Episode 46: Harnessing the power of incremental gains with Lucy Read

Episode Notes

It’s human nature to get tempted to focus too much attention on the big shiny prize, such as the game-changing major gift. But after interviewing very successful fundraisers for nearly two decades, I’ve found these wonderful results rarely come from one extraordinary move or piece of good fortune.

Rather, they are the result of the discipline to do lots of relatively ordinary things (that most people don’t do), day in, day out. Beware, these activities rarely get attention at conferences as they don’t seem exciting.

But how do you stop yourself getting distracted by the shiny prize? In this episode I talk to a fabulous fundraiser named Lucy Read from International Animal Rescue, who has made it her habit every day for the last 12 months to focus on the small things she can do each day to achieve incremental gains. Here she shares her simple, powerful system.

If you enjoy it, remember to subscribe to the podcast today.

If you want to get in touch or share this episode – THANK YOU VERY MUCH! – we’d love to hear from you. We’re both on linked in, on twitter I’m @woods_rob and you can find lots more free resources, as well as details of our training courses, here on my website.

Further Resources

How to make your fundraising results compound.

If you’d like to read more about how to harness the power of incremental gains to increase fundraising income through the multiplier effect, do check out my blog by following this link.

Free E-book. If you’d like to know 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

‘I’ve found wonderful fundraising results rarely come from one extraordinary move or piece of good fortune. Instead, they are usually the result of positive habits, that is, doing lots of ordinary things, day in, day out.’

Rob Woods

Transcript of Episode 46

Rob:

Hello, and welcome to Episode 46 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. My name’s Rob Woods, and this is the show for any fundraiser who wants ideas and inspiration to help you raise more money, enjoy your job and make a bigger difference, especially during the pandemic.

And in today’s interview, I’m talking to a fabulous fundraiser named Lucy Read from a charity called International Animal Rescue, and she’s achieved some wonderful results in the last 12 months, by quite deliberately, focusing on the small things that she can do each day. In this conversation, Lucy explains how focusing her energy on these small things, these incremental gains has actually led to a big impact on both her morale and on her results. Although Lucy originally decided to try this approach following a talk I gave a year ago on the subject, I found our conversation actually re-inspired me with the power of the concept. And I hope you find it as helpful as I did.

Lucy Read, how are you?

Lucy:

I’m very well, thank you. How are you doing?

Rob:

I’m really well, thank you. I’ve been looking forward to our conversation because you and I had a chat a couple of weeks ago, because you had mentioned that you came on a course or you went to an open course I did about a year ago. And you mentioned that some of the ideas had particularly helped you. And I think our listeners will find some of those things you’ve been doing quite interesting, but also just practical. But just before we do that, I need to get the details right. So you’re the senior fundraising officer and the charity you work for is International Animal Rescue. Is that right?

Lucy:

That’s right. Yes, IAR for short. International Animal Rescue.

Rob:

And just a bit of context. How long have you worked for charities?

Lucy:

Pretty much since I graduated, I started volunteering. I did a few internships, so near about 10 years now. And I’ve been working for environmentally-focused animal charities for about seven years. So yeah, that’s kind of my area of expertise as it were.

Rob:

Great. Thank you. And I want to jump in then to the subject we talked about on the phone the other day, which was you came on this course I did about a year ago. I think, yeah, it was the autumn of 2019, if I remember rightly. And I was talking about one of my favourite subjects, which is don’t get seduced and tempted to aim for a big result, like a big major gift or the biggest trust gift, to focus on the £10,000, but to aim for small wins, the idea of looking for incremental gains, because if you do enough of them, they compound and they take you to a better place. And so I did I think an hour long talk on that. And you mentioned to me just recently that you found that idea quite helpful.

Lucy:

Yes. That is exactly it. So I think I could speak on behalf of a lot of fundraisers when we do become fixated on this end goal, exactly what you were saying. And it’s difficult to have a vision or a strategy on how to get there because we have targets to meet, we have events to plan. And at this time about a year ago, as you said, I was feeling quite frazzled and overwhelmed and corporate partnership pictures weren’t coming off and trust and foundation applications weren’t working. I was sending them out and getting nothing back. And to be honest, yeah, I was just feeling just a bit disheartened by it all.

