Imagine the scene: you’re walking down the street, and you’re approached by a charity fundraiser. He says, “Please help our organisation. We’ve overspent our budget, and if you don’t give me some money, I might lose my job. Services have already been cut drastically, as our priority has been to maintain the staff at all costs. But now things are getting really bad. Will you give me a tenner?”
Hmmm, probably not, mate.
And yet that’s pretty much the message that some charities are putting out there. Maybe you’re reading this is thinking “Yeah, but not mine”. Well, I hope that’s true. I really do, because if it’s not, fundraising is going to get one heck of a lot harder for you.
Instead, imagine this scenario: you’re wandering down the other side of the street, and a smiling person accosts you. She says, “Can I tell you a quick story? You might have read about the arts organisation that worked with the local special needs school? That project that won a national award for best educational practice? And attracted the BBC’s attention when the local MP mentioned in a speech in the House of Commons? Well, I’m proud to work for that organisation, and I’ve donated £10 so that we can reach more local young people. Will you join me in helping a local child?”
Would you give £10? You’re a nice person, so I rather think that you would – but the point is much more about the tone, enthusiasm, relevance of the message, and the pride shown by the fundraiser. People want to support winners, to be on the winning side.
So it never ceases to amaze me that some organisations don’t share their successes, and align their external communications – online, off-line, broadcast, print – so that there’s a clear, concise and coherent message emanating, which sets a positive backdrop for fundraising. It’s not that hard. It simply takes a bit of internal communication and planning, alongside a strong business plan – oh, and remembering to brief everyone about the party line.
I’ll spare the blushes of this organisation and won’t name it, but here’s a tale that I wish was apocryphal: an arts company on the verge of high-profile industrial action, which would cripple it financially. The communications team are working very hard to brief journalists about every step, to manage the story and mitigate the financial risk.
Unbeknownst to them, the fundraising department have been running an annual giving campaign and, owing to the Law of Sod, their deadline to reach target falls on the same day as the strike might be called. The Director of Development decides to send a mailshot to everyone on the database, as a last push to elicit the final gifts.
And the headline that’s used? “Exciting news: only 2 days to closure. Help us now”.
You couldn’t make it up. And I haven’t.
Sarah Gee has worked in fundraising, marketing and communications for over twenty years. She has the scars.
If you want to learn more about how your organisation can create a compelling communications strategy to support fundraising – and help chief executives and senior managers to avoid scarring! – look out for our courses on 23 September, 27 November and 26 March in Manchester, Bristol and London respectively.