Episode 45: Richard Turner – How to create fabulous experiences for your supporters

Episode Notes

If you’re looking for sound principles and real examples to help you deliver successful fundraising during the pandemic, I think you’re going to find this episode really helpful.

Because this time I’m sharing the first part of an interview with a hugely experienced fundraiser named Richard Turner, who shares his highlights from an inspiring new piece of research carried out by the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s Supporter Experience Special Interest Group.

Over recent months, Richard and his colleagues in the group, Angela Cluff and Giles Pegram, have searched out charities that have been achieving fundraising success this year by finding ways to give their supporters a great experience.

In the episode we explore several crucial principles from their excellent report, as well as plenty of examples of how charities have been inspiring their supporters during the pandemic.

If you want to get in touch or share this episode, we’d love to hear from you – we’re both on linked in, and on twitter Richard is @ifundraiser and I’m @woods_rob.

Further Resources

Supporter Experience group’s report, Fundraising in the time of COVID-19 or search online for CIOF Special Interest Group Supporter Experience.

Free E-book. 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


‘Remember that when you ask for a gift, that too is part of the supporter experience. People need to feel good and supporting a charity is one way of doing that.’

Richard Turner

Transcript of Episode 45


Well, hello, brave fundraisers, and welcome to Episode 45 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and this is a show for anyone who works in charity fundraising and who wants ideas to help you raise more money, enjoy your job and make a bigger difference, especially during the pandemic.

Now, if you’re looking for sound principles to guide you and your colleagues’ fundraising decisions over the coming weeks, I hope you’re going to find today’s episode really helpful because this time, I’m sharing the first part of an interview I carried out recently with a hugely experienced fundraiser named Richard Turner about a fascinating piece of research that he, Giles Pegram and Angela Cluff have carried out under the auspices of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s supporter experience group.

Over recent months, they’ve sought out charities with different sizes and different causes that have been working especially hard to give supporters a great experience. They then created an excellent and very readable report, as well as an inspiring webinar, sharing the six key principles that these charities have followed to generate their success. I’ll put details for where you can find their report, Fundraising in the Time of COVID-19, in the episode notes on my website, but for now, here’s the interview in which Richard and I explore some of the key ideas and examples.

Richard Turner, how are you?


Yeah, I’m good. Thank you very much. Got my cup of tea.


Good. Welcome to the podcast. And just so that the listeners can place it in context, I think I first met you years ago. I think you were at that time, director of fundraising at Solar Aid. I believe you’re now a consultant, helping lots of different charities. Before we get into the main content that I want to talk about to do with this new initiative to do with the supporter experience, could you give us a potted history of your career to date and what it is that you do now?


Gosh, okay. Well, I realized I’ve been fundraising for 30 years now, and I kicked off my career working for Oxfam, but I’ve also worked for smaller organizations. I started at FARM-Africa when it was just starting its fundraising program. I worked for big organizations, to ActionAid for four years. I think at the time, I really enjoyed my fundraising, was the time at Solar Aid where we first came across each other. And I’ve been blogging and speaking currently. I’m working for philanthropy and fundraising and doing a lot actually teaching non-fundraisers, talking to boards and people within organizations who are outside fundraising usually to help them understand how they can best support fundraising to do its very best. So there you go.


Yeah. So lots of different roles and different sizes of organizations and different levels of experience of fundraising you worked with. I especially wanted to talk to you today because hot off the press, you’ve just come from delivering with your colleagues a webinar to help charities out there raise funds in spite of the challenges of the pandemic. And in a moment, I want to get on to some of the content from that webinar because I think our listeners will really want to hear those examples and then potentially go and seek out the webinar as well.

But just before we get on to that, the project itself that led to the webinar, I have to get the wording right, but you have a role within a committee, within a group, a voluntary group that looks at the supporter experience and ways that charities can improve the supporter experience. And that’s one of the special interest groups for the Chartered Institute of Fundraising. I hope I got the wording right. Could you tell us a tiny bit about that group and then about what this project was that you embarked on a few months ago to find out more information and more advice for charities?


