The National Autistic Society: borrowed ideas can be free and effective

Carolyne Coupel of The National Autistic Society in the UK has a very small budget, but it’s not a problem because, as she says, she has SOFII, where she finds her ideas.

Written by
Carolyne Coupel
Added
January 07, 2013
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The first page of the summer appeal before going to the printer.

We regularly look for ideas and inspiration from SOFII – why spend time and effort reinventing the wheel when fundraising principles don’t change?

This can be even more acute when working for a charity that has a pretty small individual giving team – there are four of us managing all programmes plus in memoriam and legacies, and we don’t have an ongoing direct marketing agency relationship. We almost look to sites like SOFII as an extension of our team.

Late last year we started planning how to celebrate The National Autistic Society’s fiftieth birthday and I happened to have been reading on SOFII about a couple of charities that had spent a day thanking supporters. Of course we all understand the impact and benefits of personalised thanking – something we already do at The National Autistic Society with all our in memoriam and high value donors by sending them handwritten cards.

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The second page. Click on the image of the letter to see both pages on PDF form

But for us the idea would have more significant benefits – we aren’t a fundraising-led charity due to how we’re funded. But we need to grow voluntary income (who doesn’t?) and, therefore, need to behave a bit differently. If only we could get every team involved in a simple fundraising action and talking directly to our donors…

And so, the idea of a ‘thanking day’ caught on and, thanks to some very careful planning, negotiation and coaxing, our entire head office staff came together on 17 May 2012 just to call donors to thank them and write postcards of personal thanks.

Eighty staff took part, with some very notable inclusions: IT and finance (who’d have thought?), one of our original founders, now in her eighties – what a legend – plus the entire senior management team. Staff members have since told us what a great team-building event it was – the perfect by-product of the day.

We thanked 1,500 supporters personally and a further 32,000 received a thank-you email with a link to a film of the day. We posted the film to our 30,000 fans on Facebook during the day; with one supporter commenting about the phone call she’d received.

We had some amazing feedback – supporters thanked us for being thanked. Potential major donors made new appointments. Individuals committed to running marathons for us. And it got everyone thinking a bit differently about us as a charity.

See the film here. We may even make it an annual event.

On the basis that we’d borrowed this idea so successfully, and we couldn’t afford to commission an agency to help us, we used SOFII again to search for ideas for our summer appeal.

Inspired by a very simple and heartfelt appeal letter on SOFII, we chose to follow the example and had a stab at writing the copy ourselves (first time ever – we really aren’t copywriters). We even stole some of the lines from the letter verbatim – they were just so well written and, knowing our audience, we expected they would resonate.

Considering it was the first appeal we’d written ourselves it went pretty well, even though we didn’t make all our targets. The average gift was the biggest concern at £18 versus a target of £20, but we achieved an ROI of 2.4:1.

Thank you to SOFII for being such a useful resource – you’ve made a big difference to us, and we’ll keep borrowing ideas while they keep working for us.

About the author: Carolyne Coupel

Carolyne Coupel has been head of individual giving at The National Autistic Society for over two years. She started her fundraising career in 2007 at The Children’s Society where she was also head of individual giving. She has 15 years marketing experience. Before joining the charity sector Carolyne worked in the media and telecoms sector, most recently as head of marketing at Telewest Broadband.

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