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

Monday, 21 February 2011

For sale: baby shoes, never worn

By Lucy Gower

Fundraisers, think about your most successful fundraising campaign, mailing, event, individual gift, trust application or corporate pitch. I bet that they all have something in common. In some way they have fulfilled a need for your audience, captured their imagination and evoked some form of emotion that has inspired them to take action.

In the charity sector there is a lot of talk about the ‘donor journey’ but for me the start of any donor journey is you finding your story and telling it in a way that touches people’s hearts as well as their minds. Telling a story written by your marketing team isn’t good enough. You have to find your own stories that evoke passion and power in you.

People give to help people. The relationships you build with your donors are your relationships – you build rapport, you build trust, you inspire donors to get involved, you make a difference.

I think perfecting the art, and it is an art, of seeking out real stories and telling them in a way that inspires both you and your donors is the essence of being a fundraiser.

A book that has inspired me is Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath (Random House, 2007). They outline six principles that will help your stories to inspire your audiences’ hearts and minds.

1. Simple

Keep your story simple. Focus on your core message. Using analogies helps simplify

complicated information.

Help the Aged’s ‘make a blind man see’ press advertisement is a great example of a simple story.

2. Unexpected

Say something unexpected to get attention. Ask questions to hold people’s attention and curiosity.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn. A six-word story by Ernest Hemingway. Think about it for a moment. Those six words are somewhat unexpec

ted yet hugely powerful. You can read more six word stories here or submit your own.

Amnesty produced an award winning unexpected message to ‘throw away this flyer’ in their insert campaign.

3. Concrete

Be specific. Paint a mental picture with words by using sensory language. The famous president of the USA John Kennedy painted a picture with words in a powerful speech when he said, ‘I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.’

An RSBP campaign to save the albatross brilliantly uses this technique. You are asked to picture the scene: imagine you are in a restaurant tucking into your first bite of succulent Pacific salmon. Something is not right. Read more about what happens next here.

4. Credible

Provide compelling details, whether it’s research and statistics, the name of an industry expert, or something down to earth about the difference you are making. Research shows that many people respond better when they can link their contribution to providing help to a specific situation or person.

‘If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one I will’, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

The Child’s i Foundation raised £10,000 in 38 hours to save baby Joey’s life. The story is all about baby Joey and his parents. Take a few minutes to watch the video in the link. I challenge you not to be moved. Which leads to sticky principle number five.

5. Emotional

People care about people. People care about situations that they can identify with. There is a range of ways in which you can do this and I particularly like Action Aid’s latest campaign, which is a brilliant example of tapping into our emotional need to belong to a community of people like us. Action Aid asks the question ‘How does it make you feel to be part of the Action Aid community?’

6. Stories

The very process of telling a story helps people see how an existing problem might change and how they could help that change happen.

St Mungo’s, a charity for the homeless in London, uses real life stories and includes inspirational accounts of how, with help, people can change their lives.

How to seek stories

Does your storytelling spell SUCCESS? The more of the six principles that you can weave into your communications, the more likely it is that your messages will stick. Your challenge is to continually and deliberately seek stories that inspire you and that you can tell to inspire others. Here are some tactics to help you do just that.

· Carry a notebook with you. Use it, make collecting stories and observations on life a habit. We know that the more connections we make the more likely it is we are going to put those connections together to come up with something new. That something new could be your wonderfully compelling story… or the next big fundraising idea.

· Read more stories. Millions of authors have spent time writing stories. Read them. Think about what the author does to keep you eagerly turning the pages. Try using that author’s tactics on your own stories.

· Watch films and consider their storytelling styles. What keeps your interest? What turns you off?

· As with everything, if you are going to become good you need to practice. Practice telling stories; practice on your friends and family, use your voice and body language to bring the stories to life.

· Volunteer at a local school or a reading stories project – or perhaps you have a Ministry of Stories near you? What a cool place!

· Practice writing. Start a blog.

· Get some storytelling training. It will be one of the best investments you and your organisation will ever make.

· Enjoy your story-seeking adventure.

Have a go. Tell us how you get on.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Oldies but goodies

By Christiana Stergiou

Most of us spend a lot of time focusing on what’s new and on chasing the latest trends. We fail to see that some of the best fundraising methods out there aren’t new, they are traditional and old – but they are executed to perfection. With that in mind, I am going to recommend three ‘old’ fundraising books.

The oldest book on my fundraising bookshelf is Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples. It was first published in 1932 and since then has been reprinted numerous times. Caples himself revised it four times and the last edition, which alone has been reprinted 14 times, is still available in paperback.

Caples wrote thousands of direct mail pieces over many years and collected thorough results from each campaign. Advertising genius David Ogilvy said Caples ‘has no theories only facts’ and he shares hundreds of them in this book. Not only will Caples teach you how to test, he will teach you everything he learnt as a result of his body of work and research, including his mistakes. He also provides excellent guides for all aspects of direct marketing – from writing headlines, the first paragraph of an advert or letter, through to hundreds of ways to improve your overall copy to increase response.

I often hear fundraisers say ‘we tested that’, but in reality they didn’t. They just gave something a go to see if it would work. That’s just trying, not testing. Testing involves comparing, learning and continually improving what you do and how you do it. This book will teach you the genuine ins and outs of testing. I’m confident it will improve many fundraising campaigns.

David Ogilvy said he learned all he knew about copywriting from John Caples. In 1983 Ogilvy’s own book Ogilvy on Advertising was published and it too has been revised and reprinted many times. Whether it’s advertising, direct mail copy or advice on how to work with an agency, Ogilvy on Advertising is a must read for the savvy fundraiser. You can read a more detailed review of it on SOFII here.

