CDE project 23: part 5 — project 18 — 22

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
March 26, 2017

This project is especially important for small charities with limited budgets – indeed, some small community based charities will likely operate like this anyway by necessity. Understanding the social capital of individuals and the power of their networks is at the heart of this project, and for a small charity which may be short of marketing funds it emphasises how, with the right mindset, it can engage supporters to spread its message and fulfil its mission by empowering and inspiring them.

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • Take some time to understand the concept, and share with your trustees, senior managers and CEO’s. The project document is a good starting point. Don’t be put off by the complexity of the approach. In its simplest form it can be very effective and many small charities will be well placed already to work in this way due to the increased amount of integrated working that happens organically in a small organization.  (1 & 4)  
  • Critical to this way of working is having a very clear mission story. Ask: What is our purpose? Why do we exist? What is the problem we are best placed to solve? Once this is defined (and this may not be your existing ‘strapline’) you can move on to use classic storytelling techniques to tell your story in a compelling way (1 – long term actions)
  • Empower your supporters to share your story – or their own story with their communities and networks. Be on the lookout for supporters who are trying to tell their story and help them. Every one of your supporters has the ability to open doors to new supporters and funders. Think of your supporters as part of your social media resource! (2 – long term actions) 

Measuring impact outside of what is mandated by core funders can sometimes be de-prioritised by small charities due to cost, and so some do not even assess, never mind communicate to donors. This project offers some clear advice that can be implemented fairly easily by small charities with little cost implication.

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • Include communications that focus on the difference you make – this might seem very basic, but should be about the outcome and impact on your mission that donor’s money is making rather than focused on the work that you do to get there. (1)
  • Do not always ask for money. Measuring and communicating impact is about more than soliciting donations. The cost of this can sometimes be difficult to justify for smaller charities, however the long-term income benefits will be worth it. Test repurposing a softer ask e.g. newsletter to have no ask or using email which is cost effective. (2)
  • Use simple case studies to illustrate the impact for you. If possible use the language from the case study (where the beneficiary is able to participate) to make real and authentic. Try and get to the bottom of what the change means to that beneficiary. It doesn’t have to be long and detailed, but it should be genuine. (3) 

The public understanding of how modern charities of all sizes work is really key, and speaking as a sector with one voice on the importance of being able to ask is essential. However, there are things that small charities can do to help donors understand how their charity works. Donors to small charities can be of the opinion that any precious money spent on fundraising is a waste, so it is often even more important to be able to communicate the reality in an open and transparent way.  Donors have every right to be concerned about the effectiveness/efficiency of fundraising and the organisation, but we need to focus on the effectiveness of solutions and communicate this. 

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • Trustees and senior managers as well as programme and administration staff need to see fundraising costs as investment. This requires an amount of educating and training about how fundraising works. Often bringing an external voice into trustee meetings can help, and benchmarking investment against other similar organisations can be a useful exercise. Look at the performance of other small charities and how they have increased income following a period of investment and use these examples as case studies.  
  • Be transparent and open about fundraising costs and returns. It can be difficult to calculate per campaign or activity, but an overall view is a step in the right direction. Where bigger campaigns e.g. an annual fundraising event are concerned, single these out. If you can’t include figures on ‘short, medium and long term’ income, include an explanation about what you hope to achieve. (Principle 2)
  • Not everyone wants to know! For more detailed information, consider an ‘FAQ’ page on the website about how money is used and spent on fundraising and encourage those who want to know more to get in touch. (Principle 3)

This project and the concept of moving from seeing suppliers as vendors to active partners with shared values, behaviours and goals is of great importance to small charities as much as large. With smaller budgets, it can often be the case that small charities will rely on suppliers who will work with their size and requirements and often small charities work with more local and known suppliers who perhaps have less fundraising expertise. Small charities equally are unlikely to go through any tender or proposal process, so must focus on how to assess referred or recommended suppliers to ensure effectiveness. 

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • In smaller charities, it is crucial to see the supplier as part of your team, and so when working with suppliers consider bringing them into internal meetings, presentations about the work you are doing, or give them the same opportunity to spend time with programmes and beneficiaries as you would a new staff member. Consider a small induction as if the supplier was a new recruit. (Action 1) 
  • Be very clear and transparent about what you are trying to achieve, and what they are helping you with. Give them the bigger picture, including donor experience goals rather than just hold them to account on individual activity KPI’s. By having a shared goal and defining of success, suppliers (partners) are more likely to take extra steps to achieve them. (Action 4)
  • Apply the rules of relationships with your suppliers. Celebrate successes and contributions. When things go wrong focus on solutions where possible. Collaborate and share best practice. Learn how to get the best out of a partnership as a small, low budget organisation is helped by the supplier feeling valued. Say thank you properly when appropriate.  (Action 7) 

Whilst most small charities do not have a big lobbyist or slick PR team, there is much a smaller organisation can do to promote themselves, and the sector, in a bigger and better way. Public relations doesn't have to be anything fancy, however, it could be crucial to small charities, not only in dealing with a particular situation but for the coming years in raising profiles and drawing attention to activities to current and new audiences.  This project gives some excellent advice to help small charities and the six principles are excellent as a take away. 

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • Build relationships with your local press – understand what they need to make a newsworthy story and give them relevant content. Have meetings with journalists, show them the work if possible and understand what they are interested in hearing about. (Principle 3)
  • Encourage donors and beneficiaries to tell their own story and use social media and make direct approaches to local media for authenticity. Empower donors to be able to get their story out there, perhaps by giving guidelines and tips/ideas of what makes a great story, how that makes donors feel and what the benefit will be to the charity by telling it. (Principle 4) 
  • Keep your message consistent and positive, and reinforce this whenever you have a story to tell. The table on page 14-18 is a really useful and practical guide to thinking about how to get across key messages, and can be adapted and applied to fit the specific charity very easily. Consider using this and having a visible reminder in a place where all staff (not just fundraising) can regularly see what kind of stories make a good media story with a purpose, as often, the people with access to the best stories do not sit in the fundraising team! (Principle 1)

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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