During the pandemic, the leaders of the small music charity, Ensemble Reza have been determined that their organisation should continue to make a difference for their community.
In fact, by continually trying new tactics to solve their many challenges this year, the charity has grown its audience, DOUBLED its fundraising income and transformed its impact.
In this, the second half of my recent interview with Hannah Carter, the Managing Director, we explore several ways they’ve managed to add value to the community, including a bold way to create wow factor and a joyful stewardship project delivered in record time.
If you want to share this episode with colleagues or on social media because you think it will help other fundraisers – THANK YOU SO MUCH! – we are both on Linked In and on twitter I am @woods_rob.
Ongoing training and inspiration
Episode 57. If you enjoyed this episode, why not also check out the first half of my conversation with Hannah, which you can find in Episode 57 of the podcast.
Are you tired of one-off conference sessions and training days, where any info you learn fades away within a week or two of the event?
One thing Hannah mentions is how helpful she’s found it to be a member of the Bright Spot Members Club since the start of the pandemic. If you’d like to find out more about the training bundles and live weekly coaching sessions that Hannah and the rest of the club get access to, or to try for just a month, go to www.brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join/
Free E-book. If you’d like to know powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out my 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
Quote from this episode
‘I’ve always had that mantra in the back of my head, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” And I know sometimes it’s scary, but sometimes you just have to dive in.’
Full Transcript of Episode 63
Hello, and welcome to Episode 63 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. This is the show for fundraisers who want ideas and a little dose of inspiration to help you enjoy your job and raise more money, especially during the pandemic. Today I’m sharing the second half of my conversation with Hannah Carter, who’s the Managing Director of Ensemble Reza, which is a wonderful music charity based in Sussex in the South of England. Hannah is a member of our Bright Spot Members Club, and as such I’ve been fortunate to have various fascinating chats with her in the last 15 months during the COVID pandemic.
In Episode 57 of this podcast, Hannah explained how as a small music charity having to cancel all their events in March 2020, presented her and her colleagues with a massive gut-wrenching challenge. “How on earth,” she wondered, “would they keep their little organization afloat?” She went on to share some of the things they did to adapt, finding fabulous ways to add value to their supporters during the pandemic. In so doing, they transformed the impact they make and doubled their fundraising income compared to the previous year.
In this, the second half of our conversation, Hannah and I talk about a range of things, including storytelling, creativity, and being bold, whether or not you work for an arts charity, I think you’re going to enjoy listening to these examples of how Hannah has responded to her challenges. And so, Hannah, it sounds like there’ve been so many examples of you making a difference. Some of that’s been coming through in the feedback you get. Could you, does an example spring to mind of some feedback coming in that you just thought, “Oh my goodness, we’ve really made a difference there.”
Do you know, Rob, there’s been so much. Yeah, I think it’s really true, I’ve had so much feedback that I can see that our concerts, but clearly reducing isolation and loneliness, but there’s one story that always springs to mind. One lady said that she cycles, I think it’s probably about 12 miles each week to see her mom. And this is when lockdown was, last sort of March, April time where you couldn’t go into people’s houses. And so she cycled to her mom’s house and through the window they would watch our midday music concert together. And she’d also get her sister, I think it was, who was in South Africa to also to listen at the same time. And the three of them would listen to this concert and then she’d cycle home again. But they found it was their one way of kind of connecting. And I just love that story, the fact that they were all getting together to connect. The sense of wellbeing, she was going outside, exercising as well, was a really special one that really cheered up my day.
But there have just been so many, and somebody emailed me and said, “I wouldn’t normally listen to classical music, but hey, I’ve started listening and I’m really enjoying it.” And people saying, “Your music transports us to a better place.” A lot of people have said actually, “In a week it gives us something to look forward to,” which I’ve heard lot of that. And it’s nice to be able to now offer a range of programs. Actually some people’s week can be really busy with all that we’ve got on offer.
Wow, amazing stories, Hannah, this is such powerful stuff. And I can see how sharing on some of this feedback when you’re talking to other funders truly helped to make a difference as well. One of the things that various charities have found a way to do is in amongst the very clear disadvantage and challenge that COVID has brought, they’ve somehow searched and found opportunities and the advantages. And actually this whole story is an example of that. But I wonder if there’s a specific project or initiative you can look back on where the door seemed to be closed, and yet when you look differently, you found a way actually to turn it into an opportunity?
