. Apparently the ditty most frequently in line for butchery was Bob Marley's Redemption Song.

As a result, Andrew would grab the guitar and start to play - beautifully.

The obvious moral is that if you want something to happen but you're not quite up to the task then don't wait. You're unlikely to improve enough to do it as well as you want. You'll probably just forget about it.

Far better to pick up the guitar and give it a good, loud, horrible twang.

Because with a bit of luck, someone who plays better than you will take it off you and play the song really well. Someone who knows more about the subject will amend your Wikipedia entry. Someone who knows more about lifetime value modelling will tweak your spreadsheet. Someone who has done it before will offer their help.

To this day, Tim swears by his patented 'pick up the guitar' motivational technique. And having taken the metaphorical guitar off him on many occasions, I know he's right.

The alternative is stagnation. The alternative is letting ideas that could blossom in someone else's mind go to waste.

Go on. Pick up the guitar.


PS In order to complete a hat-trick of Bob Marley links inside a month, I'll leave you with this.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Once a volunteer always a donor

We went camping this summer with friends, and on one rainy day we visited their young cousin who lived close by. She and her family were organising a summer fete in their garden to raise money for a trip she was planning – volunteering for a small rural school in Africa.

So with pockets full of loose change we 'dropped by' along with the rest of the village and drank tea, ate delicious mum-made scones and threw wet sponges at local teenage boys. My kids thought this was all fantastic, clearly beating bus-dodging on the Holloway Road.

Anyway, a few days ago we got a homemade thank you card. They raised more than enough for the trip. Great news. All power to the volunteer – contrary to conventional wisdom, they can raise money. In this case, one school girl raised lots of it.

And when you look at Que Rico! a fabulous charity set up by Nick and Mads Marsh you really get to understand the power of the volunteer. It was their experience of volunteering for a burns unit in Bolivia that drove them to set up and run this charity.

They have remained true to the volunteer by offering an exceptional programme for those lucky enough to be accepted to help out in Bolivia. Furthermore, 'profit' from the volunteer schemes gets fed directly back into the charity. So it will be no surprise to learn that when they return to their day jobs, these volunteers become loyal donors, keen to lever support from their networks and continue to help out in other more financial ways.

And this is big business. In 2005 the gap year volunteering market was valued globally at £5 billion. People are paying lots and lots of money for an ethically motivated experience. Of course not all of these motivations are philanthropic – when was giving purely altruistic?

But are charities making the most of their volunteers and involving them in fundraising opportunities? We know that 'closeness' and 'experience' are major influences on loyalty, but how many organisations have programmes that migrate volunteers to donors? Or donors to volunteers? And if this is too much of a leap, is anyone even using volunteers to feedback to donors?

I've just done a really simple search on Google Blog and Twitter. Do it for yourself and see if any volunteers are blogging right now about your work. Look how active they are, and how many entries they are making. Then look at the visitor count. Wouldn't we love to know how many people are really reading our appeals - perhaps not...

I liked my thank you card. I'm pleased that one young volunteer had enough motivation and energy to organise a pig of a day's worth of events so she could go and help other kids elsewhere. I take my hat off to Nick and Mads and I salute all you fine blogging volunteers. Maybe one day as fundraisers we will find a way to involve you.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Let the (Super)market decide?

I was recently apprehended and questioned in Waitrose for showing undue interest in these...

Excuse the blurry picture but my phone doesn't have a Macro setting. Anyway, this is a Waitrose charity token and you get given one whenever you shop. Then, on your way out you get to choose who you want to support by putting your token into one of three boxes.

While I was there, I watched about ten people (three of them children, who get a disc of their own when mum or dad shops) stand in front of the box and have a good think before they made their choice. It was fascinating to see how much time and thought they put into it.

Charities are nominated by customers and change every month. At the moment, from left to right, we have the local Age Concern, a local primary school (who need a new playground) and a local centre for people with learning difficulties. At the end of the month, Waitrose will weigh the tokens and distribute a thousand pounds according to their customers preferences.

First of all, hats off to Waitrose for giving away twelve grand a year to the local community and hats off to them for giving local people a say in how they give it.

But what Waitrose might not realise is that they have inadvertently created one of the coolest experiments in fundraising I have ever seen.

Let's start with the maths. Just look at those tokens. There are THOUSANDS of them. So I'm guessing that the results are statistically rock-solid. I mean, that's a near 100% response from a brilliant sample (Waitrose shoppers, for those of you outside the UK, tend to index off the scale on charity donor files).

On that basis I think we can say that, in this part of town at least, helping old people is more popular than helping people with learning difficulties which is, in turn, more popular than helping build school playgrounds.

But wait, there's more...

