Episode 36: Mark Williams – Fundraising for a small charity; what to prioritise

Episode Notes

Most fundraisers are under pressure to succeed, but in many small charities this pressure can be intense. In this episode we’re looking at ways to overcome some of the challenges of fundraising if you work for a small charity.

The interview is with Mark Williams who is Director of Communications and Fundraising for the Social Welfare charity, Wimbledon Guild.

In this conversation Mark outlines certain things he’s learned to prioritise as the leader of fundraising for a small charity. The conversation includes tips to help you make the most of limited resources; ideas to inspire the support of trustees, even though fundraising is just one of many things competing for their attention; ideas for successful PR and communications, and lots more.

If you want to share this episode because you think it will help other charities – THANK YOU! –  we are both on Linked In and on twitter I’m @woods_rob.

Takeaways from Episode 36

  • UNDERSTAND. The first thing is, get in there and try to understand the organization. Meet the key staff, the service users if this is possible, the trustees, the donors and supporters… And ask, who else within the organization is going to be useful for you to meet?
  • LISTEN. Try and meet, talk to and listen to your supporters. Who are they and why do they support? What could you learn?
  • SMALL, NIMBLE GROUPS. If possible, create a sub-committee in addition to the formal Board of Trustees, to help you with fundraising. This can make a huge difference to getting support from the board, harnessing their expertise, and getting decisions made.
  • PLAN. Develop your strategy and plans. This includes your case for support. What’s your organisation trying to achieve and which elements would be suitable for certain income streams? Get feedback from others, eg volunteers and supporters.
  • BUY IN ACROSS THE CHARITY. Share your objectives and fundraising ideas with colleagues from other teams. This maximises the chances that they will be able to spread the word with their contacts, and spot opportunities to help you achieve your fundraising objectives.
  • RUTHLESSLY PRIORITISE. In terms of PR and Communications, certain things are going to work way better than others. If you’re not an expert in being able to analyse those particular channels and media, do whatever you can to find someone who can help you analyse it and make those crucial decisions of how to leverage meagre resources.
  • FOCUS ENERGY AND BE STRATEGIC. Sometimes your colleagues can say “We just need more people to find out about us.” Instead, dig deep in that, and say, “But, who are those individuals, and what are we trying to achieve by doing this?”

Further Resources

If you found this helpful, I would also check out Episode 3 of this podcast, with Jo Bega, who is the Chief Executive of a small charity and has lots of good ideas for making fundraising work in that context.

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out 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

‘For some causes this is not possible, but if you can, go down there and meet some of the people who benefit from your service. This makes a massive difference to your understanding.’

Mark Williams

‘I wouldn’t necessarily go and speak to those people who have given you the most money, I’d go for those people who’ve been more consistent. So, go to the top five people who’ve been regularly giving you money over the last year or so, and see if you could start developing a relationship with them.’

Mark Williams

Full Transcript

Rob:

Hey there, folks. Welcome to Episode 36 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and 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. In today’s episode, if you work for a small charity and you’re the person responsible for fundraising, I hope you’re going to find this episode really interesting because today we’re looking at ways to overcome the many challenges of fundraising if you work for a small charity, given that the stakes can feel incredibly high for how you spend your time and energy.

This is an interview I conducted during the summer with a fantastic fundraiser named Mark Williams, who works for the social welfare charity, Wimbledon Guild. I first met Mark when he joined the Bright Spot Members Club, our online training and inspiration site for fundraisers, early during lockdown this year. I’ve had several conversations with Mark over the last few months, and every time I’ve come away with practical fundraising ideas. In particular, in terms of what small charities can do to make fundraising work, even during this especially challenging era that we’re in.

In this conversation, Mark outlines four things which he’s learned to prioritize as the leader of fundraising for a small charity. The conversation includes tips to help you inspire the confidence and support of trustees, even though fundraising is just one of many things competing for their attention, ideas for successful PR and communications, and various tips for making the most of limited resources. As I always find when talking to Mark, I left this conversation with lots of shrewd insights and down to earth workable ideas. I hope you find it helpful, too.

