Episode 41: Jamal Iqbal – Part 2 – Story-telling, internal relationships and more

Episode Notes

If you work in development in the Higher Education sector, or in major donor fundraising in any charity, I hope you will find this episode helpful. It’s the second half of my recent interview with a very successful fundraiser named Jamal Iqbal.

Jamal is Head of Development at the Faculty of Engineering at Imperial College London, and his team have been getting consistently great fundraising results in the last couple of years. So I was keen to ask Jamal what he has found makes the difference in generating high value income for your charity, school or university.

In this discussion, we particularly explore Jamal’s approach to gathering interesting, valuable content, to story-telling and building internal relationships with which to improve your ability to inspire potential supporters.

If you want to share this episode because you think it will help other non-profits, charities, universities and schools at this difficult time, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! We are both on Linked In and on twitter my name is @woods_rob.

Further Resources

FREE book: If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, why not check out the many strategies in my 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

You can hear more from Jamal in Episode 39 of the podcast, ‘Growing major donor income in higher education and beyond’ here

Jamal attended the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme with Bright Spot. You can find out more about the strategies we share in this Programme here.

In our Major Gifts Mastery Programme, we go much deeper into the strategies that we discuss in this podcast, and much, much more. If you’re curious about the Programme, find out more here.


‘Don’t just look for the stories in the obvious places. Be curious. They could come from anyone’

Jamal Iqbal

Transcript of Episode 41


Hello, this is Rob Woods and welcome to episode 40 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. This is a 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. And today, if you work in higher value fundraising or in development for a college or a university, I hope you’re going to find this episode insightful because today we’re looking at more habits and ideas to help you increase fundraising income with Jamal Iqbal, who is Head of Development at the Faculty of Engineering at Imperial College London. This is the second half of my recent interview with Jamal.

I was keen to talk to him because his team have been continuing to achieve excellent results this year and I was keen to hear from him some key principles that he believes contribute to this success. During this chat, we particularly focus on ways to prepare to have interesting, inspiring conversations with your supporters, including the sharing of relevant, real examples and stories to bring your cause to life. I really enjoyed this discussion with Jamal, and whether you work in higher education or for a charity, I hope you find it helpful too.

Speaker 2:

This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast is brought to you by Bright Spot Mastery Programmes. So, if you need to increase income in 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 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 Programs, head over to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.


I gather that occasionally you get asked to do little mini training sessions or idea sessions with your team. What’s another idea or two that you have found important in your own success and that you try to pass on to some of your colleagues?


Yeah. So, I think that it’s two parts, I’ve done a lot of research, obviously over the years in terms of relationship building and influence, et cetera. So, I think one individual who sticks out to me, who I know is an important part of some of the research that you’ve looked at as well, is Professor Robert Cialdini. And I think that some of his work is very relevant to fundraising, which I think that we can potentially look to things like social proof. So, quite often I’ll speak to somebody who’s come from a particular department and they often ask, “What have other alumni funded in this department?” For example. So, if you can talk about, or give examples of individuals that have maybe done something similar within a department or a faculty, so I think elements like that are important.


One thing that’s occurred to me, and this is true of some charities and nonprofits, but I think it can especially sometimes be true in the HE sector is how transactional giving can sometimes be perceived to be, is that your experience? And if it is, what do you try to do to make it less of just a transaction and more of to do with impact and a joyful, inspiring thing for a supporter to do?


Yeah, absolutely. I agree with you. I think at times HE is, or can be viewed as slightly transactional. I think one of the learnings that HE can have, especially from the charity sector, and having worked in that sector, one of the things that charities are absolutely experts at is framing stories. And when you look at the sector in HE, if you look at it broadly, there’s probably three areas that you’re going to raise funds for. Student support broadly, scholarships. Secondly, is going to be capital of some sort, new buildings, infrastructure. And thirdly, for academic posts, so chairs, for example. So, I think they’re the broad three that you’d come across very broadly in HE. And I think what’s sometimes missing is actually creating a story and a narrative around each of them.