Published in 2000, Mal Warwick’s Five Strategies for Fundraising Success: A Mission-Based Guide to Achieving Your Goals is a book I often refer to when putting together a fundraising strategy for a charity. Mal identifies the five main strategies as growth, involvement, visibility, efficiency and stability (GIVES). So often boards and management want all those things at once. Oh, to live in that perfect world.

Thankfully, Mal methodically explains the best strategy for any organisation’s current situation and future needs. He also assists in answering some of the frequent questions about developing a fundraising strategy. These include: should we run special events? Are we ready for a capital campaign? And should we launch a direct mail campaign? He also outlines ten key benchmarks that will assist in evaluating your success.

You can find out more about the latest fundraising book news and reviews at You can also contact Christiana at

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Legacy giving: the greatest privilege a fundraiser will have.

By Kimberley Mackenzie

When my mother in law was dying I asked my friend, who is a minister, what I could do. I felt so helpless. Kirsty told me that when people are near death they really just want to talk and need someone to listen.

My mother in law took her last breath in a room that was full of laughter. She was finally at peace. I now know that death, while sad, can be as natural and as beautiful as the loud and painful birth of a child, it’s the circle of life.

What does this deeply personal experience have to do with fundraising? A lot...

This past week a man came into our office for an appointment he had arranged before Christmas. We had talked in December about his will and the potential of including our charity as one of his top three beneficiaries.

Dear reader, you don’t need to know any more about that visit with ‘Mr Jones’ other than to know that I am speaking from experience and not theory. I was deeply honoured to be a part of such important decision.

I am a generalist fundraiser and by no means consider myself an expert in any given area. But, there are some things I have learned through working with legators (people who have bequeathed a legacy) that I want to share with you.

Make the time

Nothing that you have to do that day will be more important than talking to your donor about his or her final wishes in life. Nothing – even if the meeting that was scheduled for an hour turns into three. Gently move it forward to make sure the business objectives are accomplished and be available to listen to your donor talk about her life, her dreams, her regrets and final wishes. Legacy gifts are not about you or your charity. Legacy gifts are 100 per cent donor-centred. Always make the time.

Be sure you can keep your promise

Sometimes donors suggest something very specific like a place they visited or a play they saw. Try to understand their motivations by asking open-ended questions such as:

‘It sounds like you love visiting the XYZ exhibit in the museum. Can you tell me more about that?’

Actively listen and turn off the ‘yes but...’ thoughts swimming around in your head. Be truly curious. Once you understand the true motivations of the suggestion you will be in a much better position to meet a desire to be affiliated with a certain feeling or place or programme. You can then offer a less restrictive solution.

For example, perhaps you work for a theatre company and your donor fell in love with a contemporary new play. What the donor might say is ‘I love the David Mamet plays your company produces and I want to leave a legacy toward that’. Through active listening we can get to the underlying motivation. It isn’t realistic for a bequest to be directed toward producing David Mamet plays every year ­­– in perpetuity. Perhaps the legacy your donor is striving for is an endowment to ensure that your theatre company always has the funding to try new, leading edge and risky productions.

You can get to this place through actively listening to your donor.

Be truly honest

If you don’t think that your charity is the right one or that perhaps the donor has your charity mixed up with another make sure you clarify it immediately. I have had a few donors talk to me and use the name of another charity and it is always a little risky to make sure they called the right place. No one wants a bequest that was intended for someone else.

Be respectful

It may seem like I’m pointing out the obvious but I’m going to do it anyway. Your legator is very likely to be much closer to and have more experience of the cause than you. Organising their affairs may be slightly overwhelming due to frequent conversations with financial advisors and lawyers, as well as balancing family needs and obligations. With some people, their thoughts may wander or their bodies may be frail. Respect their experience and wisdom. I believe our job is to help make the process of finalising an estate as simple as possible.

Through empathy and understanding of their love for our cause, we can offer peace of mind that no financial advisor or lawyer can.

Know your job

Remind your donors several times that you recommend they discuss their plans with their financial advisor and their family. Then explain why. It is very important that everyone understands that your charity is in the will because the donor wanted it there. Not because you did something to entice, manipulate, or coerce. Harsh words I know. You might try saying something like:

‘Mrs Norman, It really has been a pleasure talking to you about your estate plans. We at xyz charity are very grateful for your decision to include us in your will. Please remember to discuss your plans with your financial advisor (or executor or lawyer) and, if you are comfortable doing so, with your family. If we are all aware of your desires it will be easier to ensure that your wishes are granted.’

Discuss recognition

It can be very helpful to a charity to have details of how the legator would like to be acknowledged, even including the wording they would like placed on a bench or a plaque. Having these details in the will can ensure that in the future, when the donor is gone and you have moved on, your charity doesn’t have to guess what was promised. Your charity will be legally bound to carry out the donor’s wishes if it is written in the will. Just make sure that you negotiate something realistic and easy for your charity to implement.

In summary

In my ten years of fundraising, nothing has been as rewarding as my experience working on the planned giving programme. I know that I am better able to do this work for having had first-hand experience with the final stages of life. If you haven’t had the experience of taking the final steps of life with someone then I would suggest reading Tuesday’s with Morrie by Mitch Albom. It is an amazing story, which is not just on how to die but also on how to live. And that really is what legacy fundraising is all about – helping people live in peace, knowing that they have helped make a difference in the world, long after their lives will be over.