Announcer:

This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast is brought to you by the Bright Spot Members Club, as a practical alternative to one of conferences and courses whose impact can fade all too quickly. The Members Club is an online resource that gives you ongoing access to a whole library of video training courses, monthly coaching webinars, and live training events. It’s all designed to help you learn, enjoy your job, and raise more money. To join the 300 fundraisers already in the club, or just to find out more, go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob:

So, hello Mark Williams. How are you?

Mark:

I’m good. I’m good. I think it’s going to rain here. It’s been hot for a few days now, so we’re hoping for a thunderstorm pretty soon, but otherwise we’re good. We’re fine. Thank you.

Rob:

Good. Very strange weather at the moment. Thank you ever so much for making time to appear on the podcast. So the listener can place it in context, you work for Wimbledon Guild. Could you tell us a tiny bit about that charity and your role there?

Mark:

Wimbledon Guild is a social welfare charity based in the London Borough of Merton. I head up the Fundraising and Comms Team here. Prior to that, I was at Save the Children, working in a Corporate Partnerships team, and Age UK, which was Age Concern back then. I’ve worked at the bigger charities, and some of the smaller ones as well.

Rob:

Yes, this is helpful to be aware, you’re an experienced fundraiser, and a leader, and crucially, you know what it’s like to be working for an organization which is more famous, better known, maybe has more resources, but you also, crucially, know what it’s like to be the leader of fundraising in a small organization. That’s particularly why I was really pleased to invite you to talk to on the podcast today, because so many of our listeners are in smaller organizations. They don’t have loads of resources, they may not have a well known brand, and yet they’re having to be successful at fundraising.

You and I were having a conversation the other day about how lots of that is not easy, and you’ve learned, because this is not the first time you’ve been the leader of a charity in a small organization, you’ve had to learn things along the way for certain things that are really helpful to not fall into those pitfalls. So in a minute, I’d like to get into some of your advice, but just before we do that, just to state the obvious, what are a couple of the things that you think are especially hard for the leader of fundraising in a small charity?

Mark:

There’s three things which sort of always spring to mind when I think about this. One of them is, you are the expert. Everyone is going to look at you, that’s first off, internally, your CEO, trustees, as the expert of fundraising. Alternatively, that’s great, because everyone thinks that you can do your job correctly, but you need to look at opportunities to how you can develop or bounce off ideas with other fundraisers. It’s a great position to be in because sometimes when you work at a larger charity, you are one of, say Save the Children, I was one of 250 fundraisers across the country. When there is suddenly one of you, a lot of onus gets put on you, and sometimes that could be a bit lonely in some respect. So getting out there and bouncing ideas of other fundraisers can be really, really helpful.

The other thing is income constraints. I’d say you’ve got be able to be realistic and don’t over promise trustees. Charities, the ones I’ve dealt with, the number one irritant is when fundraisers come in and claim that they can over promise on fundraising targets. It’s really about learning how you can set the base as realistic as possible.

And the last thing, which I think anyone who works at any organization would probably say the same at this time, whether you’re on your own or you’re in a very small team, there is a danger of suddenly diving down the rabbit hole, and not really focusing on what the bigger stress is going to be. It’s important to work on your overarching strategy, but also keeping an eye out for what those low hanging fruit might be.

Rob:

Absolutely, and I think some of your advice is likely to be various things to mitigate those three challenges. Let’s jump straight in, I guess. If you think back to the early stages, in the times when you’ve worked for a new charity and you’ve been the leader, what’s the first crucial thing that deserves your attention?

Mark:

I think the first thing that anyone should do is get in there and try to understand the organization. Meet the key staff, try and meet trustees, in a smaller charity sometimes this is much easier. I’d also look to see who else within the organization is going to be useful for you to meet. So, service users, I think are a really, really key component, and donors, also, if it’s possible to get out there and speak to some of your donors, I say that’d be really useful. In fact, one of the most useful things we found with donors actually was speaking to donors who no longer are supporting you.

I’ve actually found this really invaluable. Prior to Wimbledon Guild, I used to work for an organization called the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, which was a benevolent fund for doctors. We received a letter from a company who decided to stop supporting us. The letter came through, and some colleagues would be like, “Okay, great. They don’t want us to support us anymore, let’s just leave it.” I was like, “Well, hang on a minute. Why is that? Why are they deciding not to support us anymore?” So I drafted a letter from our CEO, and I requested a meeting to talk it through and work out why have they suddenly stopped supporting us. We just sat there and we listened, and it was really greatly appreciated. We got the chance to talk, be heard, and also talk about what a future strategy would be. Unless we’d done this, there’s no way, if we hadn’t received that letter, I don’t think we would have been doing what we were doing.