So, if I take scholarships, for example, I’ve probably told this story over 100 times, but it’s one that’s stuck with me. When I first joined the college now, well over two years ago, I joined a scholarship recipients afternoon and I bumped into a young student and she’d got a scholarship and we were just talking about her time in her first year at the college. And when I said, “Which scholarship have you got?” And she mentioned the name, and it was named after the donor. And I said, “Oh, actually, I’m meeting the donor for lunch in a couple of weeks time. Is there anything that you want me to tell him?” And she said, “Well, first say thanks, but also just tell him that because of this scholarship I don’t have to work part-time in the local Sainsbury’s four evenings a week.”

And that story really stuck with me and resonated with me. And I went and told the donor that a couple of weeks later over lunch. And he said, “I’ve been thanked in various ways, but that one story, sharing that one story for me, shows how important my gift has been of this scholarship because studying an undergrad course in engineering is difficult enough. And then having to work four or five days a week part-time can really take the focus away from your studies.” And I think stories like that, whether it’s student support, capital, chairs, you have to really be able to talk about and bring the need to life, which I think we can really learn from the charity sector in that regard.


Yeah. Absolutely. And I think again, for some universities and colleges and for some charities also, it’s not necessarily easy to find those examples. They don’t necessarily fall in your lap. You don’t necessarily have a colleague who’s supposed to be in charge of finding case studies, maybe in a different team to you, who’s really finding the kinds of examples that would help your donors. I mean, literally just this week on our Major Gifts Mastery Program, we were doing in a whole afternoon on A) How to tell stories more in a more interesting, inspiring way, but B) Crucially, the first thing of how do you find them if you’re in an organization that doesn’t seem to be set up to give you lots of good ones? Are there any practical tips you’ve found along the way that have helped you take responsibility to go and find these real examples?


Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s … Like you said, I think in the charity sector, people share stories a lot more. I think you need to share, you need to speak to individuals who are at the coalface. So, I spend a lot of time talking to individuals that work in student hardship, who actually hear from the students who are telling them their stories. I think that’s quite important, but sometimes stories come from the least likely places. So, another one is we obviously have lots of academics. Academics can sometimes tell you about a scenario, which is useful. And one which springs to mind is, again, when we were talking about capital support, I was with one of our heads of department and we were talking about a refurbishment and he was telling me that there was a study done in the US at MIT where they refurbished a building and because of that refurbishment, they made it a more open, a more airy space, one that had real community feel to it.

And once the building had been refurbished, they saw a massive spike in the number of female students who were applying to that engineering faculty. And again, that’s another story which I made a note of and have shared widely because quite often we might say, we actually want to create a new building, okay, but why do we want to do it? This a consequence which can happen again, which is something that nobody had ever thought would have happened, but it happened and they saw a spike of female students. So, who would have thought by creating a new building, you would have started diversifying your student population? But again, don’t just look for the stories in the obvious places, they could come from anyone and make a note of the story and also share your stories as well. Because I think, obviously it’s valuable to you as an individual, but that could be shared across your team and across various faculties.


Yeah. That’s a definitely something that often comes up in our courses is once we really get our heads around the amazing difference it makes to you as a fundraiser or a development officer with these real examples, to be able to share if and when appropriate. Step one is just realizing it really makes your job quite a lot easier, rather than, “Oh, I’ve heard of these case studies. They’re nice to have, but my donor never asks me for stories, Rob.” The fundraiser who more of them and can proactively include them, if and when relevant in conversation, I think all of your meetings are going to get potentially easier once you’ve got more.

But then, there’s next couple of tips I really liked, which is one is, be open to seeing them everywhere, not just on your J drive because your colleague in comms collected some certain case studies. The more you use your own eyes and ears in your own conversations, as you go about your job, then I think you’re more likely to start noticing them. And then, but then crucially, you said, “And then take a note of them.” And so, one of the key tips I’ve noticed some real stars of this have done over the years, there’s someone called Becky, who I sometimes mention on courses. She doesn’t just talk about it, but she’s … As I heard it, she’s given a notebook to all of her team so that people are more likely to take a note of these things. And then, if you’re doing that, you are more … If you know you’ve got a notebook for capturing stories, I think you’re more likely to notice them in the first place.

