SOFII's Blog - interesting fundraising trends and ideas from around the world

SOFII is an online archive of fundraising best practice and creativity. It is filled with an ever expanding array of easily accessible exhibits, articles, videos, opinion pieces, hints and tips, book reviews and recommendations. The SOFII blog is a place for us to share some thoughts and ideas that might not have an obvious home on the SOFII website. It’s also a place for us to invite guest bloggers to share their views. If you’d like to contribute to our blog please get in touch with

Tuesday 4 December 2012

When you tell people you are a fundraiser what is the typical response?

Do people see fundraising as
 ‘getting money out of people’?
By Lucy Gower

For me, people either ask if I’m ‘one of those chugger people’ while slowly backing away, or are incredulous that I work for a charity – which must mean I don’t get paid – and yet how is it that I manage to live in an expensive place like London?

The general public have a basic lack of understanding about fundraising. The majority understand it to be about ‘getting money out of people’ and it is often, in my experience, perceived as somewhat underhand or in some way against people’s will. As fundraisers, part of our job is to work harder to help the general public better understand that fundraising is not just asking for money, but more about giving people the opportunity to make a difference – to enable them to make a change in the world.

Only by being inspired can we
inspire other people
Therefore it makes sense to approach our fundraising from a perspective of how we make a difference rather than simply raising money.  Can you be a good fundraiser if your focus is simply about asking people for money? I think you can do a good job and raise your targets without a passion for making a difference for your beneficiaries. But I think that to be a great fundraiser you have to have to be truly passionate about the cause and the difference that you are making. Only when you are passionate can you convey that passion and emotion to someone else. And great fundraisers know that people make decisions based on emotion.

Charlie Hulme talks about how your own passion is an essential part of being a great fundraiser in his 101fundraising blog, ‘Why tell a story when youcan tell the truth’. He highlights the importance of getting out from behind your desk to get inspired about the cause you fundraise for on a regular basis.

It can be hard to make time to do this when you have tough deadlines, day-to-day pressures and are reacting to the many demands of your colleagues, volunteers and donors. It is easy to get worn down by the daily grind, but the great fundraisers make time to stay inspired.

I was lucky enough to be working with some great fundraisers at TerrenceHiggins Trust this week.

The partner and friends of Terry Higgins set up the Terrence Higgins Trust after he died with AIDS, on 4 July 1982. His doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him and his family – who never approved of his ‘lifestyle’ – didn’t want to know. His partner, 19 years old and terrified, had the hospital curtains shut in his face. He wasn’t considered next of kin.

Terrence Higgins Trust was founded in Terry’s name, so that others wouldn’t have to suffer the way he had. Today Terrence Higgins Trust is the UK’s leading voice on HIV and sexual health.

I wanted to understand a bit more about what inspired the Terrence Higgins Trust fundraisers so I asked them to bring an object that represented why they do their job.

They bought an eclectic range of objects that included

  • Newspaper cuttings from 1985 depicting AIDS as a killer epidemic showing how far the organisation has come in educating and supporting people with HIV.
  • A torch representing a shining light that Terrence Higgins Trust shines on a subject that is met with prejudice and is unpopular to fundraise for –which provided an added element of determination and inspiration for many in the team.
  • Pictures of teenagers – for those in the room with small children who want to feel assured that their children, when they reach their teenage years, will have access to information about their sexual health and how to stay safe.
  • Stories of how Terrence Higgins Trust had helped staff support friends who had been through a sex change.
  • A copy of the Gay Times that represented experiences of how hard it was growing up as a gay man with no support networks or understanding.
  • A letter from Maureen who had made a donation in memory of her son thanking Terrence Higgins Trust for all their work.
  • Examples of  hate mail that is often generated when appeals about this unpopular topic are launched, such as, Why should I give anything to SELF-INFLICTED IMMORAL SCUM. At one time these people were killed that’s how it should be THAT’S the TRUTH’, which just fired the team up to work harder to educate people about HIV and sexual health.

