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Episode 97: More tips for growing your fundraising success rate, with Ciaran Biggins.

   

Episode Notes:

Ciaran Biggins is an experienced fundraiser and the founder of MindFood, a small London charity which uses gardening to help people improve their mental health.

In this episode Ciaran shares tactics that have helped him raise funds for his small charity, including a tool he used to increase their success rate with trusts and foundations – last year 100% of their approaches were successful – and several tips and shortcuts for finding funders.

Has the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast helped you?

The reason I make this podcast is to inspire fundraisers with ideas and encouragement to raise funds effectively. And I get super-excited when I hear that it has helped you.

So if you’ve found the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast helpful to your fundraising, I’d love to hear from you…

I’m planning a special episode of the podcast soon, where we focus on and share listeners’ success stories. If the example sounds like something that could suit the episode, we’ll get in touch to find out a bit more, and seek your permission to share the story.

So if you have an example of something you did after listening to the podcast, please take a moment to get in touch by following this link: https://bit.ly/mypodcaststory

Thank you for your help!

Rob

Quotes

‘We found that having some simple criteria for the trusts and foundations that made most sense for our charity to apply for, really helped us stay focused and it’s a major reason our success rate improved.

Ciaran Biggins

Further Resources

Would you like training, inspiration and support to increase Corporate or Major Donor fundraising income?

You can find out more about our flagship 6 month programmes: the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme or the Major Gifts Mastery Programme by following these links.

Want to go deeper and get 24/7 access to LOTS more inspiring and live training content?

Our training and inspiration club for fundraisers, the Bright Spot Members Club, has an extensive library of Rob’s best training films, a supportive community, and access to live masterclasses and problem-solving sessions with Rob and other experienced fundraising / leadership trainers EVERY WEEK. To find out more about how to get access to all these resources, go to www.brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join/

Transcript for Episode 97

Rob:

Hey there, folks. Welcome to Episode 97 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. This is the show for anyone who works in fundraising, and who wants ideas. And may be a little burst of inspiration to help you raise more money, and enjoy your job. And this time, I’m sharing my second conversation with the brilliant Ciaran Biggins. So if you work for or run a small charity, and you’d like some fundraising examples and ideas… Or regardless of the size of your charity, you’d just like to hear an effective way of helping your colleagues resist distractions and stay focused on the sources of fundraising most likely to bring results, then I hope you’re going to find this an interesting listen.

Rob:

As I explained in Episode 96, Ciaran is an experienced corporate fundraiser. Who a decade ago, decided to do something different. And set up a social enterprise himself. 10 years on, MindFood based in Ealing in London, still thrives. Using the power of gardening and horticulture, to help people improve their mental health and wellbeing.

In this conversation, Ciaran shares a range of tips for fundraising for a small charity. Including a tool he used to increase their success rate with trusts and foundations. Some shortcuts for finding funders, and the power of partnering with established organizations. So, let’s get to it. Here’s my most recent interview with Ciaran.

Rob:

Hey there, Ciaran. Welcome back to the podcast.

Ciaran:

Hi, Rob. Good to be back.

Rob:

Thank you so much. So the listener may or may not have listened to your original episode, where we were looking at some things you did at a fairly small charity, MindFood. That you had taken in many cases, from your previous fundraising background as a corporate fundraiser at larger charities. And if they haven’t listened to that, I recommend they go and check it out. Because, there was some really juicy examples of how some of those techniques helped you raise more for your small organization.

 

But for today… I know you’ve got some more things to share. Just before that… Really top line, what is MindFood? And what’s the very top line background to it getting set up?

Ciaran:

MindFood’s a Ealing based charity that supports people with mental health issues to recover, through gardening, creativity and mindfulness. We were originally set up as a social enterprise that had quite a big focus on trading. We would sell produce through veg boxes, and market stores. And the idea was that participants struggling with their mental health, would be very much involved in every element of the organization. Building confidence, building social connection and building wellbeing. For the last eight years, we’ve operated more like a charity. And converted to a charity three years ago. And we run a range of courses that combine psycho education, which is a fancy word for things like mindfulness and the five ways to wellbeing, with learning how to grow organic food.

Rob:

So Ciaran, the truth is all fundraisers are under some pressure. The stakes are high, as to whether you do manage to bring in the money that pays for the services of the research or not. And yet that does feel even more tough I think, if you’re a tiny charity. Because probably, you’ve only got some hours per week to do fundraising. Because on the other hand, you’ve got to liaise with the board or do the recycling, or whatever. I’m curious as to how you manage the pressures of those stakes being high, that you couldn’t afford many fails or many misses. And how you prioritized certain income streams.

