CDE project 17 sec­tion 2.1: introduction

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 28, 2017
‘It’s about giving and engaging people, it’s this lovely virtuous cycle where you get to give money, and you get to do something yourself that actually makes a difference.’

Gemma Sherrington, Innovation Director, Save the Children

I Wish I’d Thought Of That’ is a fantastic annual event in which you hear 20 examples of things charities have done to inspire their supporters and make a difference. In 2014, Gemma Sherrington from Save the Children shared the example of Friends of the Earth’s Bee Campaign. She began speaking not as a fundraiser, but from the point of view of someone who cares about bees. She talked nostalgically about childhood summers in the garden and how bees were a fundamental part of that beautiful environment. 

She described how she had noticed bee numbers declining, and yet no one seemed to be doing anything about the problem.

In particular, Gemma talked about how great the Bee Campaign made her feel. ‘It actually felt like not just giving but actually being the heroes and making a difference…and that felt great’.

It addressed something she cared about, and not only because of how fun and playful the tone of the campaign was, but in particular because in addition to making a donation to help plant a wildflower meadow which would help protect bees, it enabled her to do something herself – plant her own flowers.

Gemma is not the only one with whom the campaign successfully connected.  It was unequivocally a success in fundraising terms. In the launch year, it smashed all its fundraising targets. For example, within a year, it had generated over 40,000 new cash supporters, 12,000 prospective donors and over 3,500 new committed givers. Joe Jenkins stated that the campaign turned around the long-term decline in the supporter base, and its positive effects continue to be felt. 

Importantly, it generated some of the charity’s highest-ever campaigning response rates (one in four people contacted took action, and for existing supporters, one in three took action). Tellingly, it led to 350 people creating and sharing their own content about bees.

Most important of all, it achieved its primary policy and campaigning objective, in that the UK government has now committed to and publicly launched a National Pollinator Strategy to protect bees.

We believe we are right to be impressed by what Friends of the Earth achieved, but rather than see it as a brilliant idea, as in ‘I wish I’d thought of that’, the heart of its success is that in fact it’s the sum of dozens of ideas within the charity, and indeed hundreds of ideas from outside the charity. 

At least 350 people had their own bee-campaign related ideas, and got on and wrote and published them. In fundraising teams, Joe found that members of the public were coming up with all kinds of ideas that he and his colleagues would not have thought of.

He explains that 

‘in the old charity model, what happens is we get stuff from some people to help out some other people…the shift we need to make is to realise that here are some problems we’re trying to solve, and there are supporters who can help solve them…and there isn’t an artificial barrier…it’s a collective endeavour and if you think of that as one bubble, one collective community, you start to see things differently.’ 

As a charity professional looking at the Bee Campaign, a valuable start is to appreciate the size of the achievement. The most useful question is not ‘how could I think of something like that?’ Ask ‘how could we as leaders help create an environment which would enable other people to do something like that?’

Doing what Friends of the Earth has done is possible, but it’s not common practice 

‘The leaders who succeed in today’s world are not so much chess masters as gardeners. They nurture and empower, creating the thriving environment in which their people can do what is needed to achieve the mission’. 

Joe Jenkins, Director of Fundraising and Supporter Engagement, The Children’s Society

In order to create the environment that enabled so many people to not only have their own ideas but also act on them, Joe cultivated a particular style of leadership.

This started with an understanding of what sort of leadership is most likely to create the kind of environment that will help charities succeed at this point in the twenty first century. He believes that to create this environment you cannot play the role of the all-knowing, all-powerful chess-master, planning things in advance, in control of all the pieces and making one move at a time. 

As General Stanley McChrystal writes in Team of teams ‘people are more connected, more mobile, and move faster than ever before’. Joe’s view on how to respond to this complexity is that our organisation must become more adaptable, more agile and more empowered. To achieve this requires leaders who are not so much chess masters as gardeners.

We have observed many successful fundraising leaders, including Joe Jenkins, direct their energy at three areas in particular to increase the chances that their colleagues (and their supporters) will feel empowered to adapt and take action. This paper shares examples of how leaders from a range of organisations have helped make this happen. 

Click on the image below to view project 17 in full - PDF format

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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