Fundraising has been especially hard for many hospices and small charities this year because community and events fundraising has been so disrupted during the pandemic. Corporate partnerships income has also been hard hit in many charities.
So I was intrigued to hear about the remarkable results that have been achieved by Children’s Hospice South West this year. Not only have the overall results achieved by the fundraising team been impressive, but they’ve even done well in events and corporate partnerships income. In fact, the flagship sponsored events, Santas On the Run and Rainbow Run generated more in 2020 than they did in the previous year.
In this interview Paul Courtney, who is Director of Fundraising at the hospice explains some of the tactics his team have used to generate fundraising success through community events and corporate partnerships, including the very successful launch of their giving club for corporate partners.
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‘We got ourselves out of that ‘event’ mindset and we started looking at these things as stewardship activities that really gave and delivered brilliant experiences for supporters.’
Transcript of Episode 59
Hello, and welcome to Episode 59 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. This is a show for anyone who works in fundraising, and who wants ideas and a dose of encouragement to help them enjoy their job and raise more money, especially during these chaotic times. Today, if you work for a hospice or any other small charity, or if you work in events or community or corporate fundraising, I hope you’re going to find this episode really interesting because today I’m sharing an interview I conducted with a fabulous fundraiser named Paul Courtney, who’s director of fundraising at Children’s Hospice South West. Paul and I have created a new series of training films, which is completely free, and it’s called Hospice Fundraising Growth Strategies Now and After the Pandemic. As I say, the films are free and whether you work for hospice or not, you can get your copy from the episode notes to this podcast, which are on my website.
My website is brightspotsfundraising.co.uk. So if you’re interested, look on the podcast section of that website for the notes for Episode 59, and you’ll be able to click on the link and get hold of this series of five short films in which Paul and I unpack strategies to help you raise funds through events, through corporates, through individual giving and more during and after the pandemic. So I hope you enjoy today’s episode in and of itself. If you do, please do go out and also check out those free training films where we delve deeper. I always leave my conversations with Paul feeling more energized and more optimistic, and this time was no different. I really hope you find it helpful to call. Paul Courtney, how are you?
I’m very well. Thank you, Rob. You?
Yes, extremely well. Thank you and thanks so much for making time for an interview to do with fundraising and leadership in these strange times. You, the other day, helped me make a really interesting set of films, particularly for hospice fundraisers, but frankly, for any fundraiser, I think we’ll find them useful because your team have achieved some really wonderful things. There were lots of journeys you’ve achieved some wonderful things, but the results that Children’s Hospice South West have achieved during the last 10, 11 months of the pandemic really do stand out even more than lots of the other success stories I’ve studied to the extent that broadly speaking, in this very tough year, you’re on course to pretty much achieve the same budget you were predicted to raise before the pandemic even hit.
That is, really, considering the portfolio of fundraising income that your hospice and most hospices tend to have and the way in many charities that’s been really hit in terms of community and events type fundraising, it’s a huge achievement. Congratulations to you and to everyone involved and all the hard work that’s been involved. In that other set of films. You explain some particular tactics for how that has been achieved; for instance, in corporate and individual giving and events, income even, I gather your center run, if I’m remembering rightly, raised around a £100,000, which is similar to, or even a bit more, ultimately, in terms of ratio then it would have raised the year before. So in this podcast version of the interview, could you just start off, for instance, with the kernel of the idea for how you managed to get sponsored event type income even in this difficult year, given that many charities have understandably struggled with that?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a year of what everybody talks about as pivoting, isn’t it? If a virtual event pivots, a word that probably many of us never want to hear again, but it’s something that we’ve all had to do. Like you say, the big, massive participation events that were a really key part of our calendar every single year are Rainbow Runs that happen every June and our Santas on the Run events that happen in December. We moved both of those in June very quickly. In December, obviously, we had a bit more time to plan, which was fabulous, but the real change to them was about putting the event participants or the supporters right at the heart of that journey and those events. I suppose it’s that stewardship thread that is just so important.
We stopped immediately thinking about them as events. We stopped. We got ourselves out of that event mindset and we started looking at them as stewardship activities that really gave and delivered brilliant experiences for supporters. What we found as we did that was that we were giving supporters, we were giving the general public, people that we’d never had contact with before, the opportunity to do things in their own terms. So just simple changes like running these virtual activities over the space of a weekend rather than on a specific day, gave people freedom. For many years, our Santas on the Run events physically were held in three different locations across the region on the same day.
Now, I don’t know what your diary is normally like in December, but chances are that that date was the date that it was the children’s primary school Christmas fair or that something else was on. So for a huge group of people, immediately, the decision was made whether they took part or not. So by doing it across that weekend, we were able to provide this brilliant freedom for people to do their own thing whenever they wanted, which worked for us too. As a family, we went out just before Christmas at 7:00 on a Sunday morning of the Santas on the Run goes freestyle events and did our 5K dressed as penguins and reindeers and goodness knows what else, because that was the time that worked for us. So just giving the supporters that chance to do what they want, when they want it under the banner of this wider sense of community and being part of something bigger was hugely successful.