Ciaran:

Yeah. I think the key to this, is around focus. And it’s something that we talk about with your coachees, on the corporate mastery program. Where we look at coming up with a dream 10 corporate partnership list. It’s a very similar principle. And for me, the key thing was to develop a scoring criteria that would enable me to quickly hone in on the funders where I was most likely to have success for MindFood. And this is an idea that actually, I learned when I was at the NSPCC. I mean the corporate partnerships team, we had a scoring criteria that helped us narrow down a corporate pipeline of 500 companies, down to a much smaller amount that we wanted to focus on.

Rob:

That sounds really like an interesting thinking tool, Ciaran. So, what was that basic tool?

Ciaran:

Yeah. Essentially it’s a scoring criteria where you have a bunch of corporates, and you run the scoring criteria against each of those different organizations. So the criteria can vary, depending on your situation. But typically I use something like strategic fits, value, warmth of relationship. And the capacity for you to apply, and the capacity for you to deliver.

 

And you score each of your organizations out of five, against those five criteria. And then that helps you prioritize your high priority prospects, your medium, and your low. And it just gives you the… Well, both you. But also if you are reporting to your line manager or your wider team or your board, a bit of science behind where you are focusing your efforts.

Rob:

Yeah. And I’m already thinking, one of the biggest stresses that corporate fundraisers say to me… And to an extent, major donor fundraisers and trusts is they say now and again, they get one of those emails because the chair was at a garden party with so and so. And now they’re expected to drop all of their strategic work, and spend the next three weeks applying for something rather… They know that it doesn’t make sense. But the other person is A, politically important in the charity. Or B, so enthusiastic or persuasive… Yeah, but it’s worth £500 000.

Ciaran:

Yeah.

Rob:

And they get pulled along with that. And it seems to me that the more a fundraiser decides on and practices that they’re equivalent to this system, it won’t entirely take away these wild goose chases.

Rob:

But I think having that tool, increases your ability to have a conversation with your colleagues about what is and isn’t sensible to spend your time on.

Ciaran:

I think that’s such a good point. And it just reminds me of so many conversations I’ve had, where there’s the potential to go on that wild goose chase. And actually by having a scoring criteria in place, it helps you to have those difficult conversations. Because you can say, we’ve run it through our system. It sounds like a really interesting opportunity, but it isn’t a high priority.

 

So it gives you that credibility to diplomatically handle conversations where people are trying to get you to maybe pursue a lead that you don’t think is really, actually the best use of your time.

Rob:

Yeah. That’s another thing that occurs to me. Part of the difficulty is, the internal conversations. It’s also true… I think one of the hardest things for fundraisers is, we’re so conscious of the need for money. Especially in the early days, or especially when we’re under pressure. That if a company sends you an email, or someone wants to make a calendar or do an event for you, whatever it might be. They’re offering to help. But usually, the offer to help is very sincere. But in practice, the idea or the suitability of that funding stream, or that kind of event, or that company just doesn’t make sense for your charity generally. Or for your fundraising priorities as well.

 

And I think one of the hardest things some fundraisers experience is, the ability to say no firmly, but politely.

Ciaran:

Yeah.

Rob:

Acknowledging the good intention. But for this reason, we are not able to take this idea forward at the moment. It sounds like it’s quite a small thing. But actually the ability to get good at A, the decision making but B, the skill of nipping those in the bud, makes a massive difference to being able to spend time on the two or three fundraising priorities that really are strategically sensible for you at the moment.

Ciaran:

Absolutely. Yeah. And I think this is just such a powerful tool to help you tick all of the things you were just saying. It gives you a system to hone in, to focus. But also, to handle conversations. Whether internally or externally, about focus. And where you as a fundraiser, should be spending your time.

Rob:

And in the context of MindFood, maybe it’s not appropriate to mention the name of any funders. But I get a sense that this really paid off.

Ciaran:

Yeah. So having a day, a week of fundraising, you really have to make your time count. And last year… This definitely is by no means, a typical year. But we had a hundred percent success rate in trust applications. And I think part of that is because, we only really applied to organizations where we knew there was such a good fit.

 

The warmth of relationship was so strong. So thinking of City Bridge, we looked at them as a corporate prospect. And thought, strategic fit. They’re a five. They specifically interested in funding greening initiatives in London. You can’t get a better fit than that.

