How to raise money on a tight budget

You’ve heard the phrase “ Buy cheap, pay twice”. It’s a universal truth that applies to almost everything in life: shortcuts just don’t work. If you buy cheap, you end up paying twice. If you go for the least expensive option, you nearly always end up with the most expensive outcome. So how can any small, cash-strapped charity get good results from its fundraising without spending ( or “investing”)  a fortune? Here are some guidelines.

  1. Use volunteer fundraisers. People who are happy to help with fundraising. This often means asking your trustees to accept a lesser, ‘facilitating’, ‘door opening’ role. ( You can hear the sigh of relief already, can’t you?).
  2. Don’t ask them to bake cakes or dress up in fetching costumes, fun though that may be. Instead ask them to form a development team that is going to help the charity break into the world of the wealthy and comfortably off. This world has a big cross-over with the world of business, of course.
  3. Clearly, it’s going to take a certain type of volunteer to do this – people who are comfortable talking with anyone from any walk of life. People who relate to people. Not necessarily wealthy themselves, just good at relating to people.
  4. When you have a team of at least 3, ask them each to create their own list of people in the area who they consider to be successful, wealthy or comfortably off. Coming from the locality, volunteers are often much better at this than paid staff.
  5. When each member of the team has 15-20 on their list, ask them to hand their lists in and make a consolidated list. Pass this back to the volunteers and to each trustee, asking them all to add any more names to the list that they can think of, marking any known personally to them, or who are known acquaintances of others on the list. It is surprising how a partially completed list jogs memories while a blank piece of paper causes instant memory loss.
  6. With a fair wind, you should now have a list of at least 60 people. This has cost nothing so far, apart from some focussed effort. But it has also grown from a small idea to the beginnings of a fledgling Major Gifts Campaign – just like the big charities do.
  7. Now things get a bit more, shall we say, business-like. The 60 need to be contacted. But not all at once. Volunteers wilt quickly if faced with an overwhelming burden. So it’s best to suggest that the list is divided 3 ways and each member contacts 2 on the list each week, starting with an introductory letter that asks permission to hold a brief phone call to discuss a particular challenge the charity is facing. Make it clear that the purpose of the phone call is to seek advice, to consult, not to ask for money. Major Gift Fundraising is not about asking a reluctant donor to get out her or his wallet. It is about sharing a problem or a challenge and getting people of good will to help create a solution.
  8. You will find that people who are contacted will very quickly bale out if they don’t want to become involved. The others will hear what your volunteers have to say and, more often than not, say something along the lines of “ how can I help”, “ what can I do to move the charity in this direction…?”
  9. Obviously, there is more to Major Gifts Fundraising than this, but only in detail, not principle. What is described above is a simple way in which any charity of any size can make a start in Major Gifts Fundraising. It is something that will bring many rewards and not merely financial.
  10. The success rate in Major Gifts Fundraising is between 3 and 4 successful outcomes for every genuinely qualified donor prospect contacted. Average return will be better than £4.80 for every £1 spent.

For complete guidance for starting and running a Major Gifts Campaign from the ground up, subscribe to the Fundraising Blueprint. It costs just £9 a month and could help you raise a lot of money.



Charity Fundraising – Individual donations: time for change

Raising individual donations by sending letters to people at home (AKA “direct mail”) is not dead, that’s for sure. But, in the hands of some, it looks very much asleep. Consultants and charity practitioners alike can be heard saying “dm is tanking” and the like. And yet, there are striking examples of direct mail fundraising that is breaking all previous records, even in the current gloomy financial climate. Indeed, there are examples of direct mail donor recruitment that is not only breaking even, but actually making money. So how do these two worlds of direct mail fundraising – the thriving and the failing – come about?

One of the problems is that, while the marketplace has changed markedly in the last 20 years, fundraising dm is more or less unchanged in its form and in the way it is used. I have mailing packs in my collection that date back to 1988 and these are virtually indistinguishable in layout, tone and content from samples I got in my post this month from a good spread of different types of charities. No kidding, but at a workshop not long ago I asked delegates to look at a range of recent mailings and some from the late 80s. The delegates all thought they were current output. One delegate asked where we’d got the “tank tops” from that were worn by some people in a photo!! It’s as if a creative ‘model’ of a charity dm pack took hold many years ago and has not been challenged since. How many do you read which still have the immortal phrase somewhere not far from the beginning which goes “Let me tell you about…”, followed by yet another tired case history of some sort? The trouble is that, when once upon a time long ago, readers had the time and patience to work their way through a lengthy tale of woe before finding out what the real point was, this no longer applies – or to be accurate, no longer applies to sufficient of the readership to produce the response it once did.

A new creative strategy is needed for the times we are living in. One that communicates much more quickly the key points of the appeal. And by ‘key points’ these days, I mean not a lengthy description of the problem, solution, project details, etc, etc, but a much more succinct statement of the aims and aspirations of the charity itself. And why, for example, is it that so many agency copywriters think that successful direct mail fundraising revolves around projects, when other types of fundraising for individual gifts – legacies and major gifts to name but two – are driven by the aims and aspirations of the charity, not project information? The foundation of successful individual giving is getting the donor to buy into the direction the charity is taking rather than every step taken on the way.