So coming to your event and it was something that just really resonated with me when you broke it down and you said, “Well, actually it’s this idea of incremental gains and small moments of positiveness, I guess, that we do get every day, but we just don’t recognize it. It’s that building up over a longer period of time that allows you to visualize the end goal more.” So it really was as simple as that, and I just kind of left thinking, “I’m going to try that. I’m definitely going to try this.”

So yeah, then pretty much the next day I got into the office and I set up a little table, my Word document, and I thought, “Right, I’m just going to do it for a couple of days. See if it makes me feel a little bit more focused, a little bit more aware of what I do every day.” And so I put my output. So it would be every day, send a hand written letter or jotted that email down or send that application off again. And at the end of the day, I would just have a look at what gains I’d achieved that day. Even something as small as someone rang up and said, they liked the letter I sent them because it had an additional little note and a personalized message. And literally, I’ve been doing that for the last 12 months, every single working day. And it’s just proved incredibly beneficial.

Rob:

Yeah. So congratulations, Lucy for… I mean, lots of us go on a course or listen to a talk or something and we get a good idea and I just know how with the best will in the world, how easy it can be to sort of leave that good idea in the notebook and then just feel a bit guilty about it and never quite get around to it. So anyway, for being someone who’s determined to get a good idea and at least try it, not to commit for a year, but just try it out and see if it helps. I love that, but also, I just think it’s really interesting how…

Actually, not to depress, but I think the dice are loaded against us in a way that ordinarily our thinking does get skewed to want to leap ahead to the prize of winning the partnership or getting the large gift or whatever, rather than what small thing could I do today that takes me a step closer to it. And I think, even if we’re quite good at that, the truth is that in many organizations, our colleagues, or even the way our targets are set, they might be skewed to measuring the wrong thing. Actually it’s meant to be motivating, “Oh, look at the wonderful prize. Let’s get excited about that.” In practice, it causes me to get depressed on a wet Tuesday and de-value some things I could do today. And I know you’ve already talked about this a little, but I just wonder if you’d reflect more on your opinion on how hard it can be.

Lucy:

Yeah. And that’s entirely why it resonated so much with me is because I just had this huge, obviously financial amount that I had to get that we all fundraisers have to achieve. And you’re so fixated on that, what that would do for the charity. Obviously, you have to keep working and raising awareness and raising funds because that’s where you see the outcome and the impact of the donation. But to get there is we don’t think about those steps. And actually it is those steps that are absolutely crucially important.

And also, we often place so much emphasis on that final goal and, “Oh my God, we’re done. We did it. Yay!” And then cave right back to it. It’s kind of, yeah, but that’s been the last 12 months of plugging away, of picking up the phone, of making those meetings. And now having doing what I do, even if it’s just for me on a personal level, on a Friday afternoon, I can look back and think, “Yep, I’ve achieved that. Wasn’t a great week, but next week will be better because on Monday afternoon I had that lovely call.” And that’s pretty much pushed me through for the week and made me recognize why I’m here and why I’m doing what I do.

Rob:

Yes. It’s so interesting the way you say that because so many of the books that are written and presentations that get given at conferences or virtual conferences now, I don’t think the people who are getting good results are intending to mislead anyone, but it’s just so much easier and more interesting seeming to talk about the fancy bit, what we did on the pitch day or something that seems like the big move that got you, your new job or whatever. It seems to be the more interesting bit. And I think as humans and as organizations, we tend to put more weight than is necessarily fair on just one or two bits of a success story. And almost always, the most important ingredient was the hard work of doing day in, day out, the unglamorous of an unsexy things, of making three calls each morning, or finding five minutes to write down a story when you hear it. No one’s kind of talking about that when they win an award, or very rarely do they.

I’ve read various books, which make this clear point to how easy it can be for us to be seduced by the big move or this notion of talent, when actually almost always a crucial element of the success stories, which we may find inspiring was the day in, day out, smaller seeming things that you’ve done really well in the last 12 months to do more of.