Following this, we were able to nurture that relationship. It wasn’t a quick win, but we sent them updates, we invited them specific events that we were holding, and actually, 12 months down the line, we did actually get additional funding of around £25,000 from it. Now, this doesn’t always work, obviously. If it doesn’t work, it’s a really good opportunity to find gaps in your support journey that actually can be easily corrected, and could actually be a future game changer when you’re speaking to other donors. I think it’s really important to try and speak to as many people as you can.

Again, speak internally, understand the services that you’re trying to provide. If you can get involved in the service, that’s even better. One of the things we do here within Guild, actually, we do a variety of different activities for older people. One of the things I’ve really pushed my team to do is to get involved with some of the exercise classes. Go down there and meet some of the customers, and actually get a feel for what the organization does, because sometimes, in a small organization, again, this is a lot easier to do rather than sitting in a big head office somewhere.

In terms of also understanding, I’d have a look at what the current income is, and where that income is coming from. Really quiz staff about what it is that’s worked well and what hasn’t worked well in the past. Chances are, you would have had a donation at that point, from someone, somewhere. Where did that money come from? How did it come about? Look through the past three years of fundraising records and see what is there that might be something useful.

We don’t like to talk about competition in the charity sector, but obviously there is loads of it. It a smaller charity, there’s probably going to be quite a lot of other people who were working in the same area as you. If I was you, I’d pick the top three charities that are in the same space, and spend a bit of time looking through them on your accounts. It could take a bit of time, but it could be really useful. One of the things that we did, when I started, I went through one specific charities’ accounts, went and had a look through their trusts’ list, and there was a couple of on there which were local, which we’d never heard of or applied for. So we did, and actually that resulted in a donation, a £20,000 donation over two years. Again, it’s not always going to work, but it’s going to start you thinking about what might be possible.

I think the other thing is, it’s coming back to speaking to donors and understanding who they are. It’s very easy to say that, and especially I think during COVID does a lot of advice out there, “Get out there, speak to your donors,” which is easy to say, but it’s not so easy to do. So how do you pick the ones you want to speak to? I wouldn’t say the best thing to do is to go and speak to those people who have given you the most money, I’d go for those people who’ve been more consistent. So, go to the top five people who’ve been regularly giving you money over the last year or so, and see if you could start developing a relationship with them.

We did have one extreme example, earlier last year, where a lady actually came in with a shoe box full of pound coins. She came into reception and said, “Here’s your donation.” We took the donation, and she walked away. I couldn’t believe it. I was gobsmacked, who walks in with a shoe box full of pound coins? I’m like, “Hold on a minute, who is this person?” No one could really tell me who she was. Fortunately, she’d left a little note. We did a bit of digging, we didn’t need to break any GDPR rules to see where someone’s address is and where they live. We started a conversation with her, and we personally invited her into meet our CEO. That actually transpired, and she’s been giving us money for the last three years in this specific way, but we had never looked to engage her further to see, A, why she’s doing it, and, B, what is it we could do later? And actually, that has resulted in a bigger relationship for us. That is quite an extreme story, not everyone has people walking into their front office with shoe boxes of pound coins.

However, every charity has quirky stories of why people support them, because there’s personal reasons to it, and I think it’s important to really sit down and see if there’s anything which might be relevant to you. I think the other thing which is important to realize is that if you come into a smaller territory as a fundraising head, you’re going to have people looking at you to see what you’re getting to achieve. So, finding out what that low hanging fruit is, like very specific examples, are things which are really helpful when you start identifying your gaps and opportunities, because if you can show your CEO and you can show your trustees that you are looking creatively at what’s already available, they start to build a reliance on you, and they rely on you to go on and develop a wider fundraising strategy, which is really important because you’re starting to build up your credibility internally within an organization.

Rob:

Yeah, and I guess that brings us on to that second step. First step, better understand, in these various places, but based on that, then you can identify those opportunities and gaps. It’s from an informed position rather than, “Here’s some theory that worked for this large organization. Board, you need to trust me on this.” You’re able to more likely come up with sensible strategies, but also it’s easier to sell them in.