And then the other tip, I think I heard you say is, be more likely to share them, and again, if one is a leader, I think the act of putting story sharing as a slot on a team meeting, there may be some really busy meetings where you just don’t have time for it. But if all things being equal, that slot is on the team agenda, it’s just this extra nudge that increases the chances that anyone who has heard an interesting story that week is more likely to share it. And that just helps everyone in the team just keep these good ideas flowing so that they’re on the front foot for if and when they need to bring this stuff to life when they’re talking to a supporter.


Absolutely. And I think, one thing that you touched on there which is really relevant, is that quite often there’ll be a bank of a couple of stories somewhere, like you said, on a J drive and they are not the only stories in the world. There are a lot more stories that you don’t know about, that you’re going to come across that are just going to be almost opportunistic. You come across a situation and then you have a new story. So, I think the one thing to be really mindful of is that just because you’ve got three which sit on your J drive, there might be another 78 that you’re going to get in the next 12 months that will replenish and build and come to fruition.


And I think there’s another angle on this, which is the more you are, like you’re saying, proactively seeking out conversations with your colleague, who is at the front line, the more you proactively make time for those meetings, you are just going to hear more of these examples. And the value of that is not just in terms of giving you more interesting things to be able to talk about. One of the most interesting studies I’ve read about, again, Professor Robert Cialdini was involved in this and it’s in a book called The small BIG, and he talks about some telephone fundraisers in an American university, whose job is to make some proactive … Make calls to alumni, to potentially see if they’d like to make a donation to the Hardship Fund. And one group of these telephone fundraisers for just 10 minutes a day, they were given access to real diaries and letters written by students who had benefited from the Hardship Fund, just 10 minutes, real stories.

And another group of telephone fundraisers didn’t get access to those real accounts and real stories, and you might guess what the punchline coming is going to be, but it’s well worth reading in the book. It’s literally just 10 minutes a day access to real stories caused the group that had had that information to be much more enthusiastic and proactive in making the calls. And in financial terms, they raised more than twice as much money in that week as those who were reading more factual information about the cause. So, they weren’t told to go and share the stories on the phone. Lots of this is about the more we connect to a powerful reason why it affects how we do our job. And even just by 10% extra energy and productivity, when you’re tired in the afternoon and you reach for the phone, 10% extra willingness to be a good listener, rather than pretend you’re listening.

If you’ve got a powerful reason why, that serves your values, you’re more likely to just feel pulled to do things better. And so, I think this is the thing that is often misunderstood by leaders who think, “Well, my team’s got access. They can go and read the case studies if they want to.” If they’re busy, often, it’s my experience, people won’t. But if as a leader you can do anything at all to proactively help make it easier for people to volunteer or hear talks from the frontline or whatever, the more drip, drip, drip you can get people access to that reason why, what difference our cause makes. It’s my experience that that really can help the morale and the energy levels that your team are experiencing.


Absolutely. Absolutely agree, Rob. I think it’s absolutely fundamental.


There’s one other thing I was particularly wondering about, which is, and we’ve touched on it, but in lots of kinds of nonprofit or charity, there are people on the frontline whose … Most of their job is to be doing that work, helping homeless people or doing research into cancer, or whatever it might be. And as we go through our jobs, even in this more virtual world, we don’t necessarily bump into them. And then, if they’re not necessarily proactively coming to us with a fundraising mindset, that we have to get this more information to help these supporters, I think that can be especially hard to solve in colleges and universities.

In a perfect world, everyone in a whole university or everyone in a charity would be thinking beyond their own immediate role and would be trying to help each other out. In practice, it’s just not that easy necessarily. Everyone’s busy trying to do their job. Have you learned anything in practice about the proactive building of relationships within the college with, for instance, the academics?


Yeah, absolutely. Universities are a huge place with campuses dotted around, and it can be overwhelming. I know when I came across into the university sector, I found, gosh, this is just a huge institution with lots of different departments. So, two parts, I think first from an operational point of view, I think the onus is on you as an individual to be proactive, to interact with lots of those areas that we’ve talked about. I.e. those that are on the coalface and are interacting with students, like Student Hardship or registry that deal with scholarships, for example. I think that’s … The onus is on you to be proactive and that’s certainly one of the things that I did when I first came on board was set up regular catch-ups.