The person who tipped me off about this marvellous experiment earlier in the week told me that the people with learning difficulties were trailing a poor third. So when I popped into the shop I was expecting this post to be about how tough it is raising money to help people with disabilities (which I know isn't the same thing but that's what my friend had told me the third vat was for).

But when I got there, learning difficulties had surged into second place. Which makes me wonder whether, once they got to a certain distance behind, people started giving to them because of their lack of support.

So maybe this should be an article about how sometimes it's good to appeal on the basis that not many people give to you and that you're not getting your share. And come to think of it, having written more legacy appeals than I care to remember, I know that message can really work.

Of course, to test my hypothesis I'll need to weigh the discs daily. And while I'm at it, I'd like to try changing the copy and design on the top of the boxes which is rather dull.

I'll let you know what the manager of Waitrose says. Apart from "Oh. Are you that weirdo that our checkout manager apprehended taking pictures of the boxes?"


Wednesday, 8 October 2008

What we really want...

When we launched our site we asked people what they wanted from a brand new all singing all dancing fundraising agency that reflects this 21st century world. Well guess what they said...

Cheap appeals!

So much for all this Web 2.0 nonsense. I'm off to learn Quark Express and buy some very thin paper.


PS: Look out for my next blog entry: How charities must drive down costs to survive the recession!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Prepare for Failure

I read a very interesting book earlier in the year. It's called Here Comes Everybody and it's by Clay Shirky. Buy or borrow it. It's great.

One of the ideas it put forward is that success in the world of Web 2.0 is driven by repeated failure. Here's a quote that sums it up nicely:

"...the market expresses its judgment not in cash but in expenditure of energy. Failure is free, high quality research, offering direct evidence of what works and what doesn't. Groups that people want to join are sorted from groups that people don't want to join every day."

If you're trying to 'create' social networks that sounds pretty depressing - and it looks even more depressing when you see the Power Law Graph that this phenomenon creates (if you want to know about the maths then you probably need the book).

But, as Shirky points out, the fact that so many people are trying means that spectacular successes will inevitably result. Wikipedia for example.

So I guess the message here is 'prepare for failure but keep trying'.

With this in mind, I built an Open Fundraising Forum last night. It took an hour and a half and I think it works pretty well considering. You could do the same thing for your supporters or just for your friends using the free software and hosting you find on Yuku.

I will now, in all probability, have to watch the digital equivalent of tumbleweed blow across my creation. But I might not - especially if you go there and post a comment. And even if I do, what the hell? I tried. And there are plenty more things worth trying.


Sunday, 28 September 2008

Me and my long-term partner

I was waxing lyrical the other day about the benefits of Kiva and other such fundraising platforms. I was well into my rant about 'the free market and letting the donors choose' when a thought struck me. When did I start believing that free markets and donor choice was such a great thing for the beneficiary?

Why am I signing up to a system that effectively boycotts the integrity and expertise of the well-established NGO for a charity e-bay?

A system where we as donors (sorry I mean investors) are asked to make long-term funding decisions, on the basis of 'personal choice' influenced by a photo and a short funding application.

Don't get me wrong. I love Kiva and I love being an investor. Being placed on the 'inside track' with the transparency, control and feedback I get is great. I like the social networking side of it and its fresh and straight-talking approach. And you just can't beat that direct-link with the beneficiary.

But I am not an expert on development issues and my needs shouldn't outweigh the needs of the beneficiary. I know that supporting an international NGO's advocacy programme to improve working rights and conditions will prove a better long-term investment than my funding a young farmer in Bosnia to set up her own business.

But despite that I did and I'm hooked, and unless charities listen to their donors and answer these needs the right programmes might struggle to find that long-term partner.


Friday, 26 September 2008

Let's see you do better...

For those with a sophisticated view of development issues, there's plenty to dislike about this project. Affluent kid from Canada raises a bit of money and goes poverty-touring in Bangladesh. Makes a video diary about it. Incorporates a voting system. Focuses on service delivery rather than capacity building and empowerment. Comes across as a little sanctimonious.

Then again, you don't have to have a sophisticated view of development issues to want to make a difference. And the latest episode of his occasionally excruciating epic has had (at the time of writing) 47,827 views on YouTube.

Read that again. Then go and have a look at the site.

Even if you disregard the content, this is Web 2.0 with all the bells and whistles. A nice bit of tab navigation takes you to Flickr, to YouTube (where all the action is) and to Facebook - where our man has a group 1,118 strong.

Pretty impressive for one 27 year-old bloke with a camcorder, a laptop and the ability to weave some simple social networking platforms together. I wonder what kind of budget most charities would assign to create that kind of noise in the Blogosphere?

