This year’s Fundraising Convention, held for the first time at the labyrinthine and architecturally striking Barbican centre, kicked off yesterday with friendly enthusiasm from organisers, volunteers, speakers and attendees alike.
The Institute of Fundraising (IoF) may have chosen “the longest hashtag in the known universe” (to quote Joe Jenkins), but this didn’t do anything to reduce the amount of activity on Twitter throughout the event, reflecting the engagement of attendees and quality of the programme.
Both Liz Tait, conference chair, and IoF chair Richard Taylor acknowledged that it’s been a ‘difficult year for fundraisers’, but Taylor also praised the passion, pride and resilience of colleagues throughout the sector.
And there was plenty of positivity evident at day one of the event, with most speakers recognising the huge potential for improving the relationship between fundraisers and donors.
Here are four examples of the fundraising convention feelgood factor in full effect:
1. “Irrepressible bounce and optimism”
The opening plenary paid tribute to the late Tony Elischer, who the panel all agreed embodied many of the great qualities of exceptional fundraisers, including tenacity, innate talent, creativity, and “irrepressible bounce and optimism” – with beach balls and Tigger animations thrown in to memorably illustrate their advice for how others could emulate him. This set the scene nicely for more optimism throughout the day.
2. “You’re doing great”
Engaging people emotionally, in particular through great storytelling, is one way of connecting better with supporters. In her engaging session on innovating with confidence, Lucy Gower spoke about how fundraising teams “need to connect emotionally with the cause they’re fundraising for” and engage hearts and minds with a compelling story.
Innovators in any sector also need to be brave enough to admit that they don’t have all the answers – and that getting the community involved in collaborative projects can often lead to better solutions.
However, when it comes to surveys, she warned that people will tell you what they want to believe about themselves. So testing ideas in a real live environment is important, as is getting something simple out there early to see what people’s reactions are, rather than aiming for instant perfection.
Gower also emphasised the importance of having optimistic people around you for support when you’re trying out new things, and telling ourselves and each other ‘You’re doing great’ – and she got us to put this into practice straight away by praising the person we were sitting next to!
3. “Every great relationship starts with trust.”
Rachel Hunnybun’s fascinating session on the Science of Supporter Experience also emphasised the feelgood factor, explaining the cognitive science (not rocket science!) behind good supporter relationships, and the role of “happy chemicals” such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin in creating loyalty.
She explained why this needs to be earnt by providing supporters with “repetitive, positive experiences”, with the occasional ‘wow moment’ to keep things fresh - and suggested that fundraisers might get better results by first showing that they trust their supporters.
4. “Making sure supporters feel valued and inspired.”
In a later session we learnt that Friends of the Earth trusted their supporters enough to be upfront and honest with them. They asked their supporters for feedback in the wake of last summer’s ‘media storm’ by sending them a letter about the issue and asking if they could be doing anything better – with no fundraising ask included.
By honestly acknowledging the negative media coverage early, and asking for their input, they made their supporters feel valued and as an added bonus their entire organisation were better able to understand their donors as a result of their responses.
Whilst this did result in some opt-outs, it also resulted in a small number of donations (despite not having asked for any). And Friends of the Earth made it clear that they believe the long-term results of this kind of honest communication with supporters can only be positive, even if there is a short-term reduction in income due to opt-outs.
4. “Attract my attention and make me feel something.”
In one of the final sessions of the day, Ian MacQuillin and Adrian Sargeant also discussed the importance of deepening relationships with donors, based on their recent research on the topic of Relationship Fundraising for Rogare.
MacQuillin pointed out that fundraisers should be focusing more on what they can do to enable supporters to help beneficiaries, and focus a lot less on their charity’s profile. He said that two-way, symmetrical communication is important, but that fundraisers also need to develop and maintain good relationships across their own organisation and in the sector at large in order to serve supporters successfully.
Sargeant pointed out that the average donor lifetime in the UK is four years and ten months, and that this has been getting shorter in recent years. But he believes that looking at the psychology and social psychology of how human beings form relationships with each other can also help us improve the relationship between charities and their supporters.
One of the keys to this, he said, is attracting people’s attention and making them feel something. For example, making sure they feel good about themselves and their part in the overall process.
So there you have it – despite a difficult year, day one of the IoF's convention suggests that fundraisers remain resilient and optimistic. All of which bodes well for day two!