I also heard some inspirational words from Stephen Fry at a Terrence Higgins Trust Friends for Life event, he said,
‘I’m not the only one here with tear-stained cheeks; it happens every year that someone, or some people tell stories of their lives with HIV and how Terrance Higgins Trust has helped them. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear it, each time you are inexpressively moved, its not just their courage and honesty and bravery but the memory that it is the kindness of people like you that has allowed them to be there.’
The team was incredibly open and shared many personal and emotional stories, as well as their fears and hopes for the future. I had no idea that was going to happen. It was an emotional experience for us all. What inspired me was that everyone in that room was connected to the powerful and important work that they do to make a difference to people with HIV or in need of sexual health services. No one talked about asking for money.
We all have work to do to help people understand that fundraising is not just about ‘getting money out of people’. It is about enabling people to make a difference.

PS What object would you bring to represent why you are inspired by your job? I’d love to know.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Retention Song

By Reinier Spruit on the 101Fundraising blog.

If you are really going for retention in 2013 you have to record the Retention Song with your fundraising team. I’ve especially adapted Bob Marley’s lyrics for everyone to embrace the area of retention. So, just do it. Get out your camera and tape it. It will increase your retention rates by at least 20 per cent. Trust me…

The best performance can do the opening plenary at all fundraising conferences in 2013. Who says fundraising can’t be fun?

Retention Song (to the tune of Redemption Song by Bob Marley)

Our donors, yes, we ask them;
Ask them and not only once,
Even after they give more
Not a relation here
But our goals de-serve more
By the touch of Aphrodite.
Our reward in this donation
Will you help to spread
This songs of richdom
‘Cause all we ever have:
Retention songs;
Retention songs.

Oh man they stay with us for gentle reasons;
None but ourselves are there to blame.
Shed a tear for inactive supporters,
‘Cause none of you can stop them leave.
How long shall we ill non profits,
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Some say it’s just a part of it:
We’ve got to try a new hook.
Will you help to spread
This songs of richdom
‘Cause all we ever have:
Retention songs;
Retention songs;
Retention songs.
/Guitar break/

Oh man they stay with us for gentle reasons;
None but ourselves are there to blame.
Wo! Shed a tear for inactive supporters,
‘Cause none of you-a-can-a stop-a them leave.
How long shall we ill non profits,
While we stand aside and look?
Yes, some say it’s just a part of it:
We’ve got to try a new hook.
Will you help to spread
This songs of richdom
‘Cause all we ever have:
Retention songs –
All we ever have:
Retention songs:
These songs of richdom,
Songs of richdom.