Yeah, I think you’re right, Rob, there is lots of stories. But our community orchestra is definitely an example of that, because there’s been no way in the last year that I could get over 120 musicians together to rehearse. And it’s such a valuable piece of work to have musicians of all ages together, all abilities. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful project. And we tried in the summer, we had like I said, materials that we put online, we have backing tracks. We have music that people could play along with, tutor videos. And I know that through those that 70 people engaged, I could see that someone from Israel have joined, the people in France, all over the UK had joined, so that was great. But it still didn’t feel that we were actually connecting with our community orchestra in the way that we normally would do.
And by the autumn I was hopeful, I thought we might be able to get people back by January. And so with a little bit of the Cultural Recovery Funds that we were awarded from the Arts Council we thought we will be able to open our doors in January and possibly have small groups rehearsing together again. And I had a school that said, “Yes, you can use all our huge spaces.” That we thought socially distant we might be able to get 30 players back. And then by January those plans were dashed again. And I felt really sad. Actually I felt quite gloomy about it because it’s just such a brilliant program. And so we decided to go down the Zoom route, which we had all said back in June, “We’re not going to do Zoom orchestra.” The idea of Zoom orchestra was just dreadful.
And so back to the drawing board was to work out how on earth we could make a Zoom community orchestra work. We engaged, in the end we’ve engaged 12 different musicians. So every section of the orchestra has a tutor. I have 80 people on Zoom. And then I’ve mastered the art of breakout rooms. So I’ll send everyone to the different breakout rooms. And actually Zoom community orchestra is very quiet for me because everybody is off and they’re in breakout rooms, and I’m sitting there looking at a blank screen for most of the time. But actually I can, I have now found the way to float between each class and see what’s going on. And it’s been so valuable. And I thought from a musical experience this probably isn’t going to work.
And in fact, as tutors we all sat down and said, “You know, what are the main things we want to achieve from this?” And we kind of decided it was actually probably more about social. It was about getting people together again, it was about us getting our community orchestra back together again, and potentially getting some new members. And yeah, for people, a lot of people haven’t got their instruments at that. I met some musicians who have found that life gets busy even in COVID times. And they hadn’t got their instruments out, but they just needed that encouragement. So with the kind of in some groups we’ve got one tutor and maybe six musicians, which we thought was manageable.
And it’s just given people the confidence to get their instruments out. Some people just to sit there and talk as well. And it’s become an amazing experience. We now have over 70 musicians. And again, they’re not all local, we’ve got musicians from London who’ve joined, some down further down in Brighton. Lots of places that we’ve never played with the orchestra, but we’re going to come and do that as soon as we can properly, we’ll be there.
And I also know, because we’ve reached out to the old players who’ve been involved that they will definitely come back. They said, “As soon as we can, we will come back, but we don’t want to do it on Zoom.” So I don’t feel now that I’ve actually lost the community orchestra. I think it will be something very different when we can get back together again, but it will still be there, which is a better feeling than how I felt in January, but.
So that’s one story. But another story is actually that, I don’t know, I think that this whole year, it possibly made me a little bit more daring, a little bit willing to take a risk. And yeah, I’m not really sure. I’m not usually a risk taker to be honest. So yeah, back in September we had our very first, or maybe October even, we had our very first paid evening concert that we did on Zoom.
And again, I had no idea how this was going to work. And I was really worried about how in fact we could entice people to come and listen and actually to be a paid audience, considering we’ve been offering so many free lunchtime midday music concerts, that how could this be different? And we were doing an amazing piece of music. If you don’t know, go listen to it. It’s the most beautiful tone poem… It gets very romantic Schoenberg, really beautiful.
And I’d heard Stephen Fry talking about this piece of music probably about five years ago, coming back from a workshop. And it was one of his favorite pieces, I would say within the top 10. And I just thought, “It’d be amazing if we got Steve Fry generate this tone poem in our concert, how good would that be about, how cool? And anyway, I just thought I’m just going to give it a go. And so a friend of mine works in the world of publishing and had his agent’s number. I’ve dropped him an email, and within a week he had actually recorded it and sent it back. I just couldn’t believe that I’d actually got him recording the tone poem. And again, a lot of street credit for my kids. They just thought that was amazing.
