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?