Episode 32: Andy Watts – The trust fundraising approach that increased income by 349%

Episode Notes

Charities sometimes treat trusts in a more distant, formal way compared to the way they treat other donors. This is often a missed opportunity, given that every trust is run by people who care and would enjoy a warmer relationship.

In this episode I share an interview with Andy Watts, a very successful fundraiser who is Head of Trusts and Foundations Fundraising at Sue Ryder. In his first year at the charity, trusts income increased by 349%, in large part thanks to the strategy of proactively building more personal relationships with funders. And during the pandemic, this strategy has helped generate many valuable donations that have been helping to fund the charity during the crisis.

In this conversation Andy explains how he has applied principles of relationship fundraising during the pandemic, including how his team has managed to achieve so many real conversations (instead of sending emails); how they’ve ensured high quality, personal communication to thank funders, in spite of the complexity of his charity.

If you want to share this episode because you think it will help others – THANK YOU VERY MUCH! –  we are both on Linked In and on twitter, where Andy is @andywatts27 and I am @woods_rob.

Takeaways from Episode 32

  • CONVERSATIONS ARE THE X FACTOR – Andy’s most important and powerful activity since the pandemic began has been having real conversations on the phone with the charity’s existing supporters, starting with the warmest ones.
  • CARE – He and his team call up because they care about the other person, these loyal friends of the charity.
  • RESULTS – And because they care, good conversations happen that are two way. This has led to various results. In the beginning, there were a couple of key gifts of £50,000 which trusts agreed to release early, at a time that was very valuable for the charity’s cashflow at that stage in the crisis.
  • INSPIRING, INVOLVING WEBINARS – They’ve also organised webinars for high value funders who had already supported. One trust attended the webinar in the morning and then went on to a trustee meeting later that day, at which they felt sufficiently well informed by the charity’s strategy to decide to make a further six figure gift.
  • BEWARE MAKING ASSUMPTIONS – One reason why actual two way conversations are so important is it makes you less likely to assume you know what’s going on for a trust. They’re all different. Some might be struggling, some might not. Some might have changed their criteria during the pandemic, some might not.
  • BUILDING / NURTURING INTERNAL RELATIONSHIPS IS KEY – its so important to actively spend time building relationships in your charity.
  • PERSONAL STEWARDSHIP THAT FEELS GREAT – For instance this helps Andy to make requests of his colleague’s time (and courage), for instance to send personal thank you cards or make personal thank you films in their smart phones, mentioning the trust by name.
  • RE-FRAME MISCONCEPTIONS – Andy helps colleagues understand that they raise money for in-budget items, not additional, as this is not always understood.
  • FEEDBACK LOOP – This is so obvious, but a key to creating a culture in your charity that cares about fundraising and funders, is to make sure you always close the feedback loop to your colleagues who give you info / help you with thanking and stewardship. This is not only courteous, it also makes all the difference to people wanting to make time for future activity.

Further Resources

If you’d like to find out more about our Major Gifts Mastery Programme which helps you increase trust and major donor income during the pandemic, you can find out all about it through the link above – or feel free to get in touch through the Contact section if you have questions.

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then there are lots of different approaches, including some of Andy’s tactics, in my new free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

Quotes

‘There’s a danger in making assumptions and trying to generalise that one trust’s situation will be the same as another… You really have to remember to treat each one individually.’ Andy Watts

‘We make sure that every time we receive a gift at any level, we always pick up the phone and thank that supporter. It’s a great way of becoming more comfortable making calls, without having to ask for anything.’ Andy Watts

Rob:

Hello, and welcome to episode 32 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. I’m Rob Woods. This is the show for anyone who works in charity fundraising and who wants ideas for how to raise more money, enjoy their job and make a bigger difference, even during the pandemic.

If your job includes fundraising from trusts and foundations, and you’re interested in ideas that might help at this stage in the pandemic, then I hope you’ll find today’s episode interesting and useful because I’m about to share part of a recent interview I conducted with an outstanding fundraiser named Andy Watts, who is Head of Trust and Foundation Fundraising for Sue Ryder.

If you’ve read my free ebook Power Through the Pandemic, you’ll remember he is one of the very successful fundraisers I interviewed for ideas. In the book, I explore the tactics that Andy and his team had carried out in the first two months of the pandemic, which helped achieve some fabulous fundraising results.

