How to help supporter groups maximise their potential

Together with a host of other fundraising ‘bright spots’, Dan McNally is speaking at Bright Spot LIVE, an inspirational one day event exclusively for members of the Bright Spot Members Club. If you are curious about joining the club, you can request a free one month trial by emailing Rob and Katie at

One major challenge that most community / major donor / corporate fundraisers need to solve if they are to be extremely successful is that of getting more face to face conversations with their key type of supporter.

Most fundraisers agree that increasing the number of these meetings with the right people can only help drive up your overall fundraising income.

In a previous blog, I wrote about the fantastic progress in results and morale achieved by Dan McNally and his colleagues at British Heart Foundation (BHF). How did they do it?  For one month, they played Cuppa and Conversation Bingo, a game they created to help them get out to meet more supporters. In that month alone it led to four charity of the year partnerships, as well as numerous other helpful fundraising relationships.

Click here if you’d like to read more about how Cuppa and Conversation Bingo worked.

In today’s blog, I’d like to share ideas about a different challenge, that is, how to help volunteer supporters diversify their fundraising activity. Inevitably many of the activities that volunteer fundraisers do for your charity will fit into certain predictable categories, such as bake sales, bucket collections and asking rotary clubs and other associations for help. There are good reasons why these and other classic income streams remain a popular and important element of the community fundraising mix. But there are several down-sides to a charity relying too heavily on a handful of classic activities and sources:

  • Uninspired audiences – a reason these ideas can underperform is the audience has seen / done them before
  • Competition – lots of other charities are approaching the same handful of groups and associations
  • High effort / low return – Some of these activities are muchharder work than things your supporters could be doing to raise funds
  • Volunteers turnover – Because of how time-consuming and energy-sapping some activities can be, turnover of volunteers increases. Nowadays many volunteers are time-poor compared to how things used to be.


A great solution to this lack of diversity is to help your supporters consider different options and to think more creatively about the breadth of their networks. But a key reason this may not happen in practice is that many supporters of charities, however strongly motivated to help and even make requests on behalf of the charity, do not realise how many interesting people they already know who might want to help.

How is the British Heart Foundation solving this problem?

By asking better questions, or rather, by creating a tool which enables volunteer supporter groups to ask themselves better questions.

Dan and his colleagues have created another bingo card, this time designed for BHF volunteer fundraising groups to use when brainstorming fundraising ideas. Each of the 25 squares on the grid includes a question to prompt ideas about the groups’ contacts in their community. These include obvious things like ‘who do you know in a golf club / rotary type club, etc, that might want to support our cause?’

But the great power of this tool stems from the breadth of the questions / conversation topics it prompts in the group of volunteers who use it. These include ‘Who do you know who…

  • Helps run a local newspaper?
  • Helps run the local fireworks night?
  • Has a lovely garden and might consider doing an open garden day?
  • Runs a choir?
  • Anyone who works for any of the following 10 companies… (Dan and his colleagues use the Dream 10 Strategy for corporate fundraising success that we teach on our Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme.)

The group and their Fundraising Manager all collectively play this game as an ice breaker during a Group meeting. When choosing which squares should go in the card, Dan and his team worked hard to make sure that:

  1. There are some squares that are easy for almost anyone to be able to answer.
  2. Some which stimulate fun conversations (eg ‘who is the biggest thrill seeker you know?’) – But all had a goal in mind, in this case people who could sign up to BHF’s adrenaline fuelled challenge events.
  3. They’re all ones that could help the BHF achieve its mission – ie they are not just about fundraising. For example…(Do you know an MP / a local councillor? – To help with campaigning and local influence)
  4. Things that the BHF community fundraiser could support the volunteer with.

BHF community fundraisers worked alongside their Group and Volunteering manager to pilot this tool with volunteer fundraising groups in the North of England since the beginning on 2018, and so far the results are very encouraging. It’s too early to understand the full financial impact of the technique, but its already clear that the technique is helping diversify fundraising activities. The groups that have  taken part have already reshaped their calendar of events to raise on average 13% more income for 2018/19. All without the need to take on additional events.

And anecdotally fundraisers are reporting examples of fundraising ideas that came about through the technique. The tool is really helping to break down the way we all compartmentalise different parts of our life. For example, a question on the card about connections to any young farmers group prompted one volunteer to have an idea. It reminded her that she knew a local landowner who organises a charity ball ever year and she offered to request that the ball be in aid of the BHF.

Dan’s colleague Jane working in rural North Yorkshire helped the group with this brainstorm and supported the volunteer prepare how she might make this request. The volunteer made the ask, her friend agreed, and the ball took place earlier this year, raising over £55,000 for the BHF. The community fundraising team would never have been able to unlock this high value opportunity without the help of volunteers exploring their networks.

With over 120 BHF fundraising groups in the North of the UK, Dan and his colleagues have high hopes for this technique as a means of helping their volunteers to get new and different ideas to help the cause they care about. Dan says the 2 key elements to this technique working are that;

  • “You already have to have built trust with your volunteers. You need to be giving exceptional supporter care to your volunteers already if we expect them to bring their friends and contacts on board.
  • And quite simply, you need to ‘make the ask’, volunteers lead busy lives and won’t naturally think of offering up their contacts. Volunteers care about your cause and would want to bring all that they can to achieve your mission, but many won’t link their volunteering to other parts of their lives – such as their work or hobbies. If you want to be introduced to people’s networks you need to ask them – and show them the huge impact that could achieve for your cause.”

I hope this blog inspires you to explore ways to help your supporters be ever more effective in their fundraising. If you’ve found it helpful, please share it with your colleagues and let us know what you think / what works for you.

Thanks to Dan, Jane, Nikki and Sue who have all used this technique to good effect.