So even, in the midst of COVID, they’re still having those regular catch-ups just to check in. And I think that one thing is to extract those stories, et cetera, but also to talk about success that you’ve had. So, if you’ve been able to set up a new scholarship that’s helped X student, talk about it, share that with your colleagues, because I think what happens is even if they’re not at the coalface, they then get a sense of what your division or your department is trying to do. So, I think that’s absolutely key. I think the second part, which you alluded to, Rob, which was around academics. Absolutely, they are an integral part of the university and I think the challenge is with academics is that they tend to be very short of time.

They are incredibly difficult to get time in their diaries, and I think quite possibly the worst thing that you can do with an academic, for example, who you’ve not met before is turn up to their office and say, “Can you tell me a little bit about your research?” I think that’s probably the worst thing that you can do. I’ve often said to my team and given the advice that if you’re going to be an academic for the first time, make sure you’ve done your research on that individual, you know about their particular field, projects, initiatives that they’re currently working on, so that you can talk competently about those various areas. Because I think particularly with academics, you tend to have one opportunity to make an impression and you need to make that impression well.

And the academics are very useful for two reasons, the first is that if you’re structuring a particular philanthropic ask, which might be in their department or might reflect or might be connected to their research, that’s also important as well. But secondly, our academics are very well networked in the corporate field and obviously have quite large networks as well. So, they will often make introductions as well, but the paramount piece is to … And this is the skill that I often say is very difficult is, it’s a very difficult skill to have, but it’s one that’s key, is to be able to build credibility with academics very quickly.


Yeah. My last question, Jamal, is assuming you sometimes have tough days like everybody else, what do you personally tend to do to handle that stress and bounce back?


Yeah, we often have days like that as fundraisers. I think the easiest way for me to reset as it were, is just reconnecting with the cause. So, in a charity it’s a lot easier, but in HE it’s slightly different, but I always remind myself if I’ve had a tough day, I’ll go back and read about a scholarship recipient who we’ve helped or somebody’s life who’s changed, or some research which might help a global challenge that I’ve in some way been a tiny, tiny part of. I think that’s a great way of resetting and also not being too hard on yourself.

We talked a lot about tenacity, but fundraisers, you’ve got to be thick-skinned and the way that I often talk about it is, and I used to say this a lot in the charity sector, is that the cause doesn’t go away just because you’ve had a bad day. At the NSPCC we had lots of nos, just because you’ve had a no from a big corporate, for example, on a Monday, that doesn’t mean that the cause is not there on the Tuesday when you go back in again. And I think reminding yourself psychologically of that and resetting and coming and going again, is a way to motivate yourself when you’ve had that tough day.


Yes. That makes sense. And so, Jamal, I need to bring these conversations to a close. You’ve been extremely generous with your time. First thing I want to say is huge congratulations to you and your team. It sounds like you’re doing ever so well at the moment. So, well done for all the hard work everyone’s putting in and the results you’re managing to get for your important cause. And secondly, thank you so much for making time to come and share with the podcast listeners, your ideas and advice so that hopefully it can help and inspire them as well. I do really appreciate it. Jamal Iqbal, thank you ever so much for joining us on the podcast. Goodbye.


Thanks, Rob.


Well, I hope you found Jamal’s ideas were helpful. If so, please remember to subscribe to the podcast today, so you don’t miss out on all the other juicy episodes we’ve got coming up. For now though, you can find a short summary and the full transcript in the blog and podcast section of my website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk. If you’d like to find out more about the Bright Spot Members Club, which is our training, coaching, and inspiration site for fundraisers, you can find out more at brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. There you can get a sense of all the resources that are 300 members get access to, including an extensive library of my best training films and downloads, live weekly coaching calls on a range of specialist topics to suit the pandemic and our supportive community.

And if you found my discussion with Jamal was helpful, I’d be incredibly grateful if you could take a moment to share it on with other fundraisers, either directly or by social media, so that we can get these ideas out to as many charities as possible during this difficult year. If you want to get in touch, Jamal and I are both on LinkedIn, and on Twitter I am @woods_rob. Finally, thank you so much for making time to listen today. Until the next time, hang in there and good luck with everything you’re doing to make a positive difference.