Episode 47: Favourite listens of 2020 – with Rob Woods and Ben Swart

Episode Notes

I’ve now been making this podcast for just over year. Not least because 2020 has created so many new fundraising challenges for charities, I’m so grateful to have got the show started well before the pandemic hit, so that I could keep creating content to help fundraisers as the crisis has unfolded.

To celebrate the way the show has grown in its first 12 months, I wanted to reflect on four or five of the guest interviews, especially from the early days, that I’ve found especially fascinating and helpful.

To help me reflect, and pull out the juiciest insights from these conversations, I’m joined by Ben Swart, my long-standing associate at Bright Spot.

We hope you find these ideas interesting in and of themselves, as well as a helpful sign-post to some episodes that you may not have caught the first time round.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported this show this year. Thank you for listening, for sharing on social media or with colleagues, or for leaving a review wherever you get your podcasts. I’m incredibly grateful for your help in spreading the word so that the ideas reach more charities during these troubled times.

If you’d like to get in touch, or share this episode, we’re both on Linked In and on twitter, Ben is @benswart and I am @woods_rob. You can find lots more free resources, as well as details of our training courses, here on my website.

Further Resources

Episode 2. How we inspired 60% of event participants to support long-term, with Andy King

Episode 3. Ace your media appeal, with Jo Bega

Episode 20 Using virtual project visits to connect and inspire, with Lynda Harwood-Compton

Episode 15. Strategies to grow your digital income, with Emily Casson

Episode 25. Effective digital fundraising strategies during the pandemic, with Emily Casson.

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


‘Keep learning what works. For instance, split test your emails to donors, with one variable different each time. And if you’re not good at analysing data, could you get a volunteer to come in a few hours a month, and do the analysing for you?’

Rob Woods

Full Transcript of Episode 47


Well, hello there brave fundraisers. Welcome to Episode 47 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and if you work in fundraising and if you want some ideas, but also to feel an extra sprinkle of inspiration, then this is the podcast for you. And we’re going to do a slightly different show today. I’m joined by my colleague at Bright Spot, Ben Swart. Hello Ben?


Good morning, Rob. Lovely to be here.


Thank you for joining us. I roped you in at the last minute, because I wanted to do a slightly different show. I’m getting a bit nostalgic because about a year ago, I started this idea of doing this podcast. And when it came to March, I’m so glad that I got it started in November, but I’ve managed to get an episode out almost every week of this crazy year. Not so much as a kind of a nostalgic navel gazing exercise, but I’m conscious that quite a few of our listeners may not have heard, especially the early episodes.

And I wanted to have a look back at particular episodes that I’ve learned most from, and that I’ve heard from feedback have been most helpful and most inspiring to our listeners. I hope that the act of listening to this in and of itself, you’ll get some good ideas anyway. But equally, I hope the act of listening to this might just remind you or make you aware for the first time of a couple of really juicy episodes. That if you go back and listen to them now, they’ll help you with your fundraising challenges right now. And I roped Ben in to help me talk this through and think this through. Ben, are you up for playing the role of Parkinson?


Yeah, I absolutely am Rob. Throughout the last year, I found that the podcasts have been really helpful for me to be able to refer people on for so many of the challenges they’re having now more than ever, but also before the pandemic and when it’s long gone. And so actually, because we’re going to be short on time, I’m interested Rob to just dive straight in. Where would you start if you were talking to people about your podcasts, the ones that you knew helped to inspire action or learn something new? What’s the first one that you want to look at?


Okay. So I want to go way back. One of my favourites, not least because I was learning what on earth this is all about. But because the results are so strong, gives such a jolt to an existing paradigm. I really enjoyed the interview with Andy King and he was talking about some of his experiences at East African Playgrounds. And the gist of that story is that he was just really curious about… Our chat, he goes through all this trouble to take mostly students who care about our cause out abroad to do a trek and then to help build a playground. And then it’s all that effort and they’re so inspired, they really get it. I think at the time, the charity did make some attempts to encourage those people to carry on supporting, but really not very many agreed to it. Might’ve been as low as three or four percent.

