For more than 16 years I’ve enjoyed interviewing very successful fundraisers to see what any of us can learn from how they get their results. I recently enjoyed the chance to catch up with the irrepressible Stu Thomson, who is Youth Service Director of Knight’s Youth Centre (KYC) in South London. I have worked with Stu for several years, and got to know him particularly when he attended the Corporate Mastery Programme last year.
KYC recently received a six-figure gift, and I was keen to find out how this came about. Here are the key steps:
- The relationship began when a trustee met the potential funder for coffee
- This led to second meeting involving Stu, who is responsible for fundraising (among many other things)
- During a follow up phone call, the funder talked in principle about a gift of £50,000 over five years, as well as pro-bono support
- Stu invited the funder to one of the charity’s Community Events, so that she could experience first-hand the atmosphere, and meet some young people
- The funder requested a further meeting with the trustee and treasurer, ‘to discuss the charity’s accounts’.
- During this meeting, the funder agreed to a gift of £100,000 over five years.
What lessons could any curious fundraiser learn?
I asked what were the key factors that Stu thought had led to the size of the gift pledge doubling in the course of a couple of meetings. He said that clearly there were many factors, but the following three were crucial:
A) Stories are the rocket fuel. There was a moment in the first meeting Stu had with the funder, when she clearly became very keen to help. When I asked Stu if he could pinpoint what made the difference, he said it happened as he was telling stories, specific examples, about the young people KYC helps. Stu says ‘it’s the layering effect…by the time I share the fourth or fifth example of the difference the charity makes to these amazing young people, most people get a powerful sense that what we do here works.’ Note, Stu is not awkwardly crow-barring one 6-minute clunky powerpoint case study into the conversation, which is what many fundraisers think I mean by story. In a natural way, to answer appropriate questions about the charity, he knows enough real examples to use them in the course of the conversation.
B) Arranging as many ‘test drives’ as possible. Anyone who has ever worked in a small charity knows just how many demands there can be on your time. In spite of this, in the last two years Stu has deliberately arranged a lot more regular Community Events to connect with people. The key moment at which the funder truly felt the life-changing impact of KYC was when she was able to talk to the young people who have benefited.
C) Doing the right thing in spite of what is requested. The meeting at step 5, was originally to be spent ‘discussing the accounts’, and KYC was to be represented by a trustee and the treasurer. Stu said that early in his career he may well have presumed this was for the best, and obediently left his colleagues to it. Nowadays, he is much less inclined to allow crucial fundraising meetings to be delegated. With Stu in the meeting, hardly any time was spent talking about ‘the accounts’, and much of it was spent again talking about the impact the charity has on young people’s lives. One can never know for certain what makes the difference… But my opinion is that Stu being in the final meeting, knowing what he knows about what this funder cares about, can only have made the extra £50,000 more likely.
Three ways you could you use this story…
- More rocket fuel. Do you know enough stories / specific examples to make every meeting inspiring? At its simplest, could you start your own story bank today? (Raiding the stationery cupboard for a ring-binder folder will take two minutes).
- Focus on test drives. What could you do today, either to increase the number of ‘test-drive’ opportunities (informal chats over a tea/coffee or arranged ‘project visits’) you can offer your donors; or if you already have regular events, what could you do to improve how reliably-inspiring they are?
- Trust your gut. Remember that the path of least resistance rarely leads to massive value. In your current project, look out for ways to do what is truly right for the donor, rather than merely what the donor or your colleagues appear to be asking for. How could you be both assertive and charmingly-persuasive to ensure the right thing happens?