Mark:

I completely agree. I think when you’re looking at identifying your gaps and opportunities, one of the things which I found worked really well in my last two roles, and it wasn’t something I put in, it was already in place, but it’s really helpful, is developing a Marketing and Fundraising committee. How this works is you, with the CEO, would recruit three or four trustees who sit on the board, and they would form part of the Marketing and Fundraising committee, and a couple of weeks before the actual trustee meeting, you, as the head of fundraising would sit down and talk through what you’ve been doing. You flood them with the details of all the different things that you’re planning, what you think might work, and it’s an opportunity to get their advice and their thoughts as you develop your thoughts yourself.

Actually it’s a really, really great ambassador for your department because when they then go into a trustee meeting, they’ve heard a lot of this information and they’re going to be talking to other trustees because you’ve taken the time, to spend time with them, understanding the work that they’re doing. I think it’s been a really, really useful, useful tool, because they start to become advocates for what you’re trying to do.

Rob:

I totally see how that would work, and apart from anything else, there’s so many things on that board meeting agenda that are important that could be there. It’s all too easy for people to intend to do justice to fundraising, but if safeguarding is higher up on the list, or COVID response strategy is higher up on the list, you could easily get through that crucial, quite rare, trustee meeting, and never get the trustees to endure some very sensible, doable fundraising strategy, which you just need a bit of air time. Whereas, if you’re doing it this way, A, you’ve got those advocates, B, you might only get the 20 minutes, but that will be enough because they can vouch for this being a sensible thing.

Mark:

I think the other thing is, is that in a lot of smaller charities, you may get the opportunity to actually attend board meetings yourself. So actually you can reinforce your messaging again, with those same people in the room again, which is great. However, in other organizations, you don’t get that opportunity, so that’s where I think the committee is a really useful tool to have.

Rob:

It also acknowledges something that frustrates some fundraisers, that basically works with the truth of that, across your board, unlike we are led to believe in many boards in the United States, in most boards in the UK, not everyone necessarily is interested in fundraising, or is necessarily very wealthy. There’s a range of motivations and levels of experience for why they’re sitting on that board, and you might only have two or three of them who are interested in, or very able to help with fundraising, but you’re making use of that rather than kind of pushing against the grain when the others are very interested in helping.

Mark:

Actually, it’s quite useful, I’ve always found as well, to not actually pick those trustees who’ve been the most enthusiastic. It’s actually to pick those ones who have been a bit of a hard to sell, because it makes them feel like, “Okay, they actually really value my opinion.,” and you can develop a closer relationship, because when you’ve got these people in a room, it’s a bit more chatty than it is in a normal trustee meeting. It’s a really good way, and actually those people who have bigger critiques of yours, specifically, you can start to develop that relationship with them, and it’s actually really helpful.

Rob:

Yes, I can see lots of benefits to that as a strategy, having that subcommittee. So, we’ve talked about spending time to notice what’s going on and understand that, and that you form the gaps and opportunities you might identify to really be worth more thoughts, more tactics, a more deliberate approach to help fundraising. So, those are the first two, what might your third idea be?

Mark:

I think one of third things is developing your strategy and your plan. You need a good, strong case for support. So what’s your organization trying to achieve and which elements of this would be suitable funding opportunities for different income streams? A case for support, I actually think, is different per different income streams.

If you have the budget to get an outsider to look at this for you, I’d recommend doing that, because even as someone who’s, you’ve been interviewed for an organization, you’ve been there a couple of months, you’ve got your feet under the table, you are already part of the system, as such. To have someone completely unconnected to go out there, and to come in, and to be helpful as an external opinion, I think would be really helpful. If there isn’t a budget available, I would test out your case for support, not just internally, but with, potentially, some volunteers. If there’s any supporters who may have been around, any corporate partners that you feel like you can go to with this, it’s a nice way of engaging them and also to start testing out to see what it is you’re looking to achieve.