In this episode, we discuss a range of things that Andy and his team have been doing before and during the crisis, to build longterm positive relationships with funders who care about his cause. This includes not only ideas for how and when to seek help from existing supporters, but also ideas for finding new connections to hard to reach trusts and for helping funders feel wonderfully appreciated.

I’ve found talking to Andy never fails to strengthen my resolve, to go the extra mile. I hope you find this conversation helpful too.

This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast is brought to you by Bright Spot Mastery Programmes. So if you need to increase income and corporate partnerships or major donor and trust fundraising, these programs will help.

As well as the advanced strategies you learn on the training days, you’ll receive one-to-one coaching to help you put those powerful techniques into practice. To find out more about the Corporate Mastery and Major Gifts Mastery Programmes, head over to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob:

Andy Watts. How are you?

Andy Watts:

I’m well. Thanks, Rob.

Rob:

Welcome to the interview. In a moment I’d love to get on to some discussions about trusts and foundation fundraising. But just before we get into that, how’s life in lockdown been treating you?

Andy Watts:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s been an interesting time, but trying to really appreciate it as much as possible, having two young children. Trying to make the most of that time with them. So, we’re doing okay.

Rob:

Yes. Similar at my end as well. So I’ve really appreciated various conversations we’ve had over the years. You’ve helped me on a number of occasions, understand distinctions about trust and foundation fundraising better.

Rob:

You are head of trust fundraising at Sue Ryder. I guess my first question is, what has been your approach to the pandemic so far in the first four months, in terms of your understanding of what was going on for the trust and foundations as they reacted? And then moving on to your approach with your team on behalf of your charity.

Andy Watts:

Yes. It felt like, yeah, it just all escalated so quickly. Didn’t it? Yeah. The news kind of starting to come out from China and then suddenly, yeah, it just all got really real.

Andy Watts:

Our response, really was to just look at our warmest trust supporters, really, those who’d given in the past couple of years to us and just get talking to them as soon as we could really. And really just to check in, to see how they were doing, to recognize that this thing had happened to all of us. We were all in the same boat and just to acknowledged that really.

Andy Watts:

So, we really started those calls pretty soon once we were in lockdown. We also just wanted to ask them about what they were thinking really, how they were planning to respond, and to kind of, I suppose, get in early really.

Andy Watts:

We had some key messages that we were starting to develop and things were moving quickly. So, we did introduce those into the conversation, but it was really kind of a starter really. So yeah, we were on the phone a lot really and just having those conversations.

Rob:

I am a firm believer that having more proactive conversations with supporters of any kind tends to be a good thing for a fundraiser to do, but I am especially aware that many trusts and foundations can appear not to want to talk to you so much. Sometimes the information on their website can appear to want to keep more of an arm’s length relationship. What’s your approach to that? Were all of them happy to talk to you?

Rob:

I know that this is the foundations that had already supported, rather than ones you were making cold approaches to, but what’s your approach to that objection? Some people would say is “No, no, they don’t want to talk to you. That you’ve got to fill in the form and you’ve got to do it by email.”

Andy Watts:

Absolutely. I think our experience has been that, certainly for the calls that I’ve made, I don’t think there was anyone who said they didn’t want to talk to me. And I think the situation as well, has meant that people really do want to talk and they are kind of interested to how we were responding and what was happening, just to have that connection really.

Andy Watts:

A practice that put in place, I think that has helped increase our comfort levels with phone calls in our team, is that we make sure that every time we get a gift of any level, we will pick up the phone and thank that supporter. I think that’s a great way of being able to do a call without asking for anything.

Andy Watts:

That has just meant that we’ve been building those relationships. And as you say, because they are trusts that have given to us before, there’s that natural connection there. So, that’s certainly a help.

Andy Watts:

But I’ve had some great conversations and just people really sharing how much they’re … in several cases, their local hospice, it’s locals who write how much the hospice means to them and their community and how their local vicar has been the chaplain there, and how they’ve had family and friends who have been cared for there and just that solidarity with us.

Rob:

Yes. I guess the more you have those kinds of conversations, the more it becomes normal that you would want to have more conversations of any kind with those organizations. So, it’s a positive self-fulfilling prophecy.

Andy Watts:

Absolutely. Yeah. I’d say another important thing that we did was to look at the funders we had and kind of had it before we made the calls, to think about what they might be able to do for us.

Andy Watts:

Obviously, our first focus was checking in on a human level and making sure they were all okay and how they were managing. But then we knew if the conversation got onto, as it often did, “Well, what you need?,” then based on our relationship with them to think through, “Well, what could that be?”

