A week at the National Arts Fundraising School (NAFS) is a completely immersive experience. We were hungry for knowledge of all things fundraising, from experts including the charismatic Bernard Ross and Philly Graham and other visiting specialists.
I found that I learned just as much from the participants as I did from the presenters. Gaining insight from and sharing the experiences of development managers, Chief Executives and even senior arts council representatives, was invaluable.
In addition to formal training, I now have new networks and a whole range of perspectives from people at different stages of their fundraising career, all of which will inform my own thinking and development.
As I reflect on my NAFS experience, I have acquired five key messages that already shape my approach on a daily basis:-
“Fundraising is not fair”
A simple and grounding message, which will not only help me cope with disappointment, it will motivate me to do better. Funds may not always go to the cause you consider deserves it most. It is vital to look after your donors. Make sure that they feel and believe that they are making a difference; that their funds are vital and appreciated. Good relationship management will maintain and grow support.
“I am not the target market”
An important tip to remember when critiquing strategies and communications. Don’t come at it from a personal perspective or judge activity and material according to your personal taste and motivations. If you find yourself thinking ‘I wouldn’t like that’ or ‘I wouldn’t give to that’, take a step back and consider carefully who the target audience is. Get into the mind-set of the donor.
And the 3 golden rules of fundraising…
You never know when an opportunity may arise. A good fundraiser needs to be ready to respond. At NAFS we talked a lot about funding cycles and how it is valuable to be aware of patterns in giving. Individuals and organisations may have more money at certain times of the month or year, which may be associated with, for example, religions, dividends or budget planning. It is important to research and understand the patterns, and to be ready to respond with the right language and tactics.
Funders want to back a winner; to be associated with success and to know they are in safe hands. It is easy in the current funding climate to talk about the loss of public funding to plead poverty. But this doesn’t instil confidence or motivate interest. An organisation must demonstrate excellence, careful business planning and the ability to make a measurable difference; it should celebrate successes, and give confidence to the funder that their money is going to be spent wisely.
Build a relationship with your funder. Invite them to events. Send them updates and photographs. Let them know how their support is making a difference. Most importantly, say thank you.
NAFS was an enriching experience. It kept us on our toes for the whole six days and we were able to get to know 35 like-minded professionals. Not to mention the great food and lovely hotel.
I feel that I am off the starting blocks, with a well-equipped toolbox of the skills I will use to maximise my fundraising potential, and to feel confident in my Fellowship journey.