Episode 60: More tactics that helped our hospice FR – Individual Giving and Major Gifts, with Paul Courtney

Episode Notes

Clearly fundraising has been immensely challenging for many hospices and small charities this year. It’s also true that the public still care about deeply about their favourite causes, so high value and individual giving fundraising have become especially important.

So I was excited to have the chance to talk to Paul Courtney, Director of Fundraising at Children’s Hospice South West, to hear about how his colleagues have adapted their approach during the pandemic, not least because they’ve achieved record-breaking results in both areas this year.

This includes the charities’ most successful Christmas appeal ever, using a new and unusual approach, and major donor results which were up 150% compared to the year before the pandemic, thanks in part to a great stewardship and a different structure to improve the supporter’s experience.

FREE Training Films for Hospices and Small Charities

Would you like more ideas and examples to help you generate income for your charity? We explain these and other techniques in more depth, in our new training film series:

Hospice Fundraising Success Strategies – Now and After the Pandemic.

To get hold of your FREE copy of these five short training films, which Paul and Rob have created, FOLLOW THIS LINK. We will send them to your in-box over the next five days.

Quote

‘We did our best to focus on what’s really important, on what the experience is like for the donor, and what would work best to enable them to give in a way that suits them.’

Paul Courtney

 Transcript for Episode 60

Rob:

Hey there folks, and welcome to Episode 60 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. This is the 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 the pandemic.

Rob:

And today, if you work for a hospice or any other small charity, or if you work in major gift fundraising, individual giving, or if you’re the leader of a team, I hope you’re going to find this episode really helpful. I’m about to share an interview I recorded a few weeks ago with a fabulous fundraiser named Paul Courtney, who’s the director of fundraising at Children’s Hospice Southwest. Paul and I have created a new series of free training films called Hospice Fundraising Growth Strategies Now and After the Pandemic.

As I say, the films are completely free, and whether you work for a hospice or not, you can get your free copy from the episode notes to this podcast, which are on my website which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk. If you look on the podcast section of the website, for the notes for either episode 59 or episode 60 of the podcast, you’ll be able to click on the link and get hold of the series of five short films into your inbox. These are films which Paul and I use to unpack the clear strategies to help you raise funds through events, through corporate partnership fundraising, through individual giving and more, during and after the pandemic.

I really hope you enjoy today’s episode in and of itself, and if you do, please do go and check out these free films, where we can give you more tactics and in more detail. I always leave my conversations with Paul feeling encouraged, and just excited about fundraising. The same was definitely true for me at the end of this conversation. I really hope you find it helpful, too.

Rob:

In terms of high net worth individuals, I know that that also is an area where the community in the Southwest has stepped up and been really generous. I’m guessing the theme of great stewardship and great relationships is going to carry on. But in terms of tactically how you’ve applied that philosophy to major donor and or trust fundraising, what would you say?

Paul:

Well, I think it’s quite interesting because we began some work on these areas before the pandemic, and we’re beginning to look at how we worked and stewarded both individual major donors and trusts as well. So much of that began to pay dividends immediately, because at the heart of both of those areas, it will come as no surprise, is great stewardship and great relationship.

Paul:

With our trust, we worked very hard, very fast to do a lot of work on restricting gifts that may have been already given, and having really open and honest conversations. And saying, “Look, this is where we are, this is how we’re mobilizing our care. You had given us this money to do something in the building, we ain’t doing anything in the building for the next year or so. We are taking our hospice out, right across the peninsula. If you want to go with us on that journey, we’d love to use that funding. If you don’t, that’s cool, but we want to give you that chance.” Obviously, we saw some great responses to that. We saw some great responses just to those general conversations with funders. “This is where we are, this is how we’re doing. This is our situation. You’ve seen the accounts, you know the books, this is what we’re doing.” That was great, we’ve seen trust income at about 25% over the pre-pandemic budget that we set.

Paul:

With individual major donors, we’d already made the decision to begin to change our approach to that, particularly given the context of the Southwest. We didn’t have a specific major donor fundraiser. Our trust role just focused on trusts, and our individual heads of fundraising within the three hospice sites began to take on that responsibility for really understanding, and nurturing and developing relationships with major donors, because we know that individuals have those strong affinities with their local hospice, so we began to really take that focus.