So that’s an amazing, I mean, there’s so many great things you’ve done this year, apart from just keep plugging on, keep finding a way. You and your team just keep doing the work, trying different things. But that last little example you’ve said just reminds us, if you get a crazy idea, a really ambitious idea that some would say is above our station, why not go for it? And what’s the worst that can happen? And I know speaking to the listener, you might do your equivalent of what Hannah did and it might not work. It doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do. Who knows? Why shouldn’t it work? So if that’s one of the things you take from this interview. I love the example, Hannah, that you dared and you got a wonderful added value thing to make your concert even better.
Yeah. And do you know, actually, since then we actually recorded that concert and we said to Stephen Fry’s agent, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to use the recording of him reading in the main recording.” And I was talking to, “We’re not going to get the CD produced.” And I was talking to the CD producer about a month ago and he said, “Oh, well, it would have been good if you could have Stephen Fry’s generation on the CD.” And I thought, “Well, I could just ask again.” And so I just sent them a little email and told them about the stuff that we’d done since that recording and how we would use the additional donations, because people could donate on top of that ticket money, helped further our work. And he came back and said, “Yes, you can use my recording on your CD.”
And I’m like, “That’s incredible.” Because we are a small charity. So for us to be able to have Stephen Fry involved in a CD for it makes a big difference, it will make a huge difference. And I think I’ve worked in the charity sector all my life, Rob. And I think you’re absolutely right. I’ve always had that mantra in the back of my head, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” And I know sometimes it’s scary, but you just have to sometimes dive in and now at the moment the best time to do it, so.
Yeah, brilliant. And again, I think an extra distinction is, there’s one thing to have the courage is another to pause and doing intelligently, rather than just sort of send off a tweet or something to think carefully, “Is there an intelligent way through?” And again, you needed to have the contact, but to take that set to pause and think through what’s the way of maximizing my chances this might work is a second element that goes with the courage to have a go and to dream.
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 live coaching sessions to help you handle whatever challenges are coming at you each week. And we’ve also found that handling these challenges is not just been about getting the right advice or strategy, it’s also been about morale. And we’ve 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. That’s brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. I would love to welcome you to the club, do my utmost to help you succeed in your fundraising. For now though, back to the interview as Hunter and I continue to explore examples of how she’s adapted her approach.
There’s one other carrier I really wanted to hear a bit more about, Hannah. Because I loved this when you were telling me the other day when we spoke to do with adding extra value and great stewardship that you were doing at Christmas time?
Yeah, Christmas time. You know, it was busy. Christmas was busy despite actually not being in our usual concert season. But I just had an idea suddenly that I wanted to say thank you to people again. I think it was because we’re coming to the end of the year and I felt like what would be the best way to reach out to our audience and say, thank you. And sort of mid-November, which wasn’t really great planning, I thought we should do a musical advent calendar for Christmas. And we, and fortunately I’ve got such a fantastic artistic director and a wonderful team of musicians. Everybody went, “This was a brilliant idea. Yes, we can do this. Of course we can pull this off in two weeks.”
And I just, we asked our core team, I went back and I looked through all the archive material, we got quite a lot, that I could use in the advent calendar. And yeah, some of the visiting musicians had been involved in our midday music, they came into pop. By this point we’d actually done a project with a special needs school that we’ve had a standing relationship with. So we were able to use a little bit of the video from that project as well. So it was a kind of reflection on all of the works that we had achieved in the last year or achieved with some of our main groups, including our Community Orchestra. And it wasn’t an ask for funding. It was literally just a thank you. It was until to remind people, I guess, to keep us in their thoughts, to just remember that we were still around when normally we’d be running beautiful candlelit concerts in sort of November, December time and big sort of family and community orchestra concerts. And none of that work was happening. I think I was feeling a bit sad about that.
Just to be clear, in terms of practicalities, was it something someone could sign up to for free and then they’d get access to 25 clips, one a day, or you would just publish one thing each day in the period of advent, how did it work?