Okay. Well, the group was really borne out of an initiative called the Commission on the Donor Experience, something that Ken Burnett and Giles Pegram, two well-known fundraisers, got going some years ago. But out of it, we wanted to set up an ongoing group to continue to champion the idea of donor and supporter experience, and there are many other special interest groups with the Institute of Fundraising, now Chartered Institute of Fundraising. This is one of them. And what we realized was partway through the year, we started to think, what happens if this carries on? How can we come up with something that will help fundraisers? We started talking to our networks and so on.

And what was coming out, Rob, was extraordinary because there was a real sense that there is a rise in altruism right now. And actually, that fundraising where you can give people a really good experience will do remarkably well. And we think not only will it do well for you right now, and we’ve heard of record appeals, good retention, and this is across charities of all sizes, of all issues, not just whether they’re directly related to COVID, whether they work internationally or not. And I think it’s actually the moment for fundraisers to really step up, and yet we know, we know that there are stories of where maybe the senior team thinks it’s inappropriate to ask. They need to cut back, and fundraising is one of the areas they need to cut back on.

So we’ve created a guide. We’ve compiled a range of principles. We’ve put really pragmatic actions, and we put lots of examples to help inspire others that actually, this is a really good time to fundraise, and why it’s so important for people. Why people need to give right now perhaps is probably the one key message I think.


So that’s interesting. It’s not, we need to ask in order to help our beneficiaries. The way you said it that way, you flipped it. You said a lot of the reason why we should be working harder is because people out there, they need to give. It’s good for them, the donor, rather than we need the money to help pay for our stuff.


Yeah. That’s a lovely way to think about it because it overcomes all sorts of obstacles. We need to feel good right now. I’m sure everybody can sense the importance of that. Now, one way is you might increase your consumption of chocolate. I gather chocolate has increased, sales have increased. But another way is to give to a cause that you feel passionate in, and there’s science behind it. It releases chemicals like dopamine and serotonin and oxytocin. So fundraising done really well can actually help people feel good, and I think that’s where people can feel in control of something in a world where we’re all feeling a bit lost.

So that’s why good fundraising, the fundraiser is quite key, and if you switch it off, if you literally turn on mute, then of course your income is going to go down. So the heartening thing is you need to think about your fundraising, think about your messaging, but absolutely give people an opportunity to give right now. It’s important.


I gather there are six principles in this excellent report, but we don’t need to go into all of them in a podcast, but if you were to sum up one or two of the key ideas that when you did this piece of research, I gather you spoke to up to a hundred different organizations, different fundraisers in different causes that were doing relatively well. If you were to sum up a couple of the key messages or principles that those ones that are doing well are applying, which couple would spring to mind?


I think first thing is they started to realize it’s about them, not you, and that’s principle one, so started to think about the supporter. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? And so many of them would really communicate with their supporters and have a bit of a conversation, some over Zoom, some in their surveys to really understand what was happening. And I think that gave a bit of confidence that actually people will continue to give.

I think the key one is principle three, and it’s your supporters still believe in your mission and they want to give. And so it’s a case of communicate your problem. People want to give to solve a problem. And no doubt, your problem has just got bigger. No matter what your issue is, it’s probably got more difficult. If you’ve had research cut because everything is now focused on COVID, that’s still a problem. And so I think it’s getting across that message, thinking about it, engaging supporters and investing in fundraising at a time when no doubt organizations are having to make very difficult choices, but this is the time where actually fundraising, we’re hearing, is doing remarkably well, good fundraising, if you like. And so it’s thinking through those things.

And you’re right. We involved so many people. We had peer reviewers. We had people that helped us with the tone, people who gave us examples. And so we really worked this document. And as a guide, you can read online. It’ll take you about half an hour. I sat there with my cup of tea the other day just to reread through it. And we’ve even produced a webinar, which I think will inspire you. I’ve just come off it. We had seven speakers, all from different organizations, all of different sizes, sharing their experience really since lockdown and how they’ve managed to keep up that great supporter experience, but also get results that have been rather surprising and very encouraging.


Yeah. And what you say about people still care about your mission, it really rings true with me today. Literally, this afternoon, I was talking to someone I know at an international animal welfare charity, and they’ve had one of their strongest fundraising years in two decades, and they’re nothing to do with COVID, human health, and their ills flies in the face of this cliche that charity begins at home. In terms of one of the things I loved about this report, and I would echo what you’re saying, I highly recommend people get hold of this report. It’s completely free. It’s an inspiring read. And one reason the read is so inspiring is it’s chockfull of real examples of people who have gone out there and have been doing certain tactics. Some of the tactics might seem obvious, but many charities are not doing them. And some of them are less obvious.

