Episode 49: FIVE listens to help you handle 2021 – with Rob Woods and Ben Swart

Episode Notes

I’ve now been making this podcast for just over year, and now that there are nearly 50 episodes, I wanted to reflect on five episodes that I think are especially relevant to the challenges fundraisers are facing as we start another difficult year.

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.


Thank you SO much to everyone who has supported this show in our first 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, on my website, www.brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Further Resources

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: www.brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

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

Episode 33 Generating major gifts momentum, with Paul Davies

Episode 19 How to inspire supporters in spite of the pandemic, with Ben Swart

Episode 23. Three leadership essentials during the pandemic, with Paul McKenzie

Episode 30. Partnering with another charity, with Lucy Squance

Full Transcript

Rob: Hi there, folks, and welcome to Episode 49 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and this is the show for anyone who works in fundraising and who wants ideas to help you raise more money, enjoy your job and make a bigger difference, especially during the pandemic.

This time we wanted to make a slightly different episode, and the gist of it is that we’ve now been running the podcast for just over a year. So towards the end of 2020, I sat down over Zoom with my friend and colleague at Bright Spot, Ben Swart, and we looked at particular episodes, which we think are especially relevant and useful to fundraisers, given the state of the world right now, given the state of the pandemic and how challenging fundraising can be right now.

The first of these episodes, we put out as Episode 47. We looked at five we think are especially interesting right now, and so this is the second one of these. We’ve chosen five episodes, which we hope you’ll find particularly interesting in and of itself. I hope you enjoy listening to this one. And maybe after listening to our discussion, you might be moved to go and check out a couple of episodes, which you may not have heard before. So that’s the idea. I hope you find it helpful. On with the show.

One of the ones I really loved was with someone known to both of us, Ben, Jamal Iqbal. One reason I love it is because he works in the higher education sector, and I’m conscious that most of the episodes have been skewed to a more conventional kind of chatting, rather than education, schools and colleges. So that’s one reason because he’s talking about storytelling and the importance of seeking more and more conversations with your supporters or your potential supporters, your alumni, in the context of the higher education sector.

The other thing I took from it is I’d forgotten one of Jamal’s absolute strengths, and you know this, Ben, because you used to work with him. One of his out-and-out strengths is this. I said, “Jamal, if you could have a billboard with just one word written on it that all fundraisers would see,” and he said, “Tenacity.”




And I’d forgotten that word. I don’t use that word very often. I talk about perseverance and determination.

But from what I’ve studied, particular words have a power over us, and just him choosing tenacity as a quality above all, a cure-all basically. You could be weak in some areas, but if it’s a fundraiser, you decide to be tenacious and willing to just keep going and bounce back, whatever it takes to find a way to improve results in a certain area, be that being a better listener or having more conversations with your supporters or whatever it might be, if tenacity is a strength, you’re going to do well as a fundraiser. And Jamal reinspired me and the importance of that value, just kind of the way he explained it.

Also, I guess, I’m biased because I happened to… He’s so congruent because I’ve known him for a while, and I know that this is Jamal’s trump card.


Absolutely. And do you know what, today or last week, I was talking about partnerships that are still going, five, six years ago said to Jamal, “No, sorry. We’re not going to meet you. It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to work.” And they’re into their third year now because Jamal doesn’t give up, if he sees the sense, maybe not now, but later down the line. Because of that, they are still going and they’re winning awards so, yes, I can totally see that.

By the way, congratulations, Jamal, if you are listening to this, because I know that you’ve had another addition to the Jamal Iqbal family. So congratulations to that. I’m sure it’s very early in the night that you’re listening.


Congratulations, Jamal and family.

Another of my favourites was, again, talk about force of nature, there’s this brilliant fundraiser I met this year through the Major Gifts Mastery Programme called Paul Davies from a relatively small charity. It’s an arts charity in Manchester called Manchester Camerata, and he came on Major Gifts Mastery. He was absolutely a sponge for learning. Lots of the breaks, he was coming up to ask me another question. And I just so respect that quality in a person to just be hungry to want to know, and really get the detail of why this, not that. He’s worked so hard this year to go out and implement, A, for his own practice and, B, help his team with some of the ideas that we teach at Bright Spot. In Episode 33, I think it was, Paul is just talking about some just wonderful progress in achieving momentum for Major Gifts to his orchestra, his arts charity.

And just as a headline, in that episode, he talked about how last year before coming and working with us, he might be able to meet four or five, or talk to four or five of his supporters per month. When I interviewed him in June for the podcast, he was averaging 20 Zoom calls with his supporters to catch up and/or talk about 20 a month. Just in number terms, that’s a good way of understanding his other results, which is that, at that time, it was just literally two weeks into launching their appeal in June. They’d achieved a third of their target within two weeks because of this. If you talked to that number of people who might be relatively wealthy and you care about your cause, even if you ignored all of our other content about storytelling and rapport and listening and matching up, not all of that, but you just talked to 20 people who care a month, we have found your results are going to kind of go relatively well because people do care.