Lucy:

Exactly. And that’s so, so true I think for many different industries and walks of life. It’s just important to know, just to make a mental note or even better, obviously what I’ve been doing is just jotting it down. And I’m just having a quick look back now at some of my examples or things that I would have written as a gain. And it’s something even as small as talking to a team member who has some great feedback about something or getting an article piece in a magazine. And in the moment you think, “Well, what relevance has that got? And what impact is that really having?” But over time, when you look back, you think, “If it wasn’t for that, actually, and if I didn’t mention that, we probably wouldn’t have got that piece on the radio.”

And the nurturing of the relationships as well. So if I have been speaking with a donor over a couple of months and I’ll jot down something that might be going on with them at the moment, like they welcomed a new baby into the family, or they’ve had a lovely holiday. And I’ll reference that because I’ll think, “They did that in March. I wonder how things are now.” So on a practical level, that really helps as well because it allows you just to build that trust and transparency in donors and see them for the people that they are, because they are absolutely everything to us as a charity. And when you pick up the phone and you write them a letter, they want to feel connected with you. And again, it just allows me to reference back to that, which has been another wonderful, positive that I didn’t think about to start.

Rob:

Yeah. So one of the things I’m picking up is that you sense that this, and before you mentioned to me a couple of the results where it’s helped your fundraising and the things overall as fundraisers we’re likely to be measured on. But I’m sensing almost before that and in a way, every bit is important is we focus on what we feel and since doing this quite deliberate practice of knowing what your outputs are, what you’re doing, and then looking for and noticing whether you get gains or not, it’s helped your own morale at the end of a day or at the end of a week, because you’re less likely to discount the value of this good stuff, because like others, you’re waiting for the big prize, you’re more like to value the working in this way. And so you might switch off your computer a little more fulfilled at the end of your day than if you weren’t quite deliberately focusing your attention in this way.

Lucy:

100%. definitely. Definitely. I might’ve got a donation come in, but I didn’t write it down because it didn’t feel like it warranted that at the time, because I was so fixated on another project or another end goal. So it just grounds you. And I think the great thing about it is that it’s accessible to everybody. If you’re a leader or if you’re a junior, if you’re part of a team, or if you work independently, it’s something that everybody can do in their day-to-day working life. Even if it’s just a couple of things per week or one thing a week, yeah, shutting it down at the end of the week on a Friday, just makes you feel fulfilled and motivated and ready to go again on Monday. And I’m not saying every week is positive because it’s definitely not, but they’re also good to look back on because we can’t innovate. Innovation isn’t there if we don’t fail. So I’ve noticed that as well, quite a bit on my points as well.

Rob:

So that’s a crucial thing, isn’t it? It makes you more likely to learn whatever lesson can be taken, because some of these actions may not have led to a gain. It might’ve led to something not working. And actually it’s not worth doing this activity again. Or if I do, I should change it. This act of reflecting helps you with keep course-correcting over time.

Lucy:

Exactly that, and I’ve noticed patterns and trends. And I think, “I seem to be doing this a lot in my outputs over the couple of weeks, but nothing’s coming back now. I should probably change tack a bit.” So then I would think, “Okay, what’s working here?” I’m just going to think doing these little phone calls or writing down an extra thing or referencing a TV program we might’ve been on, on somebody who I know loves that area of our work. Those are the things that I focus on now, rather than the big kind of energy using ones that don’t really bring anything back, which I’ve noticed as well.

Rob:

Yeah. And when we spoke before you mentioned a couple of stories, which stood out to me and you sensed that your approach, this process helped you be more likely and it did lead to better results. And I think one of them was after a trip you’d been on.

Lucy:

Yeah. So last year I was fortunate enough to go on a trip to Armenia to visit our bear sanctuary out there where we rescue and release bears back into the wild. And I was lucky enough to go on an actual bear rescue and it was incredible on so many levels. But also, when I came back and I thought, “How can I use this as a catalyst really, or a motivation of speaking to donors and bringing them into the field,” because a lot of what we do can feel quite disconnected. We can’t bring our funders straight into what we do. And I thought, well, I always find storytelling so impactful on so many levels. So I thought I’ll just tell them my story.