I’d love to drill down into a few of your favourite examples of just when you were talking about the first principle. It made me think of some excellent things that the report talks about that Child Rescue Nepal have been doing, just in terms of a more direct communication that having real chats with the people who care. If you can remember any of the tactics that you were using, I’d love for the listeners to hear those.


Well, you know Jo Bega, who is the chief executive with a fundraising background, and I think she instinctively got what to do. Emailed out to a supporter base just to say, “How are you? I’m here?” And that’s extraordinary. Jo is basically, the organization plus one other I think in the UK, the rest of her team are programmatically based in Nepal. She organized a Zoom call with supporters and go on the program staff from Nepal just to bring them together. And I think very shortly after that, she received a grant donation from a foundation that hadn’t given for some time. There was the son of a corporate supporter watching who was so inspired. He wanted to do a fundraiser. I think he ran the height of Everest or something like that.

But the key point is Jo didn’t think I need to get money out of these people. She thought I need to connect these people, give them a good experience, and then the money came afterwards. And so it was thinking like that. And she’s continuing to do these Zoom calls. And she was saying, “Well, we’re going to continue to do them after all of this as well.” She just had a BBC radio appeal. So many of you will be familiar with the weekly Radio Appeal. It was in August, late August. It’s one of the best appeals that the BBC have had this year.

As a caveat to that, the BBC telling me that all their radio appeals are doing much, much better than before. Jo did exceptionally well, and I’m not surprised because she’s probably done a lot to harness her supporters and work on telling a fantastic story, which are key ingredients of good fundraising. Good fundraising will do well right now.


Yeah. And several other examples that leapt out at me, I think one of them was Child Rescue Nepal. It’s a relatively small organization. The report has organizations of all shapes and sizes. I think Great Ormond Street quite deliberately applied some of these principles and that worked out well in terms of their results as well.


Yeah. For them, regular givers were key. They thought, well, what if they ever dropped off from regular givers? That could really hit us hard. So they made sure they got communications out saying to supporters, “It’s your past support that has enabled us to act so quickly right now.” And so that was a fantastic communication.

And they had such good feedback from that, they decided to go with an upgrade campaign, and it was the highest digital upgrade campaign they’ve ever had. It was, I think, over 87% on their previous campaign they had done the previous year. So they were actually getting better results. It sounds like their retention of their supporters has improved compared to previous years as well. So it’s focusing on what’s important to you. And to them, regular givers are important, so they’ve made sure they’ve really got their communications right for that audience.


And just so I’m understanding the language. When you say upgrade campaign, that means going to people who are already supporting and saying, “With this going on right now, would you consider being even more generous?”


Yeah. I think a lot of organizations are also offering people payment holidays. It’s the act of offering someone the chance to just pause their regular giving. Usually, it’s well received, and often leads to people actually increasing their giving because you’ve gone to the trouble to say, “At this time, you might want to do that.” So there are different tactics, I guess, you could approach, but it’s thinking about those communications really carefully and recognizing that not only do some people have the capacity to give more, but actually this helps people. It’s one of the things that will help them get through at this time, and maybe they are cutting back on things, but perhaps supporting your cause is not one of them if you ask them really well.


Yeah. And do you have any tips from this piece of research? You mentioned Zoom calls and so on. Any other practical tips for how an organization might better understand how their kind of supporters are feeling (a) in general, or (b) about this particular cause you serve?


I think first and foremost is whatever your size, talk to people. We had a great example on the webinar from the Children’s Society, and it was someone in major donor work, and he had the confidence because there’s been great support to all staff at the Children’s Society. I think they even had their own bank holidays awarded to staff, so all the staff took time off on the same day, so no one was tempted to look at emails. He just felt energized to engage the major supporters. And as a result, he got to understand them far better and build a good relationship that allowed him to just naturally talk about the work of the Children’s Society, which led to greater gifts.