Supporters are also really, really important. They are going to be key ambassadors for you, as I said, you’ve really got to try and get to know them. Service users at the same time, and volunteers, these are people who should have had a positive experience from working with you. I’d highly recommend looking at opportunities to see how you can engage your volunteers, and just service users, more in the work that you do. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t think this is something that a lot of charities do enough, I don’t think we do either, but I think if there is the time to do it, and there’s ways of having other staff who are actual service providers, to get them involved in trying to understand for the people try to help, I think you’ll find it really useful.

Obviously, quotes, short films on iPhones, the simple stuff, it all works really well. I’d also really look to see what the success stories have been in the past. You may be the first fundraiser, but where did the income come from before? At some point, someone else would have been putting on events for you. For example, when I started at Wimbledon Guild, we were linked with a local running club, about three years prior to me starting. People used to run locally and they’d offer a donation, obviously the donation would come to us.

Now, everyone had moved on from the time that this used to happen, so I found it by accident. I was going through an old stack of papers and found an old donation letter. I did a bit of inquiring internally, no one really knew anything about it. So I called up the chair of the club and said, “Look, will it be possible to talk about where we are now, what we’re doing.” He agreed. We went down there, we had a bit of a conversation, and it was clear the enthusiasm on both sides have taken a bit of slowing, and we needed to build up that relationship. We started doing that, and over the years, we’ve actually become one of their chosen charities, which is, again, it’s a success story.

I can give you a lot that weren’t successful. However, it’s putting the time in to look at these because when you start a new charity, the chances are that you are going to be starting with a blank sheet of paper. It’s much easier to start building up the relationships with all donors, if you possibly can.

One of the things which I think is very helpful is that when you start reigniting old relationships again, trustees notice it, or committee members notice it. And actually, when I’m going into a committee meeting and I’m saying, “I want to get a portion of money to do a direct mail campaign,” for example, they’re not going to give it to me straight off the bat. They going to want to see that I’ve put the effort in to see if I can bring in stuff without spending lots and lots of money. One of the things we did, when I started, was we did offer a direct mail campaign. We got some help with it. It was pretty cheap. We got an average response. It was fine, the trustees were okay with it.

Then, four months later, COVID happened. We did another mailing, we did everything ourselves in house. We took all the learnings from that first mailing, a low budget at £5000, we’ve brought in about £24,000. It’s been hugely successful for us. As you can imagine, direct mail is still really popular around here at the moment. It’s building up your credibility internally, before you can start going to committee and trustees and start asking for bigger money. I think it’s really important to look at what those success stories can be in the past.

Another thing which I think is really important is keeping staff updated. We’ve talked about supporters, we’ve talked about service users and volunteers. The staff are complete ambassadors for the work because they work with you. I’m working at a smaller charity, this can actually be done much easier because you can just call people up. You can organize meetings, which doesn’t mean that 300 people need to attend. We do regular updates for our staff on the different work that we’re doing.

To give you an example of the success of how this worked was, there was a local trust who I’d been made aware of, and I cold approached them. After a couple of days, I got a response agreeing to meet. And there was me thinking, well, my outreach ability is top notch, look at me, this is great. But actually what had happened was a member of our staff had attended a fundraising update, they’d gone home, had dinner with their partner, talked about his day. She went off to a yoga class a couple of days later, she was talking to a friend there who happened to work in the local trust. The contact of the trust actually admitted in the meeting when she met me that she actually deleted my email without properly reading it. She didn’t think we were a good fit, but the staff team member had encouraged her to get in touch with us and find out more, so she did. We got the meeting with the trust, and six months down the later, we got a reasonable sized donation for our COVID appeal.

It’s examples like that, when you just don’t know how far what you’re saying is going to get you. I think the most important thing that really is to take people on that journey, when you are looking at setting up fundraising, and to get people excited about it, because I think you’re going to find it’s going to make your life a lot easier.

Rob:

Yeah. If ever you feel, or give the impression to others, that it’s just you, the fundraiser, and the other people are behind another wall doing comms or doing delivery or whatever, it’s always going to be an uphill struggle. The more you can take an interest in other people in the charity and what they’re doing, and genuinely care, and then that increases the chances that they might want to find out about fundraising and what you’re trying to achieve. So you’re multiplying the chances that people will have good ideas, or they will be talking to someone they know at a party, or a virtual party, and the opportunities, to spot these opportunities and links, is increasing.