So I picked up the phone and I would call a couple of our donors who I absolutely know absolutely love what we do in Armenia, but wouldn’t travel there or wouldn’t obviously have the means to go and visit. So I rang them and I explained what I’d been doing. And everything that was in involved in that rescue from how I felt to what must have been going through the bear’s head for all this is happening. And then to the moment that they got to the sanctuary and that incredible positive, or just wonderful moment of this is safe for them now, this is where there’ll be. And yeah, that’s just been incredible because over time people have referenced that, and I’ve followed up with a letter to say, “I called you earlier in June, and we had a chat about Max, the bear, and I just wanted to let you know that he’s doing really well,” and all these other reasons. So yeah, that is a really nice glue between the project and our donors is essentially me telling a story.

Rob:

And so I sense that with this approach of just each day, what could I do to connect with supporters, you did that the first time, your system made it really clear that there was a gain, there was a small, positive thing coming out of it. So it helped you follow through and make time for that activity, which many fundraisers would normally feel was urgent, but it helped you see the importance of it. So you kept going with the tactic that was working.

Lucy:

Yes. Yeah, exactly. I would just keep, I think this is definitely working. I can see this, people are referencing back to this and they’re sending me little notes and wanting to check up. And also, it makes it just all more personal, which I know that donors and funders of all different backgrounds and levels want. They just want to feel connected to what we do. And that was a lovely way to do that. And obviously I can’t jet set around, definitely not this year, but around the world and visiting our different projects. But again, it just starts the conversation. It just brings the person into the story and into what we’re doing. And yeah, it’s been a great advantage to my role.

Rob:

Yeah. Really well done for doing that, because I think it is so easy, even if not from a picture, even just from an hour, some Zoom thing with someone on the frontline of our cause. It’s the easiest thing in the world to get some lift from it. And then just go straight back to the emails. Whereas actually, often there was something, some story, some idea, some metaphor, some insight we get, if we can hear from our frontline. If only we pause and think, “Now, how could I share that on,” that could make all the difference. So really well done for doing that.

And if there was, I mean, we haven’t got time to go example after example, but if there were one other little for instance that occurs to you where you’ve sensed, “Ah, it’s obviously in a way, but because of this process, it helped me do more of this thing and that really did help results.”

Hey, it’s Rob. And I just wanted to jump in really quickly to let you know about our most popular training day for fundraising teams, which is called Storytelling and Influence. And the reason we’re so excited is that this year we’ve been discovering, it’s working as well as ever when delivered over Zoom, just like it did for the years and years that we’ve delivered it as a classroom training session for fundraising teams. And if you were able to attend our Breakfast Club for Fundraising Leaders just the other day, then you would have heard Max from a homelessness charity talking about how the techniques that his team learned on this course were one of the factors that helped them to win a wonderful partnership worth more than £250,000, literally a couple of months ago.

So if you’re the leader of a fundraising team and you’d like your colleagues to have extra skill and confidence, to be more interesting, more inspiring, more able to help donors connect to what they really care about to do with your cause when they talk to your supporters or when they’re writing to your supporters, then this course we teach, Storytelling and Influence is the one that gets results. If you’re at all curious, you can find out more information on my website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services. Brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services, there’s some information there. Or if you’d just like to go to the website and get in touch with me to set up a chat, you can do that, and we would love to hear from you.

For now though, I want to get straight back to the interview with Lucy, where she’s going to give another example of how her incremental gains approach helped her improve her results.

Lucy:

Yeah, I think, again, just referencing back to the little moments of sharing, I guess. And there was a particular funder who really liked a project area, but for one reason or another, we had maybe with communication or busy-ness as I’m sure everybody feels from time to time, they had drifted, but I knew that they really loved our project, but we just weren’t conveying stuff clearly enough, or we weren’t connecting as much as they probably would have liked. And again, if I hadn’t got something written down, I might not have realized this for longer. And I just thought, “What can I do to bring them back in?”

And over time, again, I would just pick up the phone or I would send them a letter referencing something that we’re working on. I’d say, “I know you’ve funded this in the past. This is obviously what we’re doing.” And even things that you wouldn’t necessarily think that a donor would be interested in, I can’t even think of an example, but like an article or something you think, “This isn’t going to bring in any money for us, but I just want them to be aware that I’m thinking and I’m bringing them into this project.” And over time they’ve sent more questions back. So I’m like, “Great, they’re interested in this. They really want to know more.” And thankfully now their donation kind of dropped to about £7,000 and now it’s up to near about £30,000 again.