Tuesday 14 August 2012

We only live once? A worldview that is infinite

By Usha Menon
Click to enlarge. Original image from

Over the lunch break at a board training session, we were sharing snippets from our lives. And one person, very philosophically, said ‘We live only once’. To which his colleague on the board asked, ‘Do we?’ The others at the table nodded appreciatively in unison, while reflecting on this perceptive query.
An interesting and thought-provoking query – I thought.
Many of us have adapted to visible behaviours that could be called ‘western’. Yet, our beliefs and thinking are strongly influenced by our Asian culture, upbringing and religion. A worldview that is cyclical rather than linear – the concept of rebirth being just one case in point. To a large number of Asians, life itself is not considered as one with a finite start and end. Hence when we use management tools developed in cultures that have a logical, linear and finite worldview, we tend to confuse our thinking.
Hence I would like to share three observations.
Strategic planning
Many nonprofits spend hours on strategic planning sessions and well-crafted feasibility studies using tools widely used in domains where reason is paramount. However, the nonprofit decision makers implement strategies based on their instinctive understanding of the environment, making some of the planning a mere technical exercise.
Here is the drawback in this exercise. The vision, values and goals are important concepts. But a linear roadmap generally used in the common strategic planning process and step-by-step action plan does not take into consideration the more intuitive ways in which Asians would like to get to their goals.
Therein lies the frustration that some donors and grantmakers, social entrepreneurs and investors, boards and consultants face when they look at the same thing through different angles. One – where highly logical and institutional thinking is overlaid on social impact organisations run by people who have great faith in their beliefs and intuition and have proved that it works as well.
Hence, an amalgamated approach that takes into consideration the alignment with the philosophies and thinking of the implementer will ensure a better buy-in and hence greater success.
The sea is not just a body of salt water, but one that is filled with many fresh-water rivers.
A recent interview with Ms Yukiko Uchida, Japan’s foremost researcher on ‘happiness’, highlighted a specific example of how cultural contexts mould the framing of research questions to understand the level of happiness. Ms Uchida gave an example from her classes at Kyoto University, where she teaches about the role of culture in shaping ideas of happiness. While her Japanese students usually rate their happiness around five or six, she said studies have found Americans and Europeans usually rate their happiness at eight or nine.
Ms  Uchida said, ‘Japanese judgment of happiness is not just, yeah, I’m happy now, I check 10. They also think about social comparisons and time-frame comparisons’, she explained. Her students have told her that if they check nine or 10, they think they can only go downhill.
‘Absolute judgment is very difficult for Japanese people. But they can judge their happiness compared to other people. Like, “I’m okay compared with my neighbour or my colleague”, which shows that relationship orientation is very important for Japanese happiness.’
Nonprofit leaders and executives in Asia need to be aware of, and develop or adapt materials to, this aspect of our worldview. Blindly providing input into the various matrixes, which are not generally designed with a focus on the relational aspects of our thinking, will provide data that is incorrect, as cited in the example above – that Japanese students are not unhappier than their western counterparts, just that their interpretation of happiness is different.
Yatha dristi, Tatha sristi’ ~ Vedic affirm in Sanskrit, which means that whatever our view is, accordingly the whole world appears.
At a recent seminar in Thailand, a very dynamic speaker shared the importance of activism in civil society development. He then talked passionately about the need ‘to get angry’ with the status quo. And that’s when he lost the plot. The audience, made up largely of Thai nonprofits, shifted uncomfortably in their seats. What was lost on the speaker was that purifying oneself of anger is essential to Buddhist practice, which the majority of his audience was. In Buddhism there is no such thing as justifiable anger.

Being aware of the impact of religious and cultural beliefs and philosophy is the key to communication with any audience. More so in Asia, which is home to over 60 per cent of the global population.  A large number are followers of Buddhism and Hinduism, which are ancient religions with well-established traditions that cut deeply into their followers’ daily life and they are proud of it.
The same is relevant in the cultural context of storytelling. Asian communities, be it through Korean drama, Indian cinema, or Indonesian wayang (traditional theatre), are raised on a solid appetite of non-linear storytelling. Stories of duty, sacrifice, honour and fate resonate very well with the audience. As communicators for the life-and world-changing work done through social-purpose organisations, we have a great opportunity to revisit and learn the basics of storytelling as we know it in Asia.  I will share more thoughts on this in my future blogs.
I would love to hear from you, your thoughts and comments on this post. Have you had experiences that are similar or different from what I have shared?

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Common sense and effective fundraising