Paul:

Interestingly, we applied that same logic with our individual giving program, more generally. We began to do some testing in terms of segmentation of our database, more broadly, with our autumn newsletter last September. Just really simple things, like anybody in Cornwall had the cover letter with the newsletter signed by the head of care from our Cornwall Hospice, talking about things that we’ve been doing in Cornwall. In Devon, the same. In Bristol, the same. Just that simple segmentation gave that local connection and local contact in the context of the wider whole. So applying that to major donors as well obviously had a real sense of success. But for the donor, they also had that sense of value in having personal contact with the head of fundraising for their local hospice.

Paul:

It wasn’t being pigeonholed, and being dealt with by the major donor fundraiser, or the high value giving manager. There was something really quite powerful about having that senior relationship and that senior contact with the head of fundraising for their local hospice. We’ve seen that really beginning to deliver results, really beginning to have regular contact with some of those key donors and those potential donors. Wanting to find out more, talking about events that are coming up, talking about what they might do. Just for them, from a donor point of view, having that personal point of contact is relevant for them, which has worked really well.

Rob:

Yes. There’s a quite deliberate change in approach and the way things are organized internally. That is extra effort, certainly initially, to decide to do it differently. In terms of it paying off, does an example spring to mind of where, because you were working this way, it really seemed to help get a good result?

Paul:

Absolutely. There are several examples at varying levels, and I think that’s always the wonderful context with this isn’t it, that for all of us we have different levels of what a major gift and what a big gift is. Particularly, within our organization and the bedrock of community support that we’ve enjoyed for years and years, very often our levels of major gifts might seem quite low compared to others.

Paul:

But, we had a wonderful interaction, having made this change and having had those relationships with the heads of fundraising. There was direct contact with a donor that lived only literally a mile or two away from our hospice site down in Cornwall, who had some phone calls, had some chats, and then sent in a wonderful big gift, far bigger than she’d ever given before. And then, continued that stewardship journey, continued just having chats. Being very clear, “Don’t send me anything, I don’t need reports, I don’t need all of those things. But, it would be lovely to just have a chat to see how you’re getting on as the year goes on.” And that’s wonderful, because that wouldn’t have happened without that local relationship. In that beautiful informal context, we’ve now got this lovely donor stewardship with a local senior fundraiser and a local major donor, who is being talked to and cared for in a way that she wants, about something happening just down the road that she now cares for. That’s magic.

Rob:

Yeah, it really is. Congratulations to everybody on managing to get more of that way of working happening. I guess, a thought that’s occurring to me is well, this makes perfect sense. Surely, any right thinking charity all along would hope and presume that that would just happen. But of course, I’ve worked in charities for 21 years, I know that there’s all kinds of psychological, and organizational, and structural and budget-y reasons why, in practice, good sense doesn’t necessarily happen as an automatic.

Rob:

I wonder if any of our listeners are thinking, “We would like to do that, but X or Y is in the way.” What would one or two of the barriers that needed to be solved in order to structure it this way so that the good sense prevailed?

Paul:

So I think there’s a couple things isn’t there, and some of them are practical and some of them are cultural. There’s no easy way of saying it, you’ve essentially got to take a sledgehammer to both. We did a load of work, again last year before the pandemic, coming into the 2020-21 financial year, to really look at how we were coding income, how we were classifying income, how we were talking about major donors, how we were nurturing and segmenting. And, that did take a lot of work but it was so worth it, to really go back and understand who are these people. Not just the people that we’ve had flagged as major donor for years and have never given anything. Who are the people that, again, on the ground we know are great supporters, we know give either one off or cumulatively across the year, big sums, because those are the people that we need to create that sense of nurturing relationship with.

Paul:

There’s quite a lot of practical stuff, though, in terms of doing the research, doing the looking, and looking to see whether the processes we’ve got and the tags we’ve got are appropriate. I suppose, the culture piece is linked to that because unless we take a sledgehammer to silos, we’re not going to do that piece of work effectively because that process will be halted and stumped by someone going, “Oh, well that’s my pot. Or, oh that’s my donor. We deal with that, over here.” We had to attack that.