Rob:

Wow.

Lucy:

So that’s been probably one of the biggest highlights, because I’ve recognized that I’ve just stopped and I’ve listened and I’ve thought, “What is it that they want?” And I’ve continued to dig away and thankfully they’re entirely back on board now.

Rob:

Congratulations, that’s a really fabulous turnaround. And it reminds me many years ago as a brilliant fundraiser, I had the good fortune to interview who was raising probably more high-value income than anyone else in the children’s charity I worked with at the time. And when I asked her what her secret was, she said, “Well, I’m more donor-focused than most people.” And I said, “Well, I’m quite donor-focused as well.” She said, “I know you are, but there’s a steely discipline to my donor focus, Rob.” When she said the word steely and discipline, I knew that she was doing something different to what I was doing.

And I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, my mentor two decades ago said, ‘Here’s the key that will really help you with work-life balance and results.’ She said, ‘In the morning, ask yourself, what are three things I could do to deepen relationships with our supporters?’ And part two is do those things before you get embroiled in internal spreadsheets. And now, anything internal focusing, what can I do to in some way deeper a connection with our existing or potential supporters? Then do those.’ And she said, ‘Before you even turn your emails on, or certainly before you get sucked into any internal meetings or spreadsheets.'”

And I know that for the listeners listening, that might seem just wildly impractical and your manager might be right royally annoyed at you if you weren’t prioritizing their spreadsheet. However, even if you can’t do it every day and you miss on Wednesday and Friday, you still are going to end up doing more of these small moves, which just deepen, deepen, deepen and help supporters feel more connected to why they care. And the result is that if, and when it’s appropriate to ask that trust or that donor or that company, or whoever for a further gift, the fundraiser who was proactively doing these small moves, like you did with this example, just that extra little, “I saw this and thought of you,” or a little quote or a little message, a little thank you from the chief exec, whatever it might be, the fundraiser who has done that trick and made time for those not urgent seeming, but important things, well, that’s why she ended up raising more money than most other people I’ve ever interviewed, because she was making time internally for those donor-focused things.

Does that resonate with you to an extent that your technique has helped you to work more in that way than one normally would?

Lucy:

Yes. That’s interesting, actually, really interesting. As you were saying that, you said about that she’s placing… what do we place importance on? And I think ultimately, obviously as a fundraiser, we know what the important things are, is raising funds, but how do we get there? And even if you have a day where all you’ve done for the whole afternoon is sharing an article or bringing someone in to picking up the phone and just bringing them into something kind of random but you know that they’re interested in it. Or just writing out letters that’s going to take an hour, but one person might read that letter, just one out of the 10 and they’ll think, “Gosh, she’s actually written this. And she’s mentioned that thing that we talked about.”

They are the important steps to the overall goal. And it’s just about being honest, trustworthy, open, and personal with your donors. And yeah, I really liked the ethos that you’ve shared there. Yeah, I would just encourage people just to give it a go, just to try. Don’t be super organized because we’re all different, but just type down maybe at the end of the day, just what you’ve done and whether there’s some little gains in there, because there’ll be more than you think.

Rob:

One reason I was especially happy to talk to you and hear your story was your system is really relatively simple. I mean, one still needs the discipline to choose to do it. You mentioned it at the beginning of the interview, but at its simplest, what has your practice been? Basically before we finish, I want listeners to be able to just… They might not do exactly the same as you, but at its simplest, how have you done this?

Lucy:

So literally, I mean, I’m all for Excel. I use a Word Document and I just have my Monday to Friday, two rows, five columns. And I just have my outputs at the top and my gains at the bottom. Throughout the day, I’ll just jot down… I don’t know. Hang on, I’ve got one. I’ve got it right in front of me now. Yes, I sent some thank you emails to some donations we had over the weekend, kind of got on it quickly. Didn’t leave it till Friday. Want to speak to people early on because they’re obviously really into what we did over the weekend. And then I’m just looking there a gain that I said, I just listened to something inspiring or motivational this morning. But that was a gain for me because it was the start of the week. And it just make me feel better about what I had achieved or what I hadn’t achieved that day. And then yeah, just [crosstalk 00:27:33]-

Rob:

And just to get the detail. So you list the things you’re doing. Then at the end of the day, you note whether any of those outputs you did, did or didn’t bring a particular gain. And surprisingly often you’ll notice there is a gain or sometimes there’s a learning point, but you review at the end of each day. And then at the end of the week, you’ve got a record. Is that broadly it?

