Lessons from the Annu­al Lec­tures: Stephanie Drum­mond’s view

Written by
Stephanie Drummond
February 05, 2015
The world-famous Faraday Theatre home of experiment and innovation is the perfect location for the Annual Lectures.

Each year speakers at the Annual Lectures share ideas, inspiration and offer insight to inform us in our own roles. This year, Svein Åge Johanson, a specialist in donor recruitment and relationship management told us a powerful story about Frank, a major donor, with the message that a fundraiser is like a fisherman ‘before you can win a fish for a your village, you must first fish it for yourself’; meaning ‘before you can win a donor for your charity, you must first win her or him for yourself’. To be a winning fundraiser you need to first have insight, two, share a vision and three tell wonderfully compelling stories.

I am a fisherman and here is my story from the Annual Lectures 2015.

1) Insight: landing the fish

Looking at behavioural economics and decision science is something new to me. As a fundraiser I make decisions based on research that shows me what we think people will do, rather than what we know people do. Phil Barden shared his knowledge about neurologic purchase decisions; decisions based the net value of a product or service, when people trade-off pain and reward. We can help people make an ‘auto-pilot’ decision about purchasing a fundraising product (like a challenge event) by reducing pain and increasing rewards. Our ‘auto-pilot’ brain has a far greater bearing on purchasing decisions than many think. This is effortless, automatic, fast action and it responds to rewards that are tangible, immediate and certain.

Sounds obvious, right? Let’s use the science behind why we buy to get people to buy our products. However my take-away from Phil’s talk is to think about how I can use decision science to effect a person’s decision to, or not to, drop out of a challenge event. Can we use the same auto-pilot response techniques (tangibility, immediacy and certainty) to increase participants’ commitment to the product and reduce the attrition rate?

These could include:

  • Immediacy: offering an immediate reward for not dropping out of the challenge – a free charity t-shirt, or money off their kit.
  • Certainty: proving their decision to stay in the challenge is a safe choice by offering social proof that hundreds of participants reach their targets and fundraising examples of people in their own team.

Once you’ve caught a fish, there is nothing more frustrating than watching it drop off the line back into the river.

2) Shared vision: may the holes in your net be no larger than the fish in it (Irish blessing)

Many of the speakers emphasised that in order to win, we need to put fundraising at the heart of the organisation. This message was particularly strong in Jeremy Hughes’ (Alzheimer’s Society) talk about ‘leadership insights’: that fundraisers should be seen as the problem solvers of the organisation and to ensure that we never miss an opportunity to fundraise. I was particularly inspired by Paul Farthing (NSPCC’s director of fundraising) who urged organisations to give their employers a shared vision.

So another take-away of mine is about how we can create a cross-divisional drive to achieve results rather than teams working in silos – a problem, like many charities, we experience at The Children’s Society. In order to break silos and work more collaboratively we could:

  • Stop teams ring-fencing supporters.
  • Share business plans and strategy where leaders present their plans to other teams, addressing ‘hopes and fears’, key challenges and providing an insight about the team or team’s supporters. This could provide clarity on what we are all working on and shed light on where we can work collaboratively to achieve goals (so that no fundraising opportunity is missed).

We need to mend the cross-divisional holes in our net so that we don’t lose any fish at all, big or small. 

3) Tell wonderfully compelling stories: I fish because I love to

One recent concern for the not-for-profit sector is the ‘cut-through’ that charities can achieve in the current market. Especially as companies in the private sector are starting to look for meaning in their own products and are realising that they can be great in the eyes of consumers by doing great things. For example, Always #LikeaGirl advertisement campaign or Dove’s ‘real beauty sketches’ – adverts that don’t focus on their products, but are about societal issues that evoke strong feelings in the viewer. ‘If we are going to “steal” the market back we need to be disruptive’ says Richard Taylor (executive director of fundraising and marketing CRUK) and we need to tell powerful stories that link strongly to our cause. It is inspiring to hear that Cystic Fibrosis Trust has employed a ‘digital storyteller’ to connect everyone inside and outside the organisation emotionally to the cause.

On the flip side, instead of seeing companies as a threat, corporate partnerships could be the best current opportunity for charities. Jonathan Andrews (Remarkable Partnerships) is adamant that we haven’t yet realised the full potential of corporate fundraising – it accounts for only six per cent of the total UK fundraising. UnileverCEO Paul Polman recently said ‘Winningalone isnot enough it's about winning with purpose’. My take out is that through having partnerships with companies we can help to find their ‘why’ and they’ll help us to achieve our huge goals. Together we can tell fabulous stories to consumers who want to see change in the world.

As a student fundraiser, I’ve now started to read the 18-24 youth report: the UK’s top brands according to 18-24s to identify some potential partnerships.

I would encourage everyone who attended to use the insights from the Annual Lectures to help us to explore the relationship between connecting, giving and winning so that we can be winning fundraisers. Andy Whyte opened the lectures by saying ‘Today isn’t about the speakers – today is about you’. Thanks to all the information and ideas that all the speakers have kindly passed on, I now have lots of ideas to think about over the next few month – I might even do some fishing.

About the author: Stephanie Drummond

Stephanie Drummond is the Student Fundraising Manager for The Children’s Society. She joined The Children's Society’s regional fundraising team in October 2012, after Graduating from Sheffield University. Having studied Health care and Development Economics she was motivated to work for a children’s charity after learning how austerity impacts on society and the wellbeing of children. During her role as Chair of Sheffield University RAG committee she caught the ‘fundraising bug’ and luckily has never recovered.

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