At Christmas and birthdays my mum used to make me write ‘thank you’ letters to everyone who had bought me a gift. I suspect that you may have gone though a similar exercise as a small child.
This means that ingrained into most of us is the belief that we should always thank someone for a gift. It’s common sense. It’s polite. It’s expected. And it’s the ‘right’ thing to do.
So I’ve been really interested in reading the recent blogs on the subject of thanking donors that challenges this conventional thinking.
If you have missed them then let me fill you in. It started with the findings of an Ipsos Reid study conducted for AFP Canada called, “What Canadian Donors Want”
One of the things the study told us was that 52% of respondents said that not receiving a thank you would not decrease the likelihood of giving in the future. 
This prompted Chuck English on his Marketing that works blog to ask, 
‘Does saying thank you really make a difference? Do you know of a research study that proves that thanking donors will lead to further or increased donations?
It turns out that there is no empirical evidence that directly confirms that thanking donors will lead to improved results.This was picked up by The Agitator in their “No- thank you” blog.
The only evidence that thanking donors increases gift levels came from Penelope Burke. Penelope’s experience shows that there are fundamentally two types of thank you; average and exceptional.
Receiving an average thank you letter makes no impact on future fundraising performance, however, when exceptional thank you correspondence is tested against the average, and the rate of renewal and average gift value is measured, exceptional letters far out-perform the average.
You can read more here in The Agitator OK thank you blog.
The very suggestion of not thanking donors has been too much for some fundraisers to bear. It goes against what most of us feel is ‘right’, or is common sense or even best practice. But that’s the point; it’s not about you. You are not your donor.  
Tom at The Agitator points out; ‘common sense’ might establish that donors are busy and will respond better to shorter letters. Or that $35 a year donors won’t make bequests. Common sense can often be, as in these two examples; wrong.
So when there is evidence that thanking some donors makes no difference at all should we not trust the data and bravely decide not to thank some donor segments? If we look objectively at the data we would conclude that its simply not good business sense to thank every donor.
Sean Triner, Director of Pareto Fundraising in Australia, and self confessed data junkie, concludes that, “If there is evidence that not thanking will increase the total charity net income, then the moral obligation is not to thank. You are not employed to be nice, you are employed to maximise your charity net income in the long term.”
Sean adds, “non transactional, anecdotal evidence is probably important for high value donors, so consider thanking top donors with a separate letter”
You can read more on this topic from Sean on the LinkedIn SOFII debate about thanking.
The challenge for fundraisers is to be open minded to the possibility that doing what we always do, because that is what we have always done, or simply because it is common sense, may not be the most effective fundraising strategy.
If you knew that not thanking certain donors was what they wanted, or that putting maximum effort into fewer targeted exceptional thank yous would improve your results, what would you do differently? Would you continue to keep doing what you have always done? Or would you be a bit braver and find a low risk way to test the evidence with your donors with the ambition of achieving better results?
Whatever you decide, there is one principle that applies to all your fundraising. There is no advantage in being average. If you are only going to be average, it’s probably not worth the effort.
What are your thoughts? 

Monday 26 March 2012

The world needs you to be excellent

By Kimberley MacKenzie CFRE

How one fundraiser secured her place at an international conference.
In my years as a fundraiser I’ve come across many inspiring stories. But without doubt the most inspiring tale of commitment to attend a conference is the story of my friend Sudeshna Mukherjee.

Sudeshna Mukherjee

I first met Sudeshna at a conference in Jaipur, India. I was a volunteer SOFII country ambassador at the time and Sudeshna was considering a similar role in India. The second I met her in that hotel lobby I knew that someone very special had just entered my life. Sudeshna was intense, anxious to know what to do and extremely motivated to get started. She also had an amazing smile, a bright lightness in her eyes and an extraordinary amount of energy. Perhaps what I was most taken with was the amount of space she took up in the room. Sudeshna is a small person but her energy and enthusiasm filled that large hotel lobby. I was completely in awe of her and liked her instantly.

After seven years working as a fundraiser for Oxfam India and the Resource Alliance Sudeshna was awarded an Atlas Corps Fellowship and is now working with GlobalGiving in Washington DC. When Sudeshna was invited to attend AFP’s 2012 Conference in Vancouver she had a problem – how to get there. Living on a small fellowship makes a trip from Washington DC to Vancouver almost impossible to imagine. ‘Almost’ being the important word in that sentence. Because, you see, Sudeshna is one of those remarkable people who always views the glass as half full. Instead of seeing her attendance at AFP as impossible she asked herself – how can I make this work? The solution to her was to practise the very skills she is working on honing – she would raise the money. Sudeshna launched an online fundraising campaign.