Anyway, if you’ve not heard that one, I really recommend it as a listen because there’s something about Paul’s energy and his enthusiasm that I find inspiring, and I hope other listeners do, too.


That’s numbers 23 and 24 to hear how he got those extraordinary results.


By my memory, Ben, it was Episode 33 where-


Thirty-three, sorry.


… he’s talking about it.

But, again, I’m going to cheat and add in an extra podcast. One of our favorite themes, always in fundraising, Ben, when we’re teaching and coaching people is we don’t take it lightly. We know it’s not easy for a human being to do. There’s lots of good seeming reasons in your head not to pick up the phone, and I know we’re quite proud of some of our sophisticated strategies.

But one of the key things we’ve found that helps a fundraiser in normal times, let alone pandemic times, is to find the courage to pick up the phone more often and earlier in the day to talk to people who’ve already are supporting your organization. On the episode with Paul, you get some of how he does that, that is a real engine that drove his growth for him and his team.

But the other must-listen-to episode, if I could just mention one that I think, I’m not saying this to puff you up, Ben, but my sense is this Episode 19 you recorded with me is the one that has been listened to more than any other episode of all the ones we’ve made this year. In it broadly, you’re just helping people find the courage and some technique to be braver in picking up the phone, so thank you for that one. There’s another dozen stories I could tell right now of the impact that’s achieved, but I don’t know if you wanted to kind of just reflect on what it was like to record that or the difference you perceive it’s made for fundraisers you coach.


Well, I think the interesting thing is that we had a hypothesis. I remember talking to you, it was day two of lockdown, that the things that we were hearing as charities, the stories of how tricky the next few months would be, we have to get this to the ears of our donors, and one of the best ways to do that is to have a conversation and care about them on the phone. Since that point, whether it’s, I think you said Stevie, that podcast was what helped her and her charity. Nearly every fundraiser that I’ve spoken to when they have been brave enough to have a conversation, to pick up the phone, like you found with Paul, that it has made life easier for them. They have got more gifts and they have got more meetings. They have been more relieved. They have felt a sense of progress. They have felt more confident. It’s been working, and it is a reoccurring theme when people choose to get on the phone, smash through that fear, they are feeling so much better for it. So I’m pleased that that podcast worked.


Yeah. And just recently on the Major Gifts Mastery Programme, there’s a wonderful fundraiser who mentioned that she and her team in order to get lots of people to attend their virtual event, she didn’t just send an email, she didn’t just send a film. But she and her team put in the hours, picking up the phone to their supporters, telling them about this exciting, inspiring virtual event and, A, surprise, surprise, lots of people have come to the event and they’ll get the value from the event, but the other thing she was saying is, “As a team, we got so energized by connecting with people who were pleased to hear from us.”

That’s always the real kind of the bigger value you get from the brave act or the generous act of reaching out, not for money, but just reaching out because you care is invariably, we might get one or two kind of less enjoyable calls, but overall, people who make more calls, have more conversations with their supporters, tend to get their morale lifts and their energy levels go up because of that need for human connection is being met. And goodness knows if there’s one thing we’re still going to need in 2021, Ben, it’s ways of consistently knowing we can lift our morale and help our morale stay high. That’s another reason we love that tactic. It’s not just because you’re worrying about your target and you’re likely to raise more money if you talk to more of your supporters.


In fact, I’ve got a text message that someone sent to me from their supporter that said, “Hi,” the fundraiser. “Just to say how thoughtful it was to call us yesterday, much appreciated. Look forward to getting more news on your plans for streaming, taking things online, et cetera. Take care.” That is from a millionaire who, five days into lockdown, that’s the message he sent after the phone call.


Yeah. And some of the other inspiring ones, I think Stevie mentioned this on the podcast, is when supporters have said, “Thank you so much for calling. Do you know, you’re the first person I’ve talked to in the last four days?” Fundraisers I know care about people. And when you lean into caring about your supporters, rather than trying to get something from them, the whole game becomes easier.

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. 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. 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.

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, 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 I talk about three more episodes that I think are especially useful for fundraisers to listen to during these challenging times.

