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.