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, 14 December 2010

Evaluation in a fundraising office: why, what and a little bit of how.

By Kirsten Bullock

Over the past few years we’ve been hearing about the various ways that not-for-profit groups should be evaluated. In the US, the conversation has been focused primarily on financial indicators of success (i.e. overhead rates that simply measure the percentage of total dollars that appear to go directly towards programmes rather than to ‘overhead’ costs such as administration and fundraising). Most fundraisers I know would agree that this is a short-sighted approach. So what do we track as an alternative? Some organisations are now rightfully attempting to present alternative ways of ranking nonprofits that go beyond financial but, in your everyday life of running a nonprofit organisation, should you be providing evaluation outcomes for your fundraising programme? This article will attempt to answer that question, as well as what to track and how.

There are three primary reasons for starting and continuing an evaluation component for any programme. Mainly, it gives you something to reach for. In the well-known fairy-tale Alice in Wonderland the character of the Cheshire Cat points out that, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will lead you there’. Stephen Covey offers this as habit 2 in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that is to ‘begin with the end in mind. In the nonprofit sector we have funders who require it (along with the general public). If we don’t define what we want to measure ahead of time, it’s likely that a funder or government body will come up with something that could be more difficult and expensive to track (and may be a less accurate measure of what you are attempting to accomplish). In addition, evaluation is important because it helps us see what’s working (and what’s not). Just because a fundraising programme works well down the street, or for a similar agency in a different part of the country doesn’t mean that it will work just as well for your organisation. So evaluation will help you to determine what to continue (and what to discontinue) for your organisation’s fundraising programme.

There are many things that you could track in your fundraising programme. The one aspect that most people seem to want to jump to first is money. However I’m going to be so bold as to say that I believe that’s the second (or even third) thing that should be measured. Short-term strategies to bring funding in the door quickly could be detrimental to the overall fundraising programme and to the long-term intentions of donors. By building long-term relationships with donors we can ensure a longer-term commitment by donors (resulting in higher lifetime giving). It’s expensive to acquire a new donor, so the longer they feel an affinity to the organisation, the better. We want to measure revenue, but interim measurements (such as the numbers of contacts that are made to each donor/prospect, awareness, numbers of volunteers, etc.) may be more important. A third aspect to measure is the cost of fundraising (with a long-term perspective). Not all of the cultivation work that is done this year will result in a gift this year. In fact, one organisation I worked for several years ago took a full six years of cultivation and negotiation to finalise a $7 million lead-gift for a capital campaign. Patience does pay off. There are many smaller groups that don’t have the ability to invest funds in the meantime, but it is an investment that will pay off.

There are many ways to track the indicators listed above, but your primary tool will be your donor database. There are many options out there and most will provide what you need. However there is no one software programme that will be the best choice for every organisation. offers some information to help in this selection process. It’s important to assess what you need it to do and then select the one that will meet your needs. In addition, be mindful of the GIGO principle (garbage in, garbage out). Spending the time to determine how your data will be tracked will be much easier than trying to adjust data once it has been entered inconsistently. A common challenge I’ve seen in this area is that software programmes and database administrators often speak a different language from fundraising professionals. This communication breakdown can often leave the fundraising professionals believing that the database can’t do what they want it to, when in reality they may have asked something in a way the database administrator didn’t understand.

In closing, please keep it simple. We can spend hours creating plans and reports that give us lots of information, but nothing helpful in planning for the future or accurately evaluating what we’ve accomplished. Identify the few things that really make a difference in your organisation. Then focus on those. Also, test. Test different mailing packages, test different strategies with different donors. You might have some gut feelings about different tactics, but very often our donors don’t think the same way as us. Some of your feelings will be confirmed through testing (and in some cases you may be surprised by the findings). And finally, you can do it. Don’t be overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done, just pick the important things to focus on. You can do it. Really.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

My fundraising books wishlist for Christmas.

By Christiana Stergiou

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, for those of you who don’t but may still have an end of year holiday (like me), and for those that just need to get inspired for the year ahead, I thought I would share my fundraising book wish list with you all.