So hats off to Save the Children who (in Bangladesh at least) seem to know a good idea when they see one and have shown off their work. Hats off to the people who have given - despite the fact that the donation page opens with the line 'Please Don't Feel Obliged to Donate'. And hats off to Shawn and his mate for making it happen.

Now who wants to do something better?


The Joy of Subs

For those of you who haven't noticed/aren't 100% au-fait with this stuff, look for the subscribe link right at the bottom of this page. Then click on it and follow the instructions.

Then you'll get all our tedious ramblings pinged direct to your inbox where you can ignore them at your convenience.


Making peace down under

We recently went to Australia to see an old friend Sean.

It's not a pleasant flight but here's a tip. If you go into the chemist at Bangkok Airport and say 'do you have anything to help me sleep' then your next clear memory will be the stewardess shaking you awake as the cleaners try to steal your iPod.

So what is Pareto Fundraising all about? When Sean's not busy staying at my house and poaching staff, what is he up to?

Building a reputation of being a world-class fundraising agency that produces 'data led creative' we're told. Focusing on impact and integrity. Yep. Sounds good. But isn't that what we all claim to do? Solid RFV, focus on the Pareto Principle. Surely this is just old fashioned DM?

Well maybe. But maybe the science of our trade has become somewhat neglected and a little unloved over here. Confined to the dark, damp corners. Maybe, just maybe, we should all get back inside the box and build our plans off the back of some sensible and sadly sometimes highly complex data modelling.

Benchmarking models have failed to captivate the sector and get universal buy in but when you see the consequences of sharing you get to see how the (not so) backwater markets are rapidly catching up.

All this cleverness costs money. But so what if the net returns are so great? Wouldn't you be happy to pay a bit extra to be pretty darned sure what a new recruit will be worth over four years? Or how to boost your income AND annoy fewer donors with mailings they are statistically almost certain not to respond to?

The UK is different, of course. DM fundraising is more evolved, the market is more competitive and the 300% increases that Pareto have scored with some clients might be harder to replicate.

But it doesn't take 300% to make your programme look a whole lot better...

It was a great week. I made peace with an old friend, met some clever minds and learnt a few things to.

Thanks Sean (and Jan and Paul). You're right to be proud. See you again soon.


Monday, 22 September 2008

What's in a Name?

A while ago, I decided I wanted to work for myself and that I should set up a fundraising agency all of my own. I was going to call it Small Axe after the Bob Marley song - for reasons that will be self evident when you've heard it (or perhaps read the lyric if you find the vocal a bit impenetrable).

Then, having read a book that said you should try to make what you sell evident in your name, I decided to call my company Love and Money. If you go to Companies House, you'll see that I actually got to the point of registering that one. It's still dormant and likely to remain so because I unexpectedly acquired a business partner who absolutely hated it.

I'll spare you our longlist of awful names. For a couple of hours at The Queen's in Crouch End we quite fancied Many but that was taken in all its URL permutations and when we sobered up we weren't sure anyway. Tim favoured Cry London but as the parent of baby twins I just couldn't get past the image of screaming snot in stereo. So we were both relieved when I thought of Open and Tim grudgingly accepted that it was a stroke of creative genius.

Why Open? Well, we both cut our teeth on Direct Mail and getting things open is pretty fundamental in that business. And in our Web 2.o future, everything's open - sources, communities, this blog, you name it.

But Open is also about how we want to do business. Not just in the sense of being transparent but in drawing the best people and ideas from wherever we find them. We know that we can't have everyone inside our company and under our control. But we can forge partnerships with the best and that's exactly what we're going to do.

But I still think Love and Money is a bloody good name.


Friday, 19 September 2008

Embrace the Hassle

A very brilliant man once told me to 'embrace the hassle factor' if you want to achieve anything. That no one will want to change anything, let alone the world, if you haven't put the work in.

He was talking about finding the right story and asking the right questions. Don't expect people to support your work, give to your appeal, fall in love with your cause if you present them with a mediocre, unsympathetic case for support.

But we all know how hard it is to get that story. I was researching for an Appeal for the YMCA. I wanted to go and visit my local YMCA hostel: I knew the day centre served a relatively middle-class catchment, but heck it was easy to get home from.

Instead he sent me on a week-long tour criss-crossing the UK visiting hostel after hostel. I met some incredible young people who told me their stories of survival, of abuse and the grim reality of poverty. It was their stories that shaped the determined mind of a young fundraiser.

Today I'm about to embark on another journey. With more determination and conviction than ever. Thank you brilliant man for teaching me about hassle.


Saturday, 13 September 2008

The fundamental question

I've always been suspicious of blogs. I can't help asking one thing.

Who really gives a toss?

That's one reason we chose the title. The other reason is that this question occupies many of our waking hours. Who really gives a toss about the state of the world? Where are they? And how do we help translate giving a toss into giving something more useful?