In her own words on the boostive website:

What is the issue, problem, or challenge?
Every day I help nonprofit organizations develop their own online fundraising strategies. While I've learned a lot working with GlobalGiving as an Atlas Corps Fellow, I’d still like to grow and learn more about how I can help nonprofits raise more money and be more effective. The AFP's 2012 edition of the International Fundraising Conference in Vancouver, BC is happening in April, and it will be a great opportunity for me to learn how I can better serve nonprofit organizations. I have been invited to the conference, but I am still required to cover my own travel expenses.  I'm currently living on a fellowship with a limited budget, so it is difficult for me to afford this conference all by myself.
How will this project solve this problem?
I’ve decided to practise the exact skills I’m trying to hone; I’ve created an online fundraiser to help raise funds for my attendance at the fundraising conference and $1000 will get me to the conference!

Potential long-term impact
I believe that this conference will not only help me with my own professional development as I meet other practitioners and specialists from the field, but it will also help me improve my skills. Furthermore, it will provide me access to international networks, help me earn latest skills from the sector, and help me learn from my peers. If I am successful I plan to tell my story on The Showcase of Fundraising Inspiration and Innovation (SOFII), so I’ll help others learn from my experience!

Project details:
I will be in Vancouver, BC from March 30 to April 3, 2012. My budget is $1000 including visa, travel and lodging. I scrutinize project budgets on a regular basis, so I value transparency.
Therefore I'll tell you exactly how I’ll spend the $1000:
-        Flight (round trip – Washington DC to Seattle): $450; 
-        Visa: $75;
-        Greyhound bus (round trip – Seattle to Vancouver, BC): $80; 
-        Hostelling International (4 nights stay): $200;
-        Intra-city travel in Vancouver: $40; 
-        Food: $150. 

Truck drivers, lawyers, farmers, doctors, insurance agents, real estate agents, dentists: all of these professions, and many others, require continuing education and ongoing profession development.  New technology, the environment, fluctuating economies and other external factors change the way in which all professions provide services. The world and the needs of society shift and evolve. Raising money to fund charitable programmes is no different.

In fact, I would argue that staying up to date and inspired is even more important in our profession because as fundraisers we serve a greater good. We fund life-saving programmes. We help those who cannot help themselves. When publicly funded government programmes are eliminated, non-government organsations or the ‘third sector’ steps in. Now more than ever, development staff need to be inspired, motivated and at the leading edge of their craft.

In spite of this organisations continue to see professional development as a perk.  At a time when charities have to do more with less, budgets for professional development often don’t survive even the first round of cuts. This is extremely unfortunate and not good for the overall health of a charity because we know that the best way to build revenue is to keep staff. We also know that fundraisers value continuing education budgets even more than compensation. The best way to keep fundraising staff is to support their professional development.

However, it is a far greater tragedy when fundraising professionals accept the elimination of an organisational budget as defeat. It is not the responsibility of the charity to keep your skills fresh, it is your responsibility.  This is your career and you need to be committed to advancing it. Period.

There are all sorts of ways to ensure you are able to attend workshops and conferences. You could volunteer. You can allocate a portion of your salary each month to your own education fund. You could build conference attendance into your family vacation plans. You could invite a colleague to come and do an in-house workshop with your staff. Or you could simply copy what Sudeshna has done and raise the money yourself from friends and family.

This blog post was originally intended to help a friend achieve her goal of attending the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in Vancouver. However within one week Sudeshna had exceeded her fundraising target and I’m very happy to say will not be staying in a hostel, but will be hosted by a fellow fundraiser in Vancouver. Bravo my friend. Well done!

So if next week you are at AFP’s International Conference in Vancouver and you see  a small Indian woman talking a lot, smiling and full of enthusiasm for her profession, please say hello to her and help her feel as welcome as she did for me during my first shopping experience in India.

I hope you find Sudeshna’s story inspiring because she has displayed exactly the kind of determination, commitment, innovation, initiative and tenacity that our sector needs right now.  Remember, this is your career and while it is nice if your employer is able to underwrite the costs of your professional development, ultimately the responsibility is yours. Find a way to stay inspired, refreshed and up to date. The world needs you to be excellent at what you do.