 

The warmth of relationship was probably, a five. They’d funded us previously. They’d also supported us on getting a new video for the charity. So it felt like we had a really good relationship there. In terms of our capacity to apply, the application form for a three year funding part, was relatively straightforward. So, that scored high. Capacity to deliver scored high because, we were asking for funding for a program that we were already delivering. So quite quickly you can see, this prospect seems like our ideal prospect. And so, we need to invest a good amount of time into making sure that we are successful with it.

Rob:

And presumably, there will have been ones that seemed before a closer look, really enticing. But if they were only scoring one or two in a couple of those five things, that really set off warning signs for you to not to get tempted by the pull of the shiny bit that seems so good.

Ciaran:

Yeah. And I think some of those criterias can sometimes… You could even put more emphasis on some, either than others. So if the warmth of relationship’s not strong, that’s quite a big factor that you might want to double the points on, for example.

 

Yeah. There’s been some prospects where because we were going in completely cold, it just felt actually, we might not be the most likely organization to benefit from this. Similar around strategic fit. I think that and warmth of relationship, are probably most often your most important criteria. And I guess just one final point on this area is, if you are starting to do fundraising in a specialism that hasn’t been your experience, as trust and statutory funding was for me. Something I’ve found really helpful is just, to find experts in that field.

 

So Ben Swart’s wife, Amy, I was introduced to. Who then introduced me to a mentor, who’s a expert in trust and foundations. And they were quite quickly able to help me hone in on which trust and foundations might be more likely to fund MindFood. And in a similar vein, I also did the same in terms of when MindFood were looking at trying to get funding from local authorities, I found a mentor who had experience in commissioning. So, look for those experts in those fields. Try and find a mentor. Even if it’s not a mentor, have conversations with people who are experts in the field that you are focusing on. And that’s always super helpful.

Rob:

Yeah. What a good advice, Ciaran. Not just one mentor. Throughout our career, the skill sets we’re needing are forever evolving. Aren’t they? And to be on the lookout for whatever your new thing is, you need to start getting good at. To work out who out there might know someone who could just help me out. Think this through, so I do this new thing with the help of someone who’s ahead of me in that area.

 

Hey, it’s Rob. And I thought I’d jump in really quickly, in case you’d like to get a deeper level of training and coaching support than is possible in these short podcast episodes. If so, a couple of options to think about are firstly, our Bright Spot Members Club. Which is our training and inspiration site, for fundraisers of all disciplines. And secondly, our two flagship mastery programs in corporate partnerships and major gift fundraising. Which will start again, in the autumn of 2022. But rather than have me explain them, I thought it would be most interesting if you could hear from a fundraiser named Pippa about how the learning club and the corporate mastery program, have helped her.

 

Pippa:

I’ve been a member of Bright Spot Members Club for a couple of years now, and also attended Rob’s mastery course. It’s been amazingly helpful for me, all the way through. Had lots of different things to juggle, as I’ve been going. And I was new to the role a couple of years ago. So having the members club and all the resources on the members club there to refer to and to help me and to help my confidence, was amazing.

 

It’s been a huge source of support for me. Sometimes, fundraising can be a bit of a lonely world. Especially if you work for a small fundraising team. People have different areas of expertise.

 

Having that resource to go to, to give you inspiration and to help you out and to grow your confidence is huge. But also having that community and the chance to meet other amazing fundraisers who are probably going through the same challenges as you, that you can bounce your ideas off is absolutely key.

Rob:

If you’d like to hear more about the Bright Spot Members Club, our corporate and major gifts mastery programs, or our team training days, go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services.

 

For now, let’s get back to the interview with Ciaran. As he talks about the benefits to MindFood, of deliberately seeking out partnerships with larger, more established organizations.

Ciaran:

It became quite clear to us that in terms of long term funding for MindFood, statutory… So working with local authorities or the NHS, was going to be an important part that we’d need to crack, in terms of long term funding. But MindFood as a small charity, wouldn’t be in the position to apply for the contracts that local authorities and the NHS were offering.

 

And so I thought well, how could we get ourselves into a partnership with a bigger organization, and be a key part of what they’re delivering? And it felt quite obvious to me that Mind as a leading mental health charity, would be an awesome partner to work with. Mind have a federated structure, so they have lots of local Mind groups. So we partnered up with Mind in West London. And we worked together on a bid to Ealing council, for four years of funding. And were successful with that.

 

And that’s something MindFood wouldn’t have been able to win by ourselves. Partly because of our size, but also the credibility that having a brand like Mind added to the bid. And their knowledge, expertise. It just felt like a much stronger partnership, together. I guess the other interesting thing from a fundraiser’s perspective is, if you can partner with slightly bigger brands, they also have a bit more fundraising resource. So you can make your fundraising time and capacity go that bit further, because you can plug into their fundraising resource.