And Andy was just really thoughtful and curious…’ it just this doesn’t make sense. They care so much, surely there must be a way to help tap into that motivation and that caring for someone to carry on being part of our network, and carry on supporting’. And all the details of how he went about actually coming up with the solution are in that episode. But, one of the top line things was surprise, surprise, getting curious and gathering more insight about the point of view of those people, mostly students and what they could or couldn’t afford. And therefore lowering the request, the offer as to what they might sign up to give each month to just being almost a no-brainer. How could one not afford just this small amount per month? And then creating some extra value, in terms of a network and events that they could attend to stay in touch with each other and get to stay inspired.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but the thing I love about it was his determination and his curiosity to try out a different way that was consistent with the insight he had. And, long story short, they found that up to 60% would stay and carry on supporting with a regular financial donation; when he tested different ways of that entry point and the way of making the ask. And the reason I love it is right now, in tough times understandably, lots of charities are struggling. But when they analyse why we are struggling, sometimes… This is so hard, but they blame things like donor fatigue.

Some of that may be true, but quite often Andy’s example proves to me; quite often the reason people are no longer supporting isn’t because people don’t care anymore. It’s just because the way charities currently are interacting with its supporters or not interacting with the supporters, is not quite right. And if you’re really determined to keep hanging in there with the truth but the people still care and change your proposition in line with good insight; you can get real turnaround results, where you’re helping people to carry on caring and give.


Yeah. Rob, I particularly like this because I know that someone listening to this would have been in a meeting. And if not previously, you’re going to be in a meeting internally, where people will look at an event you do, a fundraiser, a campaign; where there are just are more people signed up to it and you’ll be asked the question, “How on earth do we keep these people? How do we encourage them to eventually start memorizing? What do we do with this massive number of people?” And you’ll have tried lots of things. And I love that perhaps unlike other podcasts, in 25 minutes, you just keep going deeper and deeper and deeper with Andy to try and solve that problem. So I particularly liked that episode too.


Thank you. Yeah. I said I wouldn’t talk too much about any, even given one of these. But it’s also a really good example of, supporters maybe supporting you in one way. A lot of our job is to give them every opportunity to carry on supporting in another. And just recently talking to Richard Turner on the recent episode, when he was talking about Asthma UK and just the wonderful results they’ve got, from people who are reading valuable information to help them with their asthma. They’ve been trialling a Wikipedia style or Guardian style requests that those people who are getting the value should consider a donation.

And so it’s a boldness to try these different things. And again, I think that old chestnut, for a long time, many charities have said, “Well, you can’t ask our beneficiaries.” There are beneficiaries. Richard Turner in that very latest episode we made is showing, well actually, maybe beneficiaries are some of the key people you should give the opportunity to choose to give to, as long as you do it in the appropriate way.

But I want to move on to another one. And again, it was an early one which really inspired me and it was, interviewing an absolute force of nature called Jo Bega from Child Rescue Nepal. And it’s certainly a pretty small organization, but I took so much from that interview. Not least, because it’s a glorious example of quite deliberately sticking to a strategy and a recipe for how to do a media appeal well. Broadly, accepting the advice from Radio 4 as to how to do a Radio 4 Appeal, and getting stunning results. This was a couple of years ago, but their small charity got one of the highest results of the year for the Radio 4 Appeal.

And so that’s well worth listening to anyway. The reason I also want to mention it now is clearly it wasn’t a fluke because they did another one earlier this year, just a couple of months ago. And, I think a pretty result, most charities would be happy with this, is to get £20,000 from one of those appeals and they smashed it again a couple of months ago and got around £60,000. And so just shows that having the right philosophy and in particular, in Jo’s case and her colleagues’ approach to donors, caring deeply about donors rather than paying lip service to that. And at some level, sort of allowing them taking them a little for granted. When you listened to episode three of the podcast, you just get such a strong sense that she’s really serious about how supporters of Child Rescue Nepal are part of the family.

And again, it’s one thing to feel that, I also love the level of precision and detail and organization that backs up that, down to… Yes, not only storytelling because you and I talk about that a lot, but the notion of them having these wonderful thank you cards that are kind of printed up. That they send out to anyone and everyone who’s done a great thing, but then they even have lovely warm coloured envelopes and then nice heart-shaped stickers and sparkly stickers, and so on; that go on the backs of the envelopes to maximize the feeling you get when you receive something from Child Rescue Nepal.

One step further than that because I would love that idea, but knowing my own personality, I would really struggle with this next bit. Which is, they’re organized enough to keep a track of which donors have received which cards already. So that nothing is left to chance, if you’ve already received that warm, lovely card, you’re unlikely to receive it again. So it’s that following through on the detail that shows just how passionate you are about these worthy notions of caring about your donors. Again, I could say so much more but again, if you’ve not listened to that episode, I recommend. I think that was episode number three.