Mark:

Absolutely, and I could probably tell you three people, that work in the charity the I do, who are better fundraisers than I am, purely because of their natural ability to speak to people, build up local relationships. If they have the tools, then they can just make your life easier, and you’ve just got a fleet of fundraisers rather than just one or two of you.

Rob:

Fantastic. In terms of developing the strategy in a large organization, the fundraising portfolio is likely to cover most of the obvious areas, but in a small organization, you might have to be really thoughtful and decisive about prioritizing what kind of fundraising are we going to do, and therefore, what kind of fundraising are we going to say no to, it’s not for us to be able to be in the corporate space, or doing those events, or whatever. Do you have any tips on how to get clarity on what we will do, and crucially, say no to the next big thing?

Mark:

Yeah. Actually, I would say, when you all doing this, I’d make it clear to trustees that this sort of thing takes time. It’s not something that’s going to suddenly happen overnight. You’ve also got to remember that at some point you will either have a trustee or a committee member saying to you, “Let’s just get a big legacy, or give Richard Branson a call.” It’s about starting that journey with them and explaining things as you go along. I would say, have a look at what’s worked well in the past, not just for you, but for other charities who are similar.

Also, a lot of this depends on budgets. What sort of budgets have been allocated for you in your first year as a fundraiser? If you have seen small events have been working well, or there was a big event they used to do, which they cut, can you do smaller versions of it? All the elements of your services which corporate support might really work. The ideal scenario, I think, possibly would be to put all the income streams on a piece of paper, and start writing next door to them where you think funding may come for each of those.

Again, this is something which you can talk through with your committee, because legacies is a prime example. You could spend three months putting together a legacy campaign, to send it out and you’re not going to see any fruit from it for 10 years. So it’s looking at the short term game, and then longer term game, and just seeing which one fits in the middle. It’s not easy, but it will become clearer as time goes on.

Rob:

I just want, again, to touch on something you said earlier, which was the… Any ideas about how to help a board, which is understandably cautious, be willing to take a risk and find some investment in something that will help fundraising? You’ve given a couple of ideas on that already, but anything else you’ve found can help?

Mark:

I think individual giving is, in the last two organizations where I worked, individual giving is one of those things which is not cheap, but the overarching return of that, so years down the line, can be really beneficial. When I was at the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, actually, I had a massive outreach struggle, because we had an agency who came in and basically said, “Unless you give me £75,000, there’s no point in you doing individual giving.” Which, as you can imagine, set my boss under the table. However, it was by getting the right information, so what is it that other charities are doing, and what are the smaller scale activities? Can you do a small scale, cold, DM campaign, which would cost you 10 grand, whatever it is. However, by testing out the waters with that, is there potential for you to grow that even further?

The DM stuff that we’ve done here with Wimbledon Guild has been a really similar exercise. I think, with trustees, it comes back to being honest with them. It’s talking it through and telling them what the hellish stories are, and then giving them a solution to what you think is going to be better. If you want individual supporters for your organization, you’re going to have to look at some of these different income streams, because you’re looking at the longevity of the charity, not just in the short term.

Rob:

That makes sense. And if the last of these four key ideas was to do with communication and engagement, do you have any thoughts about what that’s like in the context of a small charity?

Mark:

I think when you look at communications in a charity, the chances are either, make best friends with the comms team because they’re going to pay to be able to get your fundraising stories out there, or the chances are you will also be that comms person as well. It’s the simple things to look at and see what you can do.

What are the internal communication channels that you have? Are they working? What news set is going out? How often are they going out? Is there interesting content in them? First of all, take an evaluation to see what actually is going out, initially. Social media is a classic one. I highly recommend, if you are on your own, if you’ve got social media challenges, because everyone thinks that social media potentially could be the answer to everything, and see if you can get someone to help analyze your social media activity.

Sometimes for charities, from my experience, they generally don’t have the luxury of thousands of followers, but what they do potentially have is a core group of interested and engaged people. So, over the last six months, we’ve spent some time looking at what posts work, and what ones engage our followers, and what don’t. COVID’s been really interesting in that respect because we’ve put up a load of different stuff, and different stories, by the way, of what we’re doing, and the different services that we are really trying to concentrate on, messaging to those posts that work well, hopefully targeting those people we want. But to have someone actually sit down and analyze your social media, I think, it’s something which should be really useful. How do you know? Because if you are putting stuff out there, the chance are, there are some places where you’re going to get less engagement, and then sometimes, if it’s getting less engagement, Facebook won’t give it to more people.