Andy Watts:

Just to give you an example, we had several trusts that we had forward pledges on. So, maybe we were in the first year grant and we had two more years to come. In that case, we went to them, I went to a funder said, “Do you think you could release the next two years of our grant?” So there was like a 50,000 pounds’ worth, a two year pledge there.

Andy Watts:

I made the ask about that. They took it to their trustee board, and that really informed for them part of how they decided to respond to the pandemic really. So, they awarded that to us. They gave us the pledge two years early, the full pledge. That was £50,000, when cash flow was so important, that was released to us now.

Rob:

Wow. That makes such a difference, doesn’t it, to the runnings of your whole hospice and the level of pressure your whole fundraising team is under? That kind of the confidence and rapport with which to make that kind of ask in the right tone, it’s so much less likely to have been possible if you had checked in with them with an email to say, “I hope you’re doing okay.”

Andy Watts:

Absolutely. Yeah. Nothing beats speaking to them. And in a fast moving situation, like the pandemic, where everything was thrown up in the air, it’s only through talking to them you’re going to know where they’re at, know how they’ve been affected, in terms of their investments.

Andy Watts:

That’s been obviously, a big, big issue in some trusts. Haven’t had as much money to give out. So, just knowing what their position is, you can then just inform that request to them because you where they’re at. I can then say, “Could you help us in this way?”

Rob:

Yes. Although, one thing I might try and do is pick your brains about, generally speaking, how are trusts and foundations doing right now? What seemed to be the patterns.

Rob:

A wise thing you once said to me is, “You can see the overall trends, but really, knowing something about one trust doesn’t mean at all what the hell is going on for the other trust.” Because for instance, they might have an entirely different investment portfolio or risk threshold or approach to that flexibility of applying their criteria. So again, unless you’re talking to each one on an individual level, you’re never going to be able to react to how that particular individual or that particular trust is doing.

Andy Watts:

Exactly. Yeah. I think there’s a danger in making assumptions and trying to apply one trust experience to the other. So, like you say, just treat them individually.

Andy Watts:

We talked about that, I guess, for a long time now, in trust fundraisers and adopting perhaps that more major donor approach. I think that that’s more important than ever is, is just to treat them as an individual and seek to understand them.

Rob:

Yes. There’s quite a lot of things about the major donor approach that I have long felt that successful trust fundraisers do. This is one element of it, the philosophy of treating them as an individual. Has their own situation, fears, hopes, needs, motivations. And within that, you can best respond to that if you have conversations, rather than keep the communications at arm’s length.

Rob:

Apart from the phone calls, are there any other tactics that you and your team tried to implement that would make sense to most major donor fundraisers, but you think many trust fundraisers don’t necessarily apply?

Andy Watts:

Yeah, I suppose there’s a couple of things. One, we have put in place … Well, we run a webinar, which I know a number of charities have been doing and that worked really well for us.

Andy Watts:

Our webinar, we did with our chief executive and our director of nursing, and we invited our trusts’ major donors and corporates that have given 100K plus. So, it was quite a exclusive group, but we actually had a 50% take up to that, which is incredible when you compare it to what you might see in a face-to-face event.

Andy Watts:

The feedback was excellent. It was just really positive about how they felt Sue Ryder had responded to the situation and what had been achieved. They felt that Sue Ryder should, like other hospices, get more funding from government, but also that they were very supportive themselves.

Andy Watts:

It was very timely because we had one foundation, they were meeting that evening to consider a £100,000 grant. Their grants manager came to the webinar, and obviously he was able to take that to the trustee meeting and tell them about it, and they awarded that £100,000 grant. So, I think it could have only have helped the decision.

Andy Watts:

I’d also say something we’d just done recently as part of this stewardship is, a postcard to our trust that have responded and given to the emergency appeal. Very simply done, where we’ve just got a photo, a lovely photo of a Sue Ryder nurse on the front. And then on the back, it’s a message that, “You’ve given me the strength to carry on.” So, the nurse speaking to them, and that is going to be signed by several members of our hospice nursing team.

Andy Watts:

So, we’ve matched it according to trusts that have, say supported a particular hospice, and we’re sending those out to the trust. It’s just, yeah, again, trying to create that kind of personal touch, particularly as many have supported their local hospice, to give them that sense of connection.

Rob:

Yes. I love the tactics. Congratulations on the success of the webinar, by the way. I mean, we can’t quantify all of the success. But at its simplicity, it’s a wonderful, good, appropriate stewardship thing to do to the generous people that you’ve already supported. But to have the icing on the cake, that you can see that it clearly helped get that other very large grant, that’s very nice to have as well, clearly.