Whether you write fundraising letters, content for your website, donor newsletters, promotional brochures or anything else for your organisation, here are my top ten fundraising books to make you a better copywriter (in no particular order of excellence).

  • Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. This book completely changed my thinking on how to create effective messages that ‘stick’ to the minds of our donors.
  • How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters and Revolution in the Mailbox by Mal Warwick. Time and time again, when I need inspiration for a fundraising letter, I turn to Mal and the many excellent letters and ideas he features in these two awesome books. Read the review of Revolution on SOFII here.
  • Tiny Essentials for Writing for Fundraising and Asking Properly by George Smith. Brilliant and simple. George Smith is the George Orwell for fundraising writers. Find out more about George on SOFII here.
  • The Influential Fundraiser by Bernard Ross and Clare Segal. This book examines fundraising asks, both written and verbal, from the donor’s perspective. It also explains different communication preferences and explains the many ways people receive and process information. Check out SOFII’s review here.
  • Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy. Entertaining and excellent. If you are thinking of advertising, or even already advertise, this might be the guidance you have been looking for.
  • Read the review on SOFII here.
  • Tested Advertising Methods by John Capels. David Ogilvy once said that John Capels was the person from whom he had learned everything about copywriting. This book was first published in 1932 and the current revised edition in 1998, though not a lot has changed.
  • Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes and How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise more Money by Tom Ahern. Tom’s books are worth their weight in gold. He is mentioned all over the SOFII site but a good place to start is with his nine-step communications audit.

So, what will I be reading over my end of year break? The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. I’ve only read the intro so far, but I’m hooked. Here are two people who really understand the dilemma of many nonprofit staff trying to come to terms with social media and the online world. I can’t wait to finally have some time to read the rest of it.

Happy reading to you.


Thursday, 2 December 2010

Where in the world? How fundraisers can learn from other worlds…

By Lucy Gower

Innovation isn’t about a single eureka moment; it’s about a series of thoughts and connections that combine to create something new. Einstein didn’t sit in a darkened room waiting for inspiration; he had a team of people working with him, systematically making new connections.

Not every connection will work but failing quickly and learning is crucial to any successful innovation process. However, the wider you cast your net in your search for inspiration, the more you move away from your current, tired and tested patterns of thinking, the more previously unconnected connections you are likely to make and the more chance you have of coming up with something new.

‘I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work’.

Thomas Edison

Seeking new inspiration takes continued and deliberate effort. However, there are techniques that will help you gather connections that will lead to your breakthrough idea. One of the techniques is called ‘where in the world?’

Where in the world?

This is where you think about where else in the world your challenge is faced and consider what solutions you can borrow, or in the words of business management writer Tom Peters ‘swipe with glee’.

‘Swipe from the best, then adapt’. Tom Peters

The particular challenges you are facing will have been solved elsewhere. It’s your job to look outside of what you currently know, identify how others are solving your challenge, learn from them and apply it to your particular situation. It’s not about just copying like for like but finding common principles that you can adapt for your needs. SOFII is a great place to find inspiration that you can adapt, but we also need to look wider at what other organisations outside our sector are doing. For example we need to consider the corporate sector, diverse industries, art, science, history and nature.

Look outside the charity sector

NSPCC and First Direct

If your challenge is to improve your donor experience, you may look at what companies or individuals offer exceptional customer experiences. Learn from them and apply the key elements to how you work with your donors. The NSPCC have worked with online banking organisation First Direct, seeking inspiration from their world-renowned exceptional customer service. NSPCC fundraisers met with First Directs’ customer service team and applied key learning to their stewardship programmes. This approach of asking for expertise can also strengthen your current corporate partnerships or help to build relationships with prospects as an alternative to a formal pitch.

Remove yourself from your topic

Search for examples of ‘where in the world?’ that don’t necessarily relate to your challenge directly. Remember it’s about making new connections. You don’t know what you don’t know - until you try.

· Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson teamed up with tent makers to develop ways to bond body tissue after operations.

· In the early 90s when the use of aerosols was being discouraged due to the impact on the environment, deodorant companies were inspired by the roller ball pen to spread liquid over a thin area which led to the development of roll on deodorant.

· Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press developed from the technology of the screw-type wine presses of the Rhine Valley.

The Natural World

George de Mestral, while walking in the Jura mountains in France in 1941 noticed burs on his dogs coat and his woollen clothes. On closer inspection he realised they were formed of hundreds of hooks. He went on to duplicate the hooks from Nylon. This led to the development of Velcroรค.

Did you know that the Japanese Bullet train was inspired by the shape of the beak of a kingfisher, that Honda studied cockroaches when developing their rough terrain vehicles or that the binding agents in the common blue mussel have been studied for the development of super glues?

Case Study - ColaLife

An inspirational example of the ‘where in the world’ approach is ColaLife. In 1988 Simon Berry was a development worker in remote northeast Zambia. He was bemused that he could buy Coca-Cola everywhere, yet aid organisations struggled to get medical supplies to rural areas. ColaLife identified that part of Coca-Cola’s core business (i.e. the business they were really in), was not soft drink production but logistics and distribution networks. The Coca-Cola company trains and provides transportation to networks of local entrepreneurs in order to get the soft drink to the far reaches of the world. Coca-Cola is delivered by a variety of carts, bikes and on foot to rural areas.

One in every five children die before their fifth birthday from simple causes such as dehydration through diarrhea. If aid agencies could tap into, or learn from Coca-Cola’s distribution networks it would make a huge difference to the lives of children in Africa.

So one solution is for aid agencies to replicate Coca-Cola’s distribution model and develop their own local networks of trained and equipped entrepreneurs. Good idea.

But Colalife have taken this a step further, they are negotiating with Coca-Cola and the local entrepreneurs who distribute the drink to see how they can use their deliveries to get life saving medicines to the children that need it. ColaLife are now piloting this model in Zambia. You can read more on the ColaLife blog or their Facebook page.

Simon had the ColaLife idea 20 years ago, and the help of relatively new social media technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr have been instrumental in raising awareness and international support of the project.

Case Study - Great Ormond Street and Formula One

Doctors working in the intensive care unit at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital were seeking ways to more quickly transfer sick children to the operating theatre from intensive care. They noted the speed and accuracy that Formula ones teams carried out the pit stop procedures (which has reduced from 6 minutes in the 1960s to less than 15 seconds now).

The Doctors worked with the pit teams to make their processes more efficient and less error-prone. The pit teams were able to spot many ways for the doctors to work more efficiently. They've completely changed their process; it has now streamlined and both technical errors and information communication errors have been reduced by 40%.

When was the last time you visited a business outside your ‘normal’ remit?

Seven steps to make ‘where in the world?’ easy:

1. Ask yourself ‘what business are you in’? Think of the core competencies required to deliver your project. Think broadly, for example if you are considering the best way to develop a new newsletter; are you a publisher, storyteller, newscaster, web author, project manager, researcher, designer, letter writer, marketer? Very probably a combination of all of these things and more.

2. Then think of where else in the world you could seek inspiration, e.g. news presenters, publishing companies, advertising agencies, authors etc…

3. Now think specifically of organisations, things and people that are already doing this. Write them down.

4. Prioritise your list.

5. Get in touch with them, ask for their advice. If this is daunting, start among your friendship group. Someone is bound to know someone from the industry on your list. People are usually flattered to be asked for help.

6. Think about whether this particular organisation/person can help in other areas of your business for example, could there be opportunities to work with a corporate partner in ways other than pure fundraising?

7. Do it today, while your interest and focus is strong – and let us know how you get on.

8. Keep practicing and applying this technique, as with anything the more you practice the better you will get.

If you want to read more

Sticky Wisdom? What If! The Innovation Company

Where Good Ideas Come From Stephen Johnson

Innovation Matters NCVO