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 Story Telling 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 or 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 Story Telling 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. 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, back to the interview, as Ben asks me about one of the episodes that he’s found to be especially helpful for fundraisers to listen to this year.


That reminds me a lot of one of the podcasts that I’ve certainly referred people to at the moment because of the tilt towards digital fundraising, which was the Emily Casson podcast.


Yeah. And this really is just from watching social media. This is one of the ones that resonates so much with people. And I think it’s partly because Emily is really fabulous at what she does. And it’s also clearly because of the situation we find ourselves in, where every charity is having to work harder, what it’s doing digitally than it probably did before March of 2020. If listeners haven’t heard that one before, one of the key things you get from the original interview episode 15 is, Emily’s overarching philosophy. They’ve achieved truly stunning results at Cats Protection, even before the pandemic hit. Within four years I think, the income that Cats Protection achieved digitally went up from around £250,000 to just over four million or just under four million in four years. And there are so many tactics by which that was achieved. But I think the biggest learning point was the importance of getting your philosophy right, your beliefs right.




And in that very first interview, Emily said, “My mantra and the mantra of my team is; ‘’Think big, start small, scale quickly, or fail fast.” And she talks through the logic of each four of those elements and how, if you truly follow through on those ideas… You don’t have to be a large charity, you could be a small charity. If you really get your head around why that philosophy makes sense in digital fundraising, then everybody can make use of this medium, which is now more important than ever.

And if I can squeeze an extra one in, because it’s my show I’m going to cheat. Emily also did a couple of excellent ones later on during the pandemic. And again, part of the notion of Bright Spots to me, my business philosophy for the last 20 years is finding examples that confound the received wisdom. Not to make the rest of us feel small, but to give all of us hope that, “Maybe I should cross-question some of the things that my colleagues are saying, which may not be true.”

And in episode 25, right off the bat, Emily talks about the results that her charity were achieving in April through Facebook advertising. Which was quadruple, what it would have be in April in 2019. And she goes on to explain, part of the reason why is, A, people have not stopped caring. This is not a human health charity, this is an animal charity’s you’re representing. But people have not stopped caring about their favourite cause.

And secondly, just extraordinary data about how much time we’ve been spending on our phones during 2020, and especially during lockdowns, stuck at home compared to normal times. And with those twin insights, she and her colleagues have quite deliberately… They’ve made use of that last bit of her philosophy, which is scale quickly. When they find something is working, they reinvest, they find a way to keep investing in things that are working in a way that I think many charities struggle to be nimble and agile and bold in that respect.


And I know we didn’t want to draw too much on one, but I got a sense from listening to you interview her, that there were moments when there were numbers that she had used or things that her team were trying out. That were just surprising, how many of something they were doing or how deep they went on a particular type of test. Can you remember when you were talking to her or in any of those podcasts, some of the moments where you went, “Wow. I wouldn’t have expected most to do that.”


One of my favourite bits, because just personally, I often kind of get a bit overwhelmed with the notion of testing, which emails are working better, or just analysing data. People who know me well, where there’s not a natural strength. And so I asked Emily, “You say let’s keep learning, let’s test stuff. Start small and see if it works and do more of what works and so on. How do you do that? Are you just endlessly looking at massive spreadsheets?” And she said, “Well yes, I am. The level of testing and the different factors that are interacting in our projects now is quite considerable.” But, Emily, she works full-time at Cats Protection, but she’s also extremely hardworking and generous hearted in helping some other small organizations on a pro bono basis.

So she gets what it’s like to be in a small charity without resources. And she said, “Look, at it’s simplest, what you could do is, if you’re going to send emails across the year; you could just choose each month, we’re going to test a different factor. So, in January we might be testing this headline versus that headline. And in February we might be testing this image of a cat versus that image of a cat and so on. And even if you don’t do it every month, but if you just decide most months we’re going to kind of quite deliberately to do a split test, an A/B test and notice what results we get of this choice, how it performs against that choice. If that’s all you do, like most of us could manage to not only send the email to raise the money, but also be testing one thing each time we do.”

And then the other bit they’d let me off the hook was, and if you’re not a person for whom the analysing of data to get this better segmentation and choosing of tactics better; just recognize that and see if you could get a volunteer or some kind of intern to come in two hours a week, two hours a month, and do the analysing for you. That’s what she recommends to lots of small organizations. And most organizations have someone out there who cares about your cause, and who has that skillset because they’re good at it, it’s what they do for their job.