One other one I particularly wanted to mention, I think it might’ve been Episode 30 with Lucy Squance, where she’s talking about when she and her organization collaborated with another organization, kind of to do a couple of years ago the Virgin Money Marathon, and just some interesting lessons she learned about that, and I’m not going to go into detail now. It’s only that as charities are having to duck and dive more and pivot, one of the tactics some are needing to do is to work with other organizations more deliberately. On our Breakfast Club last week, the excellent Desiree D’Souza at SeeAbility was giving her top tips about how working deliberately with other organizations, consortium working has really made a difference to how their charity is still able to grow and to serve their beneficiaries. So it’s just clearly an important theme that some charities are going to need to look at.

The last one, in some ways it is the most important… You know, all 44 of the episodes we’ve done so far, I believe have their merit. But I don’t think anything is as important now for us as wellbeing and morale, including mental health. For that reason, I also just really loved the episode that Paul McKenzie made for us. I can’t remember what episode number, you might know. But as a leader, he explains the five main priorities he had certainly through the first part of lockdown, that first lockdown, how tough it was, how not easy, because you’ve got dozens of different problems to solve as a leader. But hearing the congruent way in which he prioritized the looking after of his colleagues and that his number one responsibility as a leader and the lengths he went in time and energy to do that, and every single manager meeting and meeting with his team, he talked about how he was serious about that, and he wanted everyone to be looking after themselves and looking out for each other, so it wasn’t just the leader’s problem, and then further tactics for achieving that in practice, which is not always easy, I found that really inspiring listening as well.


Yeah. So if you are listening to this, it’s numbers 23 and 24. Content so good you had to make two of them, Rob-


That’s right.


… 23 and 24, and I couldn’t agree more, especially at the moment. A really, really powerful podcast to help people with their wellbeing.

Rob, one thing for me is that I used to say to people that one of the things about Bright Spot is that you’ve spent so many years hunting out fundraisers, buying them coffee and choosing to really dive deeper on what it is that they do, outstanding fundraisers, Paul with leadership and the other Paul with major giving, and those interviews would be in your pad and lost. The thing I love about these podcasts is there are 40-plus interviews now that you know you’ve used and we’ve used to help others to change their habits, to get home on time, be happier, raise more money, and anyone can listen to them. So I’m pleased that you’ve had a chance to look back because they really are helpful.

Is there anything more that you would like to say to them, Rob, on reflection?


Well, I was, before we finished, Ben, just going to say your… How can one choose one thing? But as you look back over this extraordinary year, either what’s a key lesson you’ve learned and/or as you look forward to the 2021 that’s coming at us, what your thought might be for how you as a fundraiser are planning to quite deliberately go out and make the difference you’d like to?


That’s a really good question.

I think that one thing for me is the need to care about… I think you touched on it. Paul has realized that he needs to think through five things to care about his people, more now than ever before. The reason why fundraisers are getting messages of support and we’re getting feedback from donors saying, “Thank you for calling me,” is because we need to care about our donors more than we ever have done before. And we know that our organizations, the moment this happened, are caring about our beneficiaries more than they ever have done before. I think that that guiding principle of when I begin to focus about my people, about my beneficiaries and about my donors, I’ve found it filled me with energy and confidence throughout this and for other fundraisers, too.

So for me, it’s that sense of if I stop and I focus on the fact that my kids are quarantined, or that I’m stuck at home for another few hours, or all these other things, my energy begins to zap. But when I begin to realize and care about others, especially in those three, my donors, my beneficiaries and my people, I’ve found that it’s given me energy. For me, that’s my takeout, as well as the complete opposite of that, making sure that I switch everything off. I’ve got an 18-month-old, and it’s really hard to think about other things when he’s there. So, for me, if you don’t have an 18-month-old, what’s the thing that you can do that can switch off everything else? I’m not sure how helpful that is, Rob, but those are my three or four ideas.


Yeah. I agree with both points, is that finding a way to contribute and care about others energizes, and it helps you feel connected, rather than alone and isolated. And secondly, my goodness, whatever one’s habit or practice might be in one’s life, to just kind of stop the brain wearing. For some people, it’s meditating, for some people it’s cooking, or whatever it might be. I plan to continue practicing that idea certainly throughout 2021 to help me be at my best.

Ben, thank you so much for playing the role of Parkinson today and having the tables turned on you. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much to the listener. If this was your first episode, I hope we whet your appetite and you want to go and listen to a couple of more juicy ones. And to our loyal listeners who have been listening to most of the episodes all year long, a huge thank you as well.

I hope you found my discussion with Ben was interesting. If you’d like to see a full transcript and a summary of the episode, you can do that by going to the blog and podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk. If you’d like to get your hands on 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 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.

Before we finish, I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who’s been sharing the podcast with colleagues in your charities and on social media. If you want to do that today, or if you want to get in touch, Ben and I would love to hear what you think. We’re both on LinkedIn. 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 today. Good luck in all your efforts to be bold in your fundraising to make a positive difference.