Where is the money going to come from? A new report points to a missed opportunity for small charities.

Raising the money needed to keep smaller charities going is a well researched topic. It’s the No 1 worry for small charity directors and trustees. That followed quickly by the associated headache of finding and retaining competent fundraising staff. Added to this is the well-known challenge that Grant Making Trusts are facing as they struggle to meet an avalanche of applications – not long ago you could rely on a success rate of 1 in 4 when applying to Grant Making Trusts, now its nearer 1 in 14. However, a recent report by our sister company, Raisemore, has shed light on where a significant amount of ‘new’ money will come from.

Raisemore’s new Report ( “ Individual Giving – a missed opportunity for small charities “ ) finds that smaller charities are missing out on a major source if income that is tapped handsomely by the larger charities. Individual donations are the backbone of Cancer Research Campaign’s funding and that of most of the top 100 charities. Yet, apparently, it hardly features at all in the fundraising efforts of small charities. Yes, it is to these exact charities that local donors greatly prefer to give their charitable support. So why are small charities missing out and how can they put this right?

A good first start is to get to grips with what “individual giving” actually is. In short it is:

  • Cash donations of smaller amounts
  • Regular donations by direct debit or recurring card payment
  • Major Gifts from wealthy benefactors
  • Legacy Gifts in donors’ wills

Each of these needs a different strategic approach, but none of it is rocket science and any small charity trustee, director or fundraiser can get on top of the requirements for success, given the will to succeed.  A good starting point would be to read or re-read the Individual Giving chapters of ‘A Blueprint for Fundraising’. And when you are ready to start up or beef up an individual giving programme you’ll be in for a nice surprise: the investment returns can be very favourable if done correctly.


9 Great tips for writing appeals

We’re all looking for that silver bullet that’s going to double response to postal and email appeals. Believe me, these are very few and far between. But here are a few techniques that will definitely lift response, even if they don’t double it.

  1. Cut out wild graphics on outer envelopes.
  2. Make sure it’s clear the mailing comes from a charity.
  3. Start the letter or other main document with a short paragraph of eight words or less.
  4. Don’t blind the reader with statistics about the extent of the problem; state the problem and then tell the reader how you, the writer, feel about the problem.
  5. Make the first ask within the first 4 paragraphs then at least 3 times more before the end.
  6. Ensure your core proposition is repeated in the PS.
  7. Omit fancy leaflets altogether.
  8. Don’t use celebrities unless they have an established track record of involvement in your type of work. Believe it or not, some will actually reduce response.
  9. And lastly, make sure that what you are talking about is absolutely clear. Give the reader everything they need to know before the first fold.


Five bad strategic mistakes to avoid in the next 6 months

As we all reflect on the year now closing and polish our aspirations for the second half of the year, we thought we could best contribute by suggesting some bad mistakes to avoid in the rest of the year.

Bad mistake no 1. Organising fundraising by method of solicitation rather than source of funds. For the fact that budgets are developed around fundraising cost-centres, it is all too easy to plan fundraising around methods of fundraising – trusts, companies, wealthy benefactors, telephone fundraising for direct debits, street fundraising for direct debits, direct mail for cash donations, direct mail for legacies, to name the main ones. Doing this is a big mistake because of the very extensive cross-over between the various ways of giving or becoming involved that are available to any one donor. Take a few examples: company directors can give via their company or individually and many do both. Wealthy benefactors often sit on trust boards ( sometimes a trust into which their wealth has been placed). Small, ad-hoc cash donors often make very good legacy prospects. Direct debit donors nearly all reach a time of life when direct debiting is no longer appropriate to their financial situation. Companies can often provide volunteers as part of their social responsibility commitment. Fundraising works much more effectively when it is built around the donor, not the various avenues available for contacting that donor. It is about understanding the donor and establishing methods and timings of communication that are in line with that understanding. So, to take a simple example, recruiting a donor by direct mail, thanking them by phone, informing them of direct debit opportunities, taking their email address and providing feedback by email and online, all makes more sense to the donor and offers better ROI to you.

Bad mistake no 2. Being too timid to ask again. Donors get a huge amount of emotional fulfillment through giving. So why shouldn’t they want to experience that fulfillment again fairly soon? Recency of giving is such a powerful indicator of likelihood to give again that it makes no sense not to follow the logic and ask again quickly. There’s even a very successful form of direct mailing that asks for 2 cheques – one for now and one dated 2 weeks ahead, to save the cost of postage and paper of another request!