I think that was the other element that really, really worked for both of the events. What we learned a lot of back in June with Rainbows and what we brought forward through into Santas in December was about really creating that buzz of community online, so really creating communities of support, groups and event pages and really driving content to those, not by ourselves, but by participants so much so that my Facebook feed over the Santas weekend was just a wash with hundreds of people posting their pictures, engaging and of course, us as the charity reacting, commenting, cheering along to every single one of them, which I’m pretty much destroyed my social media team, but did an incredible thing because every single one, in June, we have just over a thousand taking part in the Rainbow Run. In December, we had probably on the way to 1,100, 1,200 people taking part.
Every single one of those that posted anything at any point, got to like, got a comment, got a cheer. Just something so simple, but on a huge volume, was brilliant in terms of that stewardship, because I feel seen, I feel noticed, I feel encouraged and I feel like when it comes to the next event, I’ll do it again. I think that’s a really important thing just on these virtual events is that there’s been a lot of talk and there’s still a lot of talk, isn’t there, particularly in the dull, quiet bit of the year that we find ourselves now, that people will get virtual event fatigue and I just don’t believe that’s a thing. Why would I, as a donor or a supporter, get fatigued by brilliant stewardship, brilliant thinking and brilliant engagement and finally, brilliant contact with what my fundraising is going to achieve in the life of children and families? I could listen to that for years.
In the other film you made with me, you were telling me just how unbelievably hard your team have worked at making time in the day for the really important stuff, not the spreadsheets, but the picking up of the phone to anyone who said they’re going to do one of these things for your hospice, bravely or not bravely, picking up the phone and just saying, “Hello,” and, “This is amazing and I saw your post on Facebook and thank you so much.” This is such obvious stuff and yet, in many charities across the land, we can understand if there’s lots of other things on the to-do list, which we just think we’ll get done first, which seems a bit less scary, but you’re just saying you knew from the start that the engine room of people actually following through doing the thing, enjoying it and then, indeed, telling their friends and then, indeed, collecting the sponsorship, it just makes a huge difference if they’ve heard from you and you’re impressed and delighted and grateful and can give them a sense of the difference it’s making.
Absolutely. It makes such a difference. My wonderful team in the week running up to Rainbows and in the run up to the Santas made literally hundreds and hundreds of calls. The Rainbow, I think they did just shy of a thousand calls and emails in the four or five days in the run up. There were various responses to that. The first one was surprise from the donor and that’s always concerning, isn’t it, that our first response from donors in the general public is surprised that a charity is bringing to encourage them and say, “Yay, you’re great!”
We want to change that culture. But the second was that sense of, “Oh, that’s really great. Oh, thanks so much for calling.” But the third, I think, most important impact for me was that as fundraisers did that more and more, so that impact started to happen in them as well because we know, don’t we, as humans talking to people and encouraging people does something positive for us too. For fundraisers to either start that day or break up their day or end their day with one of those calls and interactions releases all the right sort of endorphins and reminds us why we do what we do as fundraisers.
Yeah. Anyway, all human beings have had a need for some level of connection with others and some people need it more than others. But now more than ever, one of the big battles we have to fight individually and forward with our teams is that battle against the disconnect, against a sense of isolation, because that human need for connection is not met. If one, as personally, or as a leader is creating a culture in which you’re encouraging people to make time to reach out and do a good thing for someone who cares about your cause, it may take a little courage to get started. But once, like you said, on our film, once you get started, my goodness, it releases those feel- good hormones, and they’re likely to be more upbeat for the rest of the day and therefore, do other creative or brave fundraising moves for the rest of the day.
It emboldens, doesn’t it?
Totally. It does. Goodness, I’d like to dip into detail in all these topics, but certainly in the podcast version of this interview, there won’t be time. But that there is a connection between where your first point, which is, just think of the fundraising opportunity now as the chance to do the best stewardship we’ve ever done. Really, I think that’s at the heart of why even in this unbelievably tough arena of fundraising, which is working with corporates right now, even in that field, your team have done surprisingly well. Again, we’re not going to go do into all the tactics, but a centerpiece of your strategy there has been to regularly put on events, not to ask for money and raise money, but to put on a breakfast event for companies who are already supporting or might be interested in supporting, could you top line tell us about that strategy? How often were those events, are those events and any two or three of elements of the recipe for how they’re structured?