I think the key insight that’s hit me, I’ve been fundraising for a few years, is it’s really hit home, Rob, how the ask is part of the experience. When people hear the word supporter experience, they tend to think we mean donor care and thanking and all that stewardship. Now, don’t get me wrong. That’s really important, and I passionately believe in doing that well, but what it’s made me realize is the ask is part of the experience as well. Because if I was to say to you, “Rob, will you help me please? I need your help with whatever it is.” That sparks something in you. There’s an empathy, isn’t there, that starts to kick in?

And therefore, it’s thinking through that and making sure that your ask is framed in a way it doesn’t feel clunky. It feels natural, and makes me, if I then respond, feel good, and it will make me feel good because it will release dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin that will give me that buzz that you can get from giving. So I think just that mindset, that’s one of the points we make, the mindset that you have right now can be really critical because if you take the wrong mindset .. I’ll give you an example.

There’s a charity I support. It’s a national charity, it should know better, but the communication was you get our magazine, will you please get it digitally so we can save costs? Now that’s thinking from a financial perspective, but in the long run, gosh, what’s that going to do to supporters who would actually like to hold that magazine and read it and hear about them in the future? I think that’s an organization not thinking about the donor experience. They’re thinking from a financial perspective.

So have the right mindset and realize that the ask is part of the experience, and that as human beings, and I think this is one of the, can I say wonderful things about all of this? People need to feel good and need to express about ways of how to feel good, and supporting a charity is one way of doing that.


Hi. It’s Rob, and I wanted to jump into the middle of this episode really quickly to tell you about something I’m so excited about, which is the way that our Bright Spot Members Club has been helping fundraisers to not only survive, but also to do really well to raise funds so effectively during the pandemic. Through the club, our 300 members get access to a whole library of my best training films, as well as regular life coaching sessions to help you handle whatever challenges are coming at you each week. And we’ve also found that handling these challenges, it’s not just been about getting the right advice or strategy. It’s also been about morale, and we found that the encouragement and help that our members get from each other has really helped them to stay positive.

If you’re not yet a member but you’d like to find out more, go to brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. I would love to welcome you to the club and I’ll do my utmost to help you succeed in your fundraising. For now, though, back to the interview, as Richard is explaining why fundraisers should not feel guilty about giving supporters the opportunity to donate to a cause they care about.


So think of it as you are helping people feel good right now. The way I framed it the other day is we’re chemical agents. We can help people feel good, but we got to do our job well. It’s getting that message right. It’s about understanding where your supporters are, but giving them the opportunity to give. Maybe that’s a way to frame it.


Yeah. And were there any interesting findings about which bit of the story to proactively try to communicate? For instance, some organizations are to do with health and some are not, but everywhere in the world, pandemic has affected everyone and everything. Did you find interesting examples about organizations that have proactively helped supporters understand the impact of the pandemic on something they might care about?


Oh, loads. It does depend on your situation. So Freedom from Torture had a great example. They were about to launch a campaign in April called Spare a Fiver, and they just realized it just didn’t feel right. And they were bouncing around, well, what can we do? How can we reframe this appeal? And someone said some remark, “Well, everyone is doing what they can,” and that was it. It was one of those hair on the back of the neck moments. And they created an appeal, do what you can, and their campaign, I think, raised more money in one day than it did compared to six weeks the previous year, the do what we can appeal. And so it was just thinking of it in that way.

Another great example, one of the best of the year has to be Lifeboat’s RNLI, who right from the beginning actually have done some wonderful communications. They did a communication at the outset of lockdown, which was effectively we are one crew. You are part of our crew. And when we go out on our lifeboat missions, we know we’re going into the unknown. We know you’re going into the unknown as well, and we’re here with you. But then they didn’t hold back on their appeals. We can all recall pictures of packed beaches. Their volunteers were still having to work 24/7, and of course there was a strain on parts of their finances. They wouldn’t be able to run events. No doubt their trading would have been hit.

And so they went out with their appeals, and they found that absolutely people wanted to give. They would set quite aspirational targets, and they would beat them, even to the extent of attracting new supporters. Jayne George, who was sharing what they’ve been up to, talks of a door drop they did in August and it’s already made a net return. This is cold acquisition. It’s like days gone by. And it’s because I think their confidence grew and grew about the message that they were getting out. So I think it’s that, depending on what your work is.