Rob:

I think lots of the ideas to do with good relationship building, they’re not that astonishing, are they? I mean, I try not to use the cliche about this is not rocket science. Yeah.

Rob:

I find it’s not so much about the creativity. It’s about caring enough to follow through and execute these techniques really well and get the detail right, which does just take planning and relationship building internally. Picking up the phone to your colleague in that particular hospice to ask them if they’d mind signing it, rather than just sending an email.

Rob:

Getting it right and actually making sure that the detail is correct, so that the right people sign from the right geographical area and so on. But that’s actually more about being organized and internal relationships and hard work than creativity. Do you have any insights for the listener on actually getting the execution right?

Andy Watts:

Yeah, absolutely. We’ve built a good foundation, in terms of those internal relationships. Since I started at Sue Ryder, we put in place a regular email newsletter, which went to key internal colleagues. So in our case, that was the hospice directors and the hospice head of fundraising.

Andy Watts:

That was kind of an update, which was telling them how much we’d raised for their hospice from trusts and foundations, the applications we’ve made, and we also often had a spotlight. So, we’d give a bit of detail each time on a particular trust that we were supported by, and often these trusts were regional ones. So, they would be the great and the good of, say Bedfordshire, which is where we have one of our hospices. So, they might recognize the people or certainly know of the companies or institutions that they’re connected with.

Andy Watts:

That has really built that link and that knowledge. So, we’ve been able to get key messages through on that, about what we do. We will emphasize that we raise funds for in-budget items rather than additional, which can sometimes be a misperception people have about trust fundraising. That’s helped me build my relationship with the hospice directors because I’ve had that point of contact with them. And then over time, I’ve just involved them really, in thanking.

Andy Watts:

Another example that we’ve done during the pandemic is, I’ve asked our hospice director to do video thank yous. So on their smartphone, to shoot a short video message, thanking personally a particular trust that has given, and then I’ve emailed that to the trust.

Andy Watts:

We had a really lovely message back from a trust who … or actually, someone who influenced a gift from a new trust for us, and just said that they were really gratified by receiving that personal message.

Andy Watts:

I think as fundraisers, often our role is to be that bridge between a funder and the frontline services. So, when I think you can bring them in contact with the frontline, that means a lot. I’ll just say, it’s making sure we close the feedback loop.

Andy Watts:

For example, the feedback that I received from the funder, I then shared that with my colleague who had done the video. It’s basically saying to them, “Thank you. This is what it means.” And I think that just kind of encourages them to think, “Oh yeah, this is worth doing it for me.”

Rob:

Yeah. That’s such a great feeling. I can imagine that person getting, it probably was … maybe they’re very brave and confident about doing a film on their smartphone. But for many of us, that probably was quite a big deal to find the energy and the concentration and a bit of courage to make that smartphone film. But then, for you to then forward that feedback, that must feel great to them. I absolutely agree it’s going to make it really feel worthwhile.

Rob:

So, they deserve to feel good about it. And for the longterm, it can only increase the chances that more and more of these goods fundraising tactics can happen with that same person in the future.

Andy Watts:

Absolutely.

Rob:

In terms of the smartphone tactic, obviously many fundraisers are using that tactic more, but I think it’s not for the faint hearted. Are there any top tips you’ve discovered about how to make that tactic of a short thank you film from yourself, or better still from a frontline services person to a funder? Any top tips about making that work in practice?

Andy Watts:

Absolutely. I think it’s always helpful to share a example if you have one. Obviously, because we’ve done a fair few now, just to give them an idea, often I’ll give kind of an outline script as well.

Andy Watts:

We’re talking about a 30-second video. So, not speaking for a long time. But yeah, just giving them an indication of what we would like them to say, and then just reminding them to shoot in landscape. I think often people can forget that. So you don’t have the black bars down the side. And just ensure that you have some kind of good lighting as well.

Andy Watts:

I’ve heard several funders say how much it’s appreciated and it’s not about them being professional and polished. Actually, that takes away from them. That what they really appreciate is actually the homemade quality of it. The fact that someone has taken the time and effort to personalize it in such a way of a video, where they can see the person. I think it just increases that connection with the charity.

Rob:

Yes. I guess a key thing is, there’s a world of difference between making that film generically and making the film where, in the first 10 seconds they thank that funder by name?