And if you reached out by email or made a few phone calls, let it be known, you were looking for someone to help you with that element so that we get so much more efficient doing more of what works. She was saying many small organizations, she knows, have done that. And it’s actually a very doable thing, but obviously you’ve got to prioritize that as a way we’re going to work in 2021. But I think that’s a really practical one because it’s not asking us to suddenly be good at something that potentially we may not have time for or may not be our real strength.


Absolutely. So that was podcast episodes, 15 and 25. And there may be some others near there as well, which sounds like they’re the podcast episodes when Lorna Taylor started listening. Because if I have a look at this Twitter feed, she says she is loving the Rob Woods, Bright Spot Fundraising podcasts, so much: “It motivated me to finally figure out how to listen to media on my phone, through the car speakers. So I can listen on the way into work. So many useful ideas, I’ve just listened to the first digital fundraising one.” So Lorna, if you’re listening in the car, keep your eyes on the road, but we’re really pleased to hear that sort of feedback. And I know Rob you’ve heard feedback from people all throughout these episodes.


Yeah. In fact, I had intended to mostly kind of teach on this, but I am so grateful, so humbled, by the way that this show has taken off and more and more people are listening now. Especially because of the situation charities find themselves in, in 2020. And it may be that people would have found some of these episodes anyway, if they were diligently searching on iTunes or wherever. But it’s also true that part of the reason the show has managed to grow so quickly and get this following is because you lovely listeners have not only listened, you’ve gone out and taken a couple of minutes to then share a tweet or something on LinkedIn. And, whoever you are, I’m really grateful. One of the people who does it consistently, Gemma Young, you’re probably out on a run now, just thank you for always spreading the word. And because of this stuff with charities and fundraisers I’ve never trained, in New Zealand and the United States and Belgium.

And on social media, I’m hearing that it’s reaching places that ordinarily I would never be able to reach and it’s happening because you kind listeners are good enough to shout about it. So for those of you who found a moment to talk about the podcast on social media, or like Stevie Nicholson to share it with your colleagues and do a sort of learning hour, every couple of weeks, and then talk about it. However you’ve done it, if you liked the content and you spread it on, I’m ever so grateful. And also, I know time is so precious but those of you who found time also to go to iTunes or Spotify and leave a review. Just last week, Katie Hillitt, thank you, and Tanya left very kind reviews, and this is wonderful from my vanity. But the main reason I’m thinking is, it just causes the podcast to be more easily found by people who are searching for something on this subject, so thank you.

All of that said, one of my other favourite episodes was, I think it was Episode 20, I might be wrong. But it was the first show I did about creating virtual events that are not just another boring Zoom call. But, that are in and of themselves inspiring, and more likely to help your donors feel really good and connect with each other and with your cause and with your colleagues. And I first learned most about this from Lynda Harwood-Compton. That really early episode was interesting because although we released it, I think it was in March, and lots of charities were realizing they couldn’t do normal events anymore to inspire their donors. Lynda and her colleagues at Animal Asia had already been testing how to do inspiring webinars or virtual project visits for their supporters since November of 2019. And, they came up with a fabulous recipe that their donors were loving, that connected them to the people out there in the field, kind of helping protect the bears.

And Episode 19, Lynda just goes through a bunch of her top tips for how to not only have the courage to get on and pilot one of those, but also her recipe broadly of the things that it takes to make it work, to make them exciting, enticing; and indeed to help you generate further income as a strategy for doing that.


And Rob, just to check, I’ve got down here that she’s done a couple of podcasts. I think one of them is episode 13.


Yes, that was the original one. Yes.


Yeah. And then 19, I think after that as well.


So I hope you found these ideas helpful. And 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 and examples to help you succeed during the pandemic, then please do check out my e-book called Power through the Pandemic. Which gives seven strategies to help you raise more money, even now through major donors, corporates 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 to share the podcast to colleagues in your charity or on social media, thank you ever so much for your help spreading the word. And Ben and I would love to hear what you think about the ideas we talked about today. We are both on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, Ben is @benswart and I am @woods_rob. Thank you so much for listening today. If you found it helpful, do remember to subscribe to the podcast and I wish you good luck in your fundraising today, as you do your best to make a difference.