Lucy:

Yeah, pretty much. Yep. So sometimes a gain on a Monday will be something that I did last Wednesday. If that makes sense. So I’ll think, “That letter I sent off, cool, got a response back, really pleased with that.” Or it might be something completely unrelated, but I saw something today and I loved it, so jotted it down. But yeah, that’s all it is. And then usually when I start the next week, I can reference back as well and think, “Oh, I asked them about this thing on Tuesday. I’m just going to follow up because it’s been a week.” Sometimes it brings more of a lack of practical, structured mindset to the week as well, as well as just recognizing the good things that have happened that day.

Rob:

I love it. I really love it. Thank you so much. And thank you for helping just take me through the baby steps of exactly how you do it because that level of practical detail is really helpful to me. And it may be that our listeners don’t do it exactly the same way as you. Maybe they’ll just take the broad philosophical approach that we’ve talked about, of how one benefits both in results and in morale from quite deliberately noticing and doing small things, rather than getting tempted to long for a big move that rarely comes.

Lucy:

Yes. Yeah. Just bring it back. Ground yourself, bring it back, look at, break it down, put it all into perspective, and just recognize that everything you do every day is important. And these are the things that add up. So yeah, it just makes you visualize things a little bit more clearly and makes you realize that we’re all doing a great job. Even though it doesn’t feel like it sometimes on a wet Tuesday, we’re doing a great job.

Rob:

Yeah. Let’s finish in a minute, but one of the other bits I just want to warn the listener about is quite often you could be doing the right thing three days running and suddenly the gains are not appearing. And that’s the point at which many of us give up. If you Google it or study interesting books… A brilliant book I would most recommend is called The Compound Effect, but there’s a clear graph when people study the development of results or development of a skill in which to start with for the first two or three days, or sometimes two or three weeks in a big project, the line of gain is hardly moving. It might just go up just a tiny fraction over those early days.

That’s the time most people give up. That’s the time to, as Lucy’s been doing, notice whatever you’re getting from the process, even if it’s not yet the money, because that helps you hang in there so that if you’re just that bit more patient than the 90% of people, sooner or later you get a mini breakthrough or even a large breakthrough. And then the line really does start to go up and you overcome the plateau effect.

So my main message as we near the end of this interview is for people to… If you’re doing the wrong things, learn from it and stop doing it, do something else. Hopefully you’ll be able to notice the difference. But if you sense all things being equal, you’re doing the right kinds of activities that build relationship with your donors, for instance, then the universe rewards you for being one of the ones that hang in there longer. And then you really do start to get the gains coming back.

Lucy, you’ve been so generous with your time. I’m really grateful. And I’ve become re-energized by this concept just from talking to you. So thank you for that. And thank you for sharing your ideas on the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast.

Lucy:

Not at all.

Rob:

Lucy Reed, best of luck with your fundraising. I look forward to staying in touch, but for now, thank you so much. And goodbye.

Lucy:

Thanks, Rob.

Rob:

So I hope you found these ideas helpful. If you’d like to see a full transcript and a summary of the episode, you can find those on the blog and podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk. And if you’d like some more ideas to help you succeed during the pandemic, then please do check out my e-book, Power Through the Pandemic, which gives seven key strategies to help you raise more money, even now through major donors, corporate partnerships and trusts. You can download it for free from brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power. That’s brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power.

And if you want to get in touch or spread the word to your colleagues or your followers in other charities about this episode, thank you so much for your help. And Lucy and I would love to hear what you think about these ideas. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. I’m @woods_rob.

Lastly, thank you so much for listening today. If you found it helpful, please do remember to subscribe to the podcast now so you don’t miss out on all the other sessions that we’ve got planned. And I wish you the very best of luck focusing today on what you can do, however small that will contribute to the big results that you’re determined to achieve for your charity. Goodbye.