Bad mistake no 3. Not listening to what your data is telling you. If your direct mail has asked for gifts up to, say, £50, any donation more than this, that looks random (such as  £80, £100, £125) is often a sign of a wealthy donor looking for guidance – usually for a much higher gift. At the other end of the scale, 50p stuck to a donation form is a sure sign of financial stress and a plea to give in another way – such as a legacy. On the other hand, frequent gifts by cheque of £3 and £4 are not usually an invitation to ask the person to set up a direct debit – just a sign of age and financial limitation.

Bad mistake no 4. Sucking up to donors. Donors, as we’ve remarked above, get great emotional fulfillment from giving. But, in their mind, they’ve given to the end beneficiary or cause, not usually to an organization. So when they get smarmy thank you (…”without your donation and your commitment we could not have….” ) from the fundraising department, they can be somewhat less grateful than you’d hoped. You simply can’t love donors into giving you more. You can only convince them that their money is better spent with you. And that the picture they had in their mind at the time of making the donation has actually been fulfilled.

Bad mistake no 5. Using useless data in mailings. Why keep on using profiled, lifestyle, datapool and other poor data when so much good data is available – and all GDPR compliant? (email [email protected] if you’re interested in this).


Fundraising – or just collecting money?

The first book about fundraising that I read was by S. Y. Seymour, a US fundraiser who first committed his fundraising experience to paper in the 1960s.

I’d recommend his book, ‘Designs for Fundraising’ to anyone serious about fundraising today. The first chapter is a fascinating, maybe damning, insight into what constitutes proper fundraising. Essentially the writer says there are two types of fundraising activity: properly constructed, planned and thought-out organised fundraising. And there is just collecting money: going out and randomly asking the public for support without any clear idea of objectives, clearly articulated case for the money, definite target amount to be raised, a targeted list of definite donor prospects and a committed time plan. (How close to home does that sound?)

If Small Charity Fundraising stands for anything, it is making a stand against ‘just collecting money’ and helping fundraisers move to a proper, organised basis of fundraising.

So what are the key elements of effective fundraising? A good starting point is to look at what is undoubtedly the single most successful model of fundraising campaign yet devised: the capital appeal. There is so much to be learned by all fundraisers by simply studying and understanding how capital campaigns work that, in my estimation, getting this taped should be the prime requisite of every fundraiser before starting that new job, or very soon afterwards. It should be a requirement that trustees understand the basic elements of capital campaign fundraising, because without, they are barely equipped to judge the efforts of their paid fundraisers, staff or consultants.

I pick on capital campaigns not just because of their incredible success record in raising billions over the last 100 years or so, but because the capital campaign structure encapsulates all of the elements required for success in any fundraising campaign.

Not necessarily in this order, these elements are:

  •      A clearly agreed set of objectives – what do we need the money for.
  •      A clearly articulated case as to why the money is needed
  •      A definite target amount to be raised
  •      A targeted list of donor prospects who could realistically, between them, give the amount needed.
  •      A committed time plan.


Landing that Big Gift

There’s a lot of hype about big gift fundraising right now; and as many theories as to how to go about it as there are fundraising consultants. As a service to readers, therefore, FRStrategy has surveyed the best books and websites on the subject and offers this succinct guide to the key points:

* Big gifts can only be landed by asking person-to-person. Writing letters or making phone calls are not effective.

* Big gifts can only effectively be landed by peer-to-peer asking by people who are a good business/financial/social match with the prospective donor. Employed fundraisers do not generally have the leverage to land big gifts, though staff can attend the solicitation meeting to provide more detailed information about the work of the charity than a business volunteer might possess.

* The best people to involve in big gift fundraising are usually successful business people. Trustees should consider it part of their role to assist in big gift fundraising, but if they are unwilling or uncomfortable, let them opt out as they will not be effective.

* The best scenario for landing that big gift is an appointment specifically arranged for the purpose of seeking the donor’s support. Hoping to ‘bump into someone’ at a function is no good.

* If someone agrees to such a meeting then it can be assumed that their answer isn’t likely to be an outright ‘no’ and that they are interested in hearing what you have to say.

* The meeting has only one purpose: to gain the donor’s commitment to give support. The conversation can wander from this from time to time, but the asker needs to be fairly firm in bringing the subject back on track.

* The asker will be more effective if he or she finds it easy to talk with people regardless of their background or status. An easy, assured manner is a big help in gaining the donor prospect’s support.

* Usually the donor prospect will reach a point when he or she says something along the lines of ‘I like what you’ve said – how can I help? ’, which leads you straight into the ‘ask’. If not, it is important to be specific about what you seek.

* It is effective to ask for a gift that is in a range between one figure and another rather than be totally specific. If this level is beyondz the donor’s capacity or willingness, then it is in order to ask the donor what level they would feel comfortable at.

* Once the commitment has been secured, agree the exact details of how and when the payment is going to be made.

* Once the details are agreed, wrap the meeting up fairly quickly, offering full thanks for the donor’s generosity.

* Follow the meeting up with a thank you letter that repeats what has been agreed and send another letter of thanks when payment arrives.

* Stay in touch with the donor with updates that show how their support has made a difference.