Rob:

Yes. That makes sense, Ciaran. And you’ve given such interesting fundraising techniques today, that maybe answered well for every small startup charity. But if someone is in that situation… They’re fairly early on in this game, and there’s some fundamentals they should have on a checklist, in terms of finding funders. What are a couple of the things that really early on at MindFood, you made sure you were doing?

Ciaran:

Yeah. I think, there’s three practical things that fundraisers can do. Firstly, I’d encourage you to link in with your local CVS. And they’re the local organization that represent the voluntary sector. And they can help you plug into funding that’s available locally. And also, possibly support on helping you with your funding applications as well.

 

The second thing would be around utilizing fundraising portals. There’s paid for ones that are available, but there are also some great free ones like Charity Excellence. Where you can run the search criteria, and find funders that fit your organization.

 

And then the third would be around social media. Start following organizations that you are interested in, or people who are talking about the topic that you’re interested in. A good example is, I’ve found out about LUSH. The retailer had a new mental health fund called #IAMWHOLE. And that was through following them on Twitter. Yeah. Social media, funding portals and CVS are great tools to find funders.

Rob:

That’s brilliant. And there was one other thing that you mentioned near the beginning of the other episode, that really again, fits into this criteria. It’s just really early on, some sensible, doable things.

Ciaran:

Yeah. It’s a really good tactic that if you are looking for funders, look at similar organizations to your organization. Look at their charitable accounts. And within their charitable accounts, they normally list the trusts and foundations and corporates that support them. And if they support them, it’s a good indication they might be interested in your organization too.

Rob:

Hmm. Great ideas. Okay. Thank you so much Ciaran, for sharing all these really helpful tactics. I’d just like to get clear on a couple of things. If people are interested in MindFood and what it stands for, or getting involved with it’s services and those things. How would they find that?

Ciaran:

Yeah. Visit MindFood’s website, www.mindfood.org.uk. And we’re on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter.

Rob:

Fabulous. And I know that you now work for yourself. You do consultancy for nature focused good causes. If someone anyway is interested in following up on anything you’ve said today, can they just get in touch? And specifically in terms of seeking your advice on those things, how would they get in touch?

Ciaran:

Yeah. Best way is probably, through LinkedIn. It’s Ciaran. C-I-A-R-A-N Biggins. Yeah. Drop me a message, and be very happy to chat.

Rob:

So, I hope you enjoyed our discussion. If so and you’ve not yet subscribed, do remember to subscribe today so that you don’t miss out on all the other episodes we’ve got coming up. If you’d like to see a full transcript and a short summary of the episode, go to the podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

 

And just before I finish, I wanted to ask for your help as I search for stories for a special episode I’m planning. As you may be aware, for years now, I’ve found that one of the best ways to help fundraisers get new ideas… And in particular, ideas that you’re most likely to actually implement is, to seek out and share real examples of fundraising success. As opposed to offering sensible advice, without the examples.

 

And in the two and a half years since I launched the podcast, I’ve been so happy to hear from lots of listeners who’ve told me that these episodes have helped them in their fundraising. And so if this doesn’t sound too meta, I’ve decided I’d really like to keep the cycle going. And share some of these examples back in turn, to you.

 

So I’ve decided to create a special episode sometime soon, focused on listener stories of fundraising success. So to summarize, if you can think of an example of some fundraising that you are pleased with, that was in any way helped or inspired by this podcast, I would love to hear from you. And although I can’t promise I’ll have time to share every story, I would anyway, really appreciate the chance to see these examples. And will be ever so grateful for any that you do send through. As knowing that the shows are helping is ultimately, what drives me to keep plugging away to create this free content for the fundraising community.

 

So if you’d like to help and you’d like to find out more, go to the show notes for Episode 97 on the podcast section of my website, which is bright spot fundraising.co.uk. Follow the link, and briefly jot down the gist of your fundraising success story. Now just before I finish, I wanted to say that if you enjoyed today’s episode, then I’d be incredibly grateful if you take a moment to share it on with anyone who you think might find it useful. So that we can get this free content out to as many people as possible.

And we’d love to hear what you think about this episode. Ciaran and I are both on LinkedIn. And you can find me on Twitter at @woods_rob. Finally, thank you for listening today. Best of luck with your fundraising. And I look forward to sharing more Bright Spot ideas and examples with you very soon.