Paul:

Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m just a bit blunt. But, one of the things I’ve said over the last couple of years is, “I don’t care what pot it goes in. The reason we are here, the reason we are fundraising, the reason that we get out of bed in the morning is not to make sure the money goes in my pot, it’s to make sure that the money gets to families of children with life limiting illnesses. So that when they don’t have three nights sleep because of bed turning, because of isolation, when they can’t get food, that’s why what we do. Not so that the money goes in a pot.” When we begin to look at it from that point of view, those silos begin to disappear. We begin to focus on what’s really important, and we begin to focus, funnily enough, back on then what the experience for the donor is like, and what would work best to enable them to give in their way.

Paul:

It’s the process combined with that culture that says okay, this may have been the way we did it but we know this is going to be better for the donor. As we went through that journey, people came along with us.

Rob:

And Paul, of course these are all such difficult, strange, ever-moving times, but I sense that these efforts have paid off overall, in terms of big gifts coming in. How would you sum up the growth?

Paul:

Yeah, we’ve certainly seen an increase in the volume of big gifts, and in several cases the value, too. That’s come from people giving where they traditionally would have done fundraising instead, and it’s come as a result of those relationships being nurtured. Overall, we’ve seen our individual giving up somewhere around 150% over our target for the year, which is due in part to those bits of work on major gifts and that segmenting properly across the region.

Rob:

In terms of individual giving at a lower level, five, 10, 20 pounds a month, again on that other film you unpacked the four or five reasons, in your view, why [crosstalk 00:13:40] wildly successful appeal in December, most successful ever. We haven’t got time for all of that, but just top line could you talk about this willingness to do things slightly differently, the [crosstalk 00:13:55], the risk taking approach to innovate, and so on.

Paul:

Yeah. We got really fed up, actually, during the latter autumn months of the appeals landing and denting our doormats with drudgery and we resolved to just do something a bit different and a bit fun. It was a risk, it was something very different. It wasn’t a full page, black and white, 12-point text letter, it was a little tiny A6, four foldout campaign called Elves Needed. Real fun, real play on Christmas. The entire thing had less than 150 words in it, and it was just a real piece of fun that had some great support with social media stuff and a little bit of radio. We had fantastic responses!

Paul:

In fact, I’ve got some of the figures here. We’re looking at average gifts, currently from the Christmas appeal, of about £36. Response rates up from previous years. And overall, the Christmas campaign before gift aid is added, is more than double what the Christmas campaign did two years ago. So we saw some brilliant results and some great feedback and interaction. That wonderful white mail that you get back with donations is always great, isn’t it? So many people just commenting on how they loved the fun, how they loved the joy that was in this little envelope that landed and looked like just another Christmas card in amongst those that landed on your mat that day.

Paul:

It was a real exercise for us, in terms of really channeling that hope that we as charities have, to talk about the things that we can transform. It’s learning that we’ve taken forward. We’re challenging ourselves now with a regular giving appeal that we’re putting together. Why do we need more than 200 words? How can we say this stuff in a punchy, succinct but impactful way? And, how can we use good creative to support that?

Paul:

Yeah, that’s been at the heart of our growth with individual giving at the lower level. Asking, for a start, and not being afraid to ask. But also, not making donors feel guilty if they can’t respond. But then, doing it in a fun, joyful way rather than the doormat denting drudgery that we’ve come to expect.

Rob:

Yeah. Of course, all different charities have a different brand, and different kinds of feelings they want their supporter to associate with them. The creative treatment you’ve gone for is not going to suit lots of other charities. But, the heart of what we’re saying is a willingness to try some different things, to see it from the donor’s point of view and try to give them more of what they might be interested in.

Rob:

And, I think you and I were speaking earlier about a wonderful talk given by Davinia Batley at our breakfast club for fundraising leaders the other day. She shared with that audience really wonderful fundraising strategies that have come off and resulted in wonderful income for her charity, Become. I was saying the heart of that story that Davinia told is actually not about any of the fundraising tactics, it’s about the culture that she as a leader and her colleagues right from the start, decided in March 2020. In these difficult times, we just have to get the culture right. That’s not always easy, but let’s decide how we’re going to be as leaders and as a team. And, one of those elements was this willingness to keep trying, to accept we won’t get everything right all the time in these difficult problems we’re having to solve, but a willingness to keep learning, keep testing and to be okay with that.

Rob:

In the films you made for hospices that we’ve been discussing today, you mentioned a similar culture value at your charity. Just before we finish this interview, top line, could you tell us anything about the value of being a learning team, a learning organization? Because if you don’t have that, it’s ever so hard to innovate the way you’re doing to individual giving. But, how have you done that? If you could just mention one or two of the ideas.