One of my favourite causes, partly for personal reasons, is Asthma UK. So I have asthma. I’ve phoned their helpline a few times. Something they’ve been thinking of doing for quite some while is having a soft ask, following people, getting advice. Many people are going online now. But they’ve never quite got round to it, and then they realized they needed to push ahead with this. I think they had something like an eight-fold increase in phone calls. And so they implemented this Wikipedia style ask on their website, a bit like the Guardian have as well. If you value reading this or if you value using this, would you consider a gift? And it comes up when you get some guidance or click on a video.

It’s now their fourth biggest income generator. They’re thinking, “I wish we would have done this ages ago.” I think this is what we’re seeing, which is great, is organizations starting to rethink their communications. What’s appropriate in terms of our messaging? What’s relevant in terms of engaging our supporters? Some really, really fabulous examples.


Yes. And this is an interesting one. It’s a question that came up in our Bright Spot Members Club a couple of weeks ago, a question about to what extent could and should one make this offer, make this opportunity to give quite deliberately to people who may also be beneficiaries? Many organizations struggle with this and/or some believe it’s always flat out inappropriate. Are there any tips you’ve picked up from how they did it or key principles for how to solve in perceived risks?


It keeps coming back to this thinking of you’re going to help people feel good right now. That’s what I love about that thought or that insight, if you like. And so that starts to overcome that barrier. I definitely feel it. When I get some great guidance from Asthma UK, and I’ve had some really good, “Just think about this, Richard.” You’re thinking, “Well, I’d like to give something back in return.” So it’s giving people that opportunity.

There’s a really wonderful example from one of the hospices. And again, they held back on investing in providing a great experience, and they thought let’s step it up right now. This gave us a reason. And they’ve had something like a 33% increase in average gifts as a result of implementing what they’ve been thinking about doing for some time. So I think have a feedback loop. I think the key thing is have a feedback loop so that you’re tapping in to how people are responding.

Now you might get one or two that will, there always are, aren’t they, people who might kick back, but it’s understanding the whole picture, and it’s getting the overall feel. And I think that’s where organizations like the RNLI increased in confidence because they were constantly talking to supporters. They were getting back really good messages. One supporter wrote back when they sent out that “We are one crew” message, and what she said was, “I can’t tell you how much it meant to hear your words and feel your support.” That was coming from the supporter back to the RNLI.


So Richard, if the listeners would like to read this report or they’d like to find out more, maybe even watch the webinar you recorded, how should they go about doing that?


Probably the most straightforward way is Google supporter experience and then Chartered Institute of Fundraising or CIOF, and it will come up. It will come up in the feed. You’ll see it on the home pages of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising. We’re going to put the webinar up on their YouTube channel, so that will go up. It might not be for a few days yet. And so listen to that. I think you can listen to that, and that will inspire you to read the report or you could do it the other way around.


Okay, great. So I really would encourage the listeners to go ahead and do that. Really there are loads of great examples there, some sound, helpful principles that will (a) inspire you, but (b) also potentially help you persuade some colleagues to work more in line with these sound ideas.

I wanted to thank not only you, but I gather the excellent Angela Cluff and Giles Pegram alongside yourself who have worked really hard over the last many months, and then of course, the dozens and dozens of people who have contributed. It’s a great piece of work. So for me, thank you to everyone involved.

And finally, Richard, you’ve had a busy day. You’ve been doing a webinar all afternoon and then you joined me for the podcast, so thank you for doing that. I look forward to catching up with you soon, but for now, Richard Turner, thank you and goodbye.


All right. Take care. Thank you, Rob.


So I hope you found our discussion helpful. If so, do remember to subscribe to the podcast today so you don’t miss out on all the other sessions we have planned to help you during the pandemic. 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 I’ll also put a link there to help you find the group’s excellent report, Fundraising in the Time of COVID-19.

If you’d like to find out more about my training and inspiration site for fundraisers, do check it out at brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. That’s brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join, as well as the regular coaching sessions or webinars on a broad range of fundraising and leadership subjects. You can take advantage of more than 40 of my video training bundles and our super supportive community. If you’re curious, you can join for just a single month to test for yourself how helpful this coaching support will be for your fundraising. And if you want to get in touch, we would love to hear from you. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Richard is @ifundraiser. And I am @woods_rob.

Lastly, thank you so much for listening today. Until the next time. Good luck with all your efforts to create great experiences for your supporters and to make a positive difference.