Yeah, of course. So very early on, we established our bite-sized business breakfast. We always have had business breakfast in our hospice sites, but, obviously, we can’t do that. So we just, straight to Zoom and we began to do the monthly and we began to just create this pattern, simple sessions, hour-long, no more, and with a simple topic often around well-being or different companies and their involvement, like you say, not asking for donations. We started the first couple and we put them at 10 pounds for people to sign up. Still, we had some good numbers, but very quickly, we changed that, we learned. We said, “No, let’s just make them free. This is not about income generation. This is about engagement and stewardship.”
The simple formula was simply to provide space for people to chat, like you say, existing supporters or new, and share stories. That was the most powerful bit of the formula is that on every single one of these occasions, we had a member of our care teams or a family that we supported and joining us on screen. We got out of the way and they just shared what it meant to be supported by Children’s Hospice South West For our care staff that shared, it was wonderful to see them without scripting and without briefing, personally, eye-to-eye saying, “Thank you so much for the support that you give, because it gives me the privilege of being able to be there with families.” That’s just beautiful because it’s absolute direct stewardship and it just created a great forum.
In the end, what tended to happen with these monthly events was that as people were given the chance to introduce themselves, to talk about their businesses, nine times out of 10, when we encouraged people to introduce themselves, what they did was tell everyone else about the way they were fundraising for Children’s Hospice. It became a bit of a competition through the intros, which was fantastic because they were saying how it engaged their staff. They were saying how it was improving everybody’s morale. They were saying how their company was a better place to work as a result of their fundraising for Children’s Hospice South West, which they were doing our job for us. It was great.
Of course that’s the best kind of encouragement or information to help other companies who are wondering whether to commit and find the time and energy to do something else. If they’re hearing other companies a bit like theirs saying that completely sincerely, unprompted, that’s a whole different thing from looking at a charity’s corporate fundraising web page talking about the transactional benefits to employee morale if you get involved. It’s just a whole different level, isn’t it? One of my favorite elements that you told me, there’ve been so many moments, but there was a particular moment after a father of a little boy who had been supported and your team had supported them all the way through and he explained that the little boy, I think, had died last autumn?
Yes, he died in the autumn.
But the crux of it was saying that he and his partner, he just wasn’t sure how they would have survived at all without the help of the hospice supporting through every step of that difficult journey. The bit of the story, I then even resonated just as much for me, is a managing director of a company who is on that Breakfast Club event, clearly emotional saying, “Until this morning, I thought we were just doing a charity of the year, but now it’s really clear to me. We’re not going anywhere. We’re in it for the long haul.”
In that moment, it’s abundantly clear just what an amazing difference it makes if a charity can do the extra work to arrange for these people who have benefited to be looked after in the right way and invited in the right way to see whether they’d be willing to come and share their story. Lots of that is not easy. We’re right to be cautious about doing it really properly and caringly, respectfully. But when a charity can go those extra steps to create that, for a company to go from potentially raising this much to enthusiastically being proud to raise ever more, in that moment, we get to the heart of just why it’s worth the effort to go the extra mile with wonderful stewardship.
It makes all the difference. At the heart, I’ve said it already, and we said that in the other films we recorded, and it’s an old fashioned charity cliche, isn’t it? We just need to get ourselves out of the way. We need to simply connect donors with beneficiaries and the humanity just happens. The connection happens.
Well, thank you so much for making that lovely set of training films, anyway, for hospices and small charities. Thank you for this podcast interview in which you’ve given some highlights and some new ideas as well. I look forward to catching up with you very soon about whatever you’re doing next in terms of fundraising to deal with 2021. Best of luck to your team as they carry on handling those challenges, but for now, Paul Courtney, thank you for joining me on the podcast and I will see you very soon. Well, I hope you found this conversation helpful. If so, do remember to subscribe to the podcast today so that you never miss an episode.
As I mentioned earlier, if you found today’s ideas helpful, then I promise you’ll get lots more ideas and inspiration from the new training video series we’ve created, especially for hospices and small charities. It’s called Hospice Fundraising and Growth Strategies During and After the Pandemic. In it, we have time to go into more depth on a bunch of things that hospices can do at the moment to help raise funds in spite of the pandemic. It includes more detail on corporate partnerships, on events, on leadership and on how to create an energized fundraising-friendly culture and on individual giving and it’s completely free for any fundraiser to access, whatever kind of charity you work for.
So if you’d like to get hold of your copy, just go to the notes for Episode 59, which is on the podcast section of my website. My website is brightspotsfundraising.co.uk. Go to those episode notes and click on the link. Just before I finish, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s been getting in touch and spreading the word about this podcast, both with colleagues and on social media. I really do appreciate it. Paul and I would love to hear what you think about this episode. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Paul is at Paul Kairos, which is spelled K-A-I-R-O-S, Paul Kairos and I am @woods_rob. Finally, thank you so much for listening today and best of luck with your fundraising.