You really want to try and make it really, really condensed. The argument about whether Facebook actually shows it to everyone, or just some people, is a great one, internally, as well, because sometimes other departments can think that because it’s on Facebook everyone else sees it, and that’s just not the case. I think one of the things that we’ve looked at is when you look at PR opportunity, I do think there’s merit as a small charity to, yes, you are talking about fundraising, but you can’t always talk about fundraising all the time. So, looking at what are those PR opportunities of how to get the actual message about what your services are, who are the people you’re trying to reach, and what message do you want to get across? Because in the long run, if you’ve got a nice campaign which focuses very much on the different services you’re doing, the chances are people are going to react to that, and then you could do a fundraising ask down the line, it’s very specific around PR.

At the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, we did a PR campaign to highlight our work. Obviously, we’re a charity that supports doctors, so did a campaign that doctors stressed. We targeted medical and trade press, national press, high-profile medics with Twitter followers, and also we did a few key advert opportunities. We were delighted with the response we got, we got loads of great coverage. It was right in the middle of the doctors’ strike, so it was really front of mind, however, when we looked at the verbatim feedback that came back afterwards, it was clearly that it was the direct route to market adverts and publications that got us the best response, rather than actually the national press and regional press. I’m sure it’s very helpful. It’s just, it’s really, when you are looking at PR things, I’d really think about it, because it’s going to save you money, which of those areas that you think are going to be most beneficial for you.

I think also, one of the weirdest things for us, at the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, was actually, one of the biggest tools for us was, a few months after our PR campaign, we got mentioned in Holby City, which I didn’t even have to pay for that, but that’s weird, they got a load attention for us. I think if I was going to do it again, in this environment, obviously that was prior COVID, I’d seriously consider advertising routes to coincide alongside any press release.

I think press releases at the moment, you need to make it fun because there’s a lot of misery out there at the moment. Prices for advertising are likely to be heavily discounted due to COVID, I think. A couple of avenues worth exploring, look online ads. Facebook ads can be extremely targeted, and actually at the moment they’re cheaper because there is less people advertising. But also, if it’s a local charity, I’d have a look at things like transport ads. Normally, they’re quite expensive, but if you look out the window and you see buses going down the high street, or bus sides and bus backs, are advertising films which were released in January and February, because there is no further adverts there. Just think creatively, and think about what are those things that might actually work out to be the best, you get the best return for the money that you have.

Rob:

In terms of PR and comms, probably it’s not just 80/20, it’s probably 95/5. Certain things are going to work way better than others, probably, and if you’re not an expert in being able to analyze those particular ways of advertising all those channels, do whatever you can to find someone who can help you analyze it and look at it. Because getting a better strategy to push harder on these two things, rather than to do everything in a lukewarm way, it could absolutely make all the difference between cutting through and everyone working hard and then getting frustrated that no one’s paying attention.

Mark:

Yeah. I think sometimes the sentence can be, “We just need more people to find out about us.” It’s to really dig deep in that, and to say, “But, who are those individuals, and what are we trying to achieve by doing this?” And to start understanding, you are going to make mistakes, it’s just part of life. It’s not get yourself down-hearted about it. You look at it and say, “Great, well that didn’t work, but I can take this to the next round that I do later on.”

Rob:

That makes absolute sense. So Mark, thank you ever so much, you’ve taken us through full clear sections that are clearly not easy for the leader of fundraising in a small charity to necessarily do well, but you’ve taken us through some clear steps that you’ve learned can help, some tactics that can help, and some examples of how that’s worked out.

I really appreciate your time and your honesty sharing those ideas. Mark Williams, until next time, thank you ever so much.

There you go. I hope you found Mark’s insights and examples were helpful. You can find a summary of the key ideas we discussed in the episode notes on the blog and podcast section of my website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

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If you want to get in touch, we’d love to hear from you. Mark and I are both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. I’m @woods_rob. Finally, thank you so much for listening today, and until the next time, good luck with all your efforts to make a positive difference.