Andy Watts:

Yeah, absolutely. I had one trust I did a video for, and they just said that … Because I think in that video’s case, it might’ve been at the end, that we had the personal message to them. So, she just said how special it was that it was completely personalized.

Rob:

Just going back to something else you said, I think one of the hardest things for many fundraisers is a frustration when, internally, they can feel like some of their colleagues just don’t get fundraising. They don’t care. They just take the money for granted. They don’t see why they could or should spend any time doing extra information for supporters and so on. That’s really hard for many fundraisers’ situations.

Rob:

Though obviously fundraisers work hard on building relationships with their supporters, it seems to me, your mindset is to work every bit as hard on building internal relationships and to do it not just with the philosophy that this is the right thing to do, but to do it in an organized way, to decide to create that communication in a technique that goes around regularly. It seems to me, that your mindset is to work and think about building relationships internally, as much as most fundraisers would think about building relationships externally.

Rob:

I wonder if you could just speak a tiny bit more about that approach. I know it’s not easy for lots of fundraisers, but if you feel you’ve learned anything over the years in the need to do that, or the tactics of how you do it, just hearing your take on that would be useful, I think.

Andy Watts:

Yeah, absolutely. I think the internal colleagues are so key to your success really. And we trust fundraisers, as we all know, that the need for getting detailed information on projects and being able to deliver it, that that’s the bread and butter really.

Andy Watts:

I’ve found that, like I said, if you close the feedback loop, that is a key thing I think, is that so often we ask for this information, but then we don’t go back and say what we’ve done with it. We don’t say if it’s resulted in anything.

Andy Watts:

So, like I mentioned, with the email update that we put in place at Sue Ryder, that’s really designed to close that loop and to say, “Well, this is what happened. And thanks to you, we were able to achieve this,” and really get that sense that we’re working for them. That, I find, it’s worked really well.

Andy Watts:

Just involving them as well. What we do, what we’ve done with that update is to sometimes make asks of them to say, “Well, do you know this person? We know that they live in Yorkshire and they’re …” For example.

Andy Watts:

In one case, we had our hospice director say, “Oh, well, yeah. This couple who have this large grant-making trust, they’re head of clinical services. Her colleague actually is in a book club with them.” So, we wouldn’t never have found that out if she hadn’t … We did a little bio of them and said, “This is who they are. This is their trust.” So, she spoke to her colleague and her colleagues then spoke to her friends, and we ended up getting a quarter of a million pound gift over five years from this trust.

Andy Watts:

This is a trust that we’d been trying to reach for probably a couple of years before that, and had a couple of unsuccessful applications to them when we’ve gone direct. So, it was one of those situations where they were fundamental to … they really gave because of her. There was no doubt about that. So, we arranged for a card and flowers for her because she went above and beyond.

Andy Watts:

Yeah. I think it is, like you were saying before, it’s kind of applying the same things you would do in terms of external relationships, just using that approach internally as well, and treating your colleagues as what they are, a key relationship for you

Rob:

Yes. That makes sense, Andy. I always get so much from our conversations. I really appreciate your advice, but also all the examples you used to bring it to life. Thank you ever so much. I look forward to speaking to you again in another conversation about fundraising very soon. Bye-bye, Andy.

Rob:

Well, I hope you’ve found Andy’s approach to relationship building and to trust fundraising was helpful. If so, please remember to subscribe to the podcast now, so that you don’t miss out on all the other episodes that we have planned.

Rob:

If you need to improve your results in high value fundraising for your charity, then do check out our Major Gifts Mastery Programme, which is designed for trust and major donor fundraisers. And also our Corporate Mastery Program, if partnerships is your main focus.

Rob:

Over the last six years, these six month programs have helped hundreds of fundraisers to improve their skills, confidence, and fundraising results.

Rob:

The next programs start in October 2020. And in this latest version, I’ve included powerful strategies I’ve learned from dozens of outstanding fundraisers that I’ve interviewed in the last three months.

Rob:

The program is designed to help you overcome the challenges of the pandemic and achieve valuable major gifts and corporate partnerships for your charity. If you’d like to find out more, go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services. I’ll also put a link in the episode notes for this podcast.

Rob:

If you want to get in touch or share this episode on, thank you very much for your help, as it really helps these ideas to reach more fundraisers in more charities. Andy and I would love to hear from you. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Andy is @AndyWatts27, and I’m @Woods_Rob.

Rob:

Finally, thank you so much for listening today. I look forward to sharing more Bright Spot strategies next week.