Paul:

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I loved listening to Davinia the other day, because that whole culture of testing, and learn, and grow rather than try and fail is just so much more supportive, and so much more inclusive as a culture. We certainly have been doing that over the last year or two, and certainly throughout the pandemic.

Paul:

Just a couple of the things that we’ve been doing, in terms of our leadership and culture space, is about being fallible ourselves, as leaders and as managers, showing that we don’t always get it right as well. That we test and we learn, and we grow as a result as well, we haven’t got all the answers. There’s that real sense of just being real, actually.

Paul:

But, I think the other element that we’ve really taken to heart and is already showing huge, huge benefits is about carving out time for learning, about being intentional with our time as a team. On the first Monday of every month we have a meeting that says, “Start the month as you mean to go on,” and it’s our whole region-wide team on a Zoom, that starts with celebrating good stuff. Share with the team the brilliant things that are happening, tell us about the great group that did that, tell us about the results of this activity. Let us know what’s coming up. As a group, let’s inspire one another to really start the month as we mean to go on.

Paul:

And then, in the middle of every month, on a Wednesday afternoon, we carve out a three hour afternoon, as a team, intentionally for learning. Obviously, there’s a benefit in terms of they touch bases, but there’s time for learning, there’s time to look at particular topics, and there’s time to then break out into groups to really explore, and devise, and come up with campaign delivery tactics that feed through into what’s happening in the next couple of months. That’s been brilliant, both in terms of team feeling cohesive, bearing in mind that I’ve got three teams split across three hospice sites. So to bring us all together as one big team, that’s a really valuable thing to do. But two, to just have that real focused, invested time for learning together really helps to build that culture, knowing that we’ve all got more to learn, that we could all come and get something that will improve our fundraising together as a team.

Rob:

Yeah. I think having a key value being that of learning has always been a smart thing to do. Otherwise, basically the saw just gets blunter and blunter, if all you’re ever doing is saw. But if you take time away to sharpen that saw, maybe you could get twice as efficient at doing whatever job you’re trying to do, if I don’t stretch the metaphor too far.

Rob:

But, I think very few people would argue with the notion that change continues to speed up in politics, at a local level, in economics, in technology. Let alone the pandemic, everything’s going faster and faster. So the one thing, I think, we just have to program into our approach to our job is being willing to carry on learning new ways to solve the new versions of the challenges that are coming to us. And interestingly, there isn’t time to talk about this today, but the new opportunities that are coming, for instance during a pandemic, in different ways you can help your kinds of supporter want to care and want to give. That’s a whole other topic for another film, another interview.

Rob:

But for today, Paul thank you so much for making that lovely set of training films anyway, for hospices and small charities, and thank you for this podcast interview in which you 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.

Paul:

Cheerio!

Rob:

Thanks, Paul. Bye, bye.

Rob:

Well, I hope you found Paul’s ideas and examples were helpful. If so, do remember to subscribe to the podcast today so that you never miss an episode. And as I mentioned earlier, if you did find these ideas helpful then I promise you’ll get even more ideas and inspiration from the new training video series we’ve created, especially for hospices and other small charities. It’s called Hospice Fundraising Growth Strategies During and After the Pandemic. And in it, we have time to go into more depth on lots of things that hospices and small charities can do at the moment, to help raise funds in spite of the pandemic. It includes more detail on corporate partnership fundraising, on events, on leadership and on how to create an energized fundraising culture, as well as on individual giving. And, it’s completely free for any fundraiser to access. So if you’d like to get your copy just go to the notes for episode 59 or episode 60, which is on the podcast section of my website. The website is brightspotfundraising.co.uk, and then just click on the link and we will send you those five films.

Rob:

Just before we finish, I’d like to say a massive thank you to everybody whose been getting in touch, and everyone whose been spreading the word about this podcast, with colleagues and on social media. I really appreciate your help. Paul and I would love to hear what you think about this episode. We’re both on LinkedIn. And on Twitter, Paul is @paulkairos. That second word is K-A-I-R-O-S, @paulkairos. And I am @woods_rob. Finally, thank you so much for choosing to listen to the Fundraising Bright Spots Show, and I wish you the very best of luck with your fundraising.