Yeah, it took quite a bit of thinking actually. So we put them up on our Facebook page. So they were there kind of in the public domain, so to speak. And we also had them available on our YouTube channel, so people could see them there. We do actually have, like I said earlier, a weekly newsletter, but I also knew that it could be really irritating to receive a daily advent calendar if you didn’t actually want to. Yeah, if you didn’t want to receive it. So we sent out just sort of a fortnight before lots of regular emails to that from mailing this thing. If you don’t want to receive it, can you opt out? So, but then opt out… that was my worry, that people would then opt out from the newsletter for good. But actually we managed, we managed to manage, make it work.
So yeah, for some people they received it through the newsletter, other people accessed it through the YouTube channel and the Facebook. So it worked actually. And in fact, it did work so well it brought in several thousand pounds worth of donations, which was something that was really unexpected. But I just loved the way that we were reaching out to people and I love the emails. So I got nearly every day through December, I got emails from people saying, “Thank you, I’m loving this. I’ve loved all the work you’ve done this year. Or gosh, I remember that concert. Or, oh, it’s the Community Orchestra, I’ve really missed them.” So it was really nice to have this different feedback. And as it get made, which I then emailed onto the group. I think it made me and the rest of the musicians feel really kind of, it made us feel warm during Christmas. Like I said, which is the period where we canceled a lot more, lots of work.
Yes, and that’s a theme I’ve taken from this whole conversation, Hannah, is that you and your colleagues have worked so hard to be brave, to work hard to be entrepreneurial, to try things outside your comfort zone and so on. And part of the reward, me as a fundraiser is just so delighted and impressed that it’s reaped financial rewards. But clearly, as valuable, in fact, or more valuable has been the goodwill and the feedback you’ve been coming back into the organization that serve to help everyone’s morale stay high?
Yeah, I think that’s really true. And I think it has been a real team effort, and not just from the musicians, from the trustees, it’s everyone that’s been involved in Reza. And I think actually we had decided about two years ago we’d made the decision that we needed to grow our organization. And so we had been thinking the last 18 months before the pandemic came that we that we had plans for growth. And I think because we had a growth mindset, everybody was just determined to carry on working this year. We weren’t going to be defeated by COVID. We weren’t going to be defeated by canceling concerts and events. It was, we were all going to work together just to find a way to keep going and to continue to grow.
Because like I said earlier, we didn’t want to come back and then find that we’ve got a depleted audience, we wanted to come back and feel that we’re bigger and better. And I really feel that when we can open our concert doors in June, that actually we’ll have this new audience. We won’t just have the half full, 50% capacity that we might be allowed, but actually we’ve got a virtual audience as well that we will still continue to stream to. So it’s been an amazing year. It’s been hard work, but it’s been incredibly rewarding.
Yeah. Beautifully summed up, Hannah. I’d just like to send huge congratulations to you and everybody in the whole team and on the board involved in making this happen. It seems to me that when things get more normal again, you absolutely will have achieved that ambition of not just surviving this very difficult year, but very definitely growing and being stronger and having a more vibrant and larger audience than you did a year ago. And my goodness, that is not easy in the year we’ve all had. So many congratulations to you and everybody for all your hard work and all your courage and your risk-taking. I thank you ever so much for coming along just to share the stories. I hope that it’ll help some of our listeners to hang in there if nothing else, and be creative and take a few risks inspired by some of the examples you’ve given. I look forward to catching up again soon, Hannah, but for now, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast.
Thank you so much, Rob. And thank you so much for this fantastic opportunity to talk. Thank you.
Bye-bye Hannah, bye-bye.
Well, I hope you enjoyed Hannah’s examples and insights. If you found it helpful, remember to subscribe to the podcast today so that you never miss an episode. For a full transcript and a summary of today’s episode, go to the podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk. As I mentioned at the start, Hannah has been a member of our Bright Spot Members Club since the beginning of the pandemic. And so throughout the crisis, she’s had access to our live weekly problem solving sessions and masterclasses, to all my best learning bundles, and to our supportive community.
If you’d like to find out more about our training and inspiration club for fundraisers, or to dip your toe in and try for just a month, go to brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s been spreading the word about this show on social media and to your colleagues, helping us to get this content out to as many charities as possible at a time when fundraising is so challenging. And Hannah and I would love to hear what you think about today’s episode. We are both on LinkedIn, and on Twitter I am @woods_rob. Thank you so much for listening today. Best of luck with your fundraising. And I look forward to sharing more Bright Spot examples with you soon.