Stop Firefighting – Start Fires Instead

Recently I read “Fundraisers – ‘Stop firefighting and see the fire’” and thought about how collaboration and technology is changing the way organization go about their job.

Are we seeing collaboration in New Zealand – short answer, from my perspective we’re aren’t. Most organizations are for whatever reason afraid of sharing what they’re doing, how they’re doing it with others in the sector.

Reading “We are currently part of a consortium of 23 North West hospices who have collaborated on a new Granada TV advert. It is the first of what we hope will be many collaborative partnerships across the hospice movement.”  Made me think about how many organizations we have working in the same field could collaborate to spread their message.

Imagine the cost savings, potential increased reach and resultant support – why are we short sighted?

Surely the time has come for more collaboration, more sharing of ideas, tools and tricks.

Sure, some will say, but they’re our competition. But competition there can be competition without opposition – support for the common good can out weigh the negatives.

Claire Houghton  says in her piece “Local charity fundraising is often too focused on the fire fighting to see the fire”.

I say – light the fire, ignite interest in your sector, pick up the phone and have a chat with an organization doing similar work to you – ignite the passion to collaborate and engage on a regular basis.

Don’t fight fires, start them.

Don’t Only Use Numbers

Not everyone can relate to numbers or percentages, but almost everyone can relate in some way to a story.

When talking about your work don’t rely on benchmarks, number of people helped or how a percentage of the population will gain from something; instead – share a story about someone who has been impacted by your work.

Think about the last time you were contacted to support an cause, and all they said was “we helped 10,000 people last year … “ or “over 10% of the population gained from our work in the field” – did you blank out, switch off – or did you simply grab your wallet to make a contribution without thinking about the “individuals” being helped?

If organizations tell stories about the people they are helping it’s more likely people will feel a personal connection to the cause, they can relate in some way to how people be aided, they can build a mental picture of the people.

In using stories it’s often best to not tell too many in the same communication – e.g it’s probably best that an appeal letter or email only tell one or two stories, any more and you’re likely to again have donors switching off; it can cause mental confusion for them.

In reality it is unusual to receive appeals that don’t include a story of a particular person whose life was affected by a charity’s work.

Remember though, that if your organization works with people whose confidentiality needs to be protected? How do you handle delicate situations, still telling stories, and not deceiving donors?

How can you share stories without breaching privacy?

  1. We don’t use a client’s actual name in our appeals, unless you have their approval. If you can’t use their real name, state this from the outset e.g. ‘I’ll call her Anne …,’, or Anne isn’t her real name, we’ve chosen to respect her privacy.’
  2. We omit any details that might give away the person’s identity.

Some people are quite happy to share their whole story because they feel it will have a higher purpose, so you should always ask.

If you’re telling the story of a “real” person always let them have the chance to review and approve the story or appeal before anything goes public.

So, when telling stories, always always always

  • Get written permission  before publishing stories
  • Be creative to protect personal details and identities
  • Be open, be upfront about what you are doing.

And, in your story telling never try to deceive your readers, they will smell a rat, and they won’t forgive you if they find out.

So ditch the numbers, the percentages and tell real stories; even if you have to adapt them to protect the privacy of the “subject”.

Do you have an editorial calendar?

Having an editorial calendar for your organization is a good thing, it’s part of your roadmap, part of your overall communications strategy.

If you don’t have an editorial calendar – grab pen and paper and start planning one.

It’s is worth taking the time to put together an editorial calendar for the year as part of your overall strategy

This helps ensure your communications are consistent, and reflect what you are doing – what your aims are.

As with all your other planning – a little more planning at the start of the year the year goes a long way.  

If you’ve had a calendar before, look at what has worked then rethink, adjust to ensure more success.

Think about your calendar/strategy and what has and hasn’t worked, as with everything else, adjust or stop doing what hasn’t worked and focus instead on areas that have worked.

I use simple editorial calendar, it gives dates, themes, and notes of what I’m going to publish.

Yours might be more complex, especially given you’re most likely wanting to keep not only your name, thoughts etc in peoples minds – yours will likely be – or should, include tie ins to campaigns, fundraising needs and the stories of those you helped.

If you haven’t put your editorial calendar together yet – get to, grab pen and paper – it’s easier, well I find it is, to start this way – you can type it up later. Why? Because if we start typing it up we get caught up in the format and lose time in the planning.


Pub Date Title Notes Status
  Editorial Calendar Why have one

It’s part of your yearly strategy



  Donors aren’t cash cows Don’t’ rely on current donors

They’re not your personal atm

  Numbers only give part of the story Don’t’ rely on numbers

Donors relate to people – to real stories







Your calendar can be as complicated or as simple as you like and can manage, the important thing is that you have one.

Magazines and newspapers always have an editorial calendar, why should you be any different?

Donors aren’t Cash Machines

Your donors are spoilt for choice when it comes to their giving options. Don’t simply treat them as your personal cash machines.

You need to engage with them all year round, don’t leave it to your appeal time.

Staying in touch with donors will build a relationship, it will help make donors feel as though they are part of what you are doing. They’ll feel as though the money they give is truly making a difference.

If you only contact donors when it’s time to get financial support, in time you will likely find donors dropping off; ignoring your plea or telling you they’ve moved their allegiance to another organization.

Can you afford to lose the donor you have? No you can’t you need to retain, to nurture them.

If you’re only contacting them when you need them – you’ll lose them – simple.

As I’ve previously written in Donor Retention you could look at a few simple, cost effective things such as:

  • Thank you calls. Select supporters who give above a certain amount on a regular basis and have the CEO call them to thank them and update them on the work of the organization
  • Thank you cards. Select a group of supporters using what every criteria you feel appropriate and send them a handwritten, personalized card showing appreciation for their ongoing support
  • Invite supporters to an “exclusive” event. Having a group (small) of supporters attend an event can mean a lot to them and have a huge benefit to your organisation.

What or however you chose to connect with donors, don’t leave it until you want something from them.

Remember that often supporters see your “usual” communication and shrug it off, knowing it’s an update and a plea for support. However if you ‘surprise’ them you’ll likely gain their attention, and if there’s a call to action you could find they’ll take the action you ask of them.

Take action now and change the way you connect with your donors.

It’s time to turn of your cash machine mentality!

See also

Young People need to be nurtured and encouraged

Donor Management

You Don’t Need New Donors

Donor Retention

Teach Kids at an Early Age about Giving  

We just never know …

This story will leave you wondering … wondering if you ever ignored someone who you may have been able to help; or it will leave you with a more acute sense of others feelings and well-being.

A Boy Saw A Classmate Getting Horribly Bullied. It’s What Happened 10 Years Later That Made Me Cry. 

One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class was walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.”

I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on. As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him.

He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him and as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, “Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.”

He looked at me and said, “Hey thanks!” There was a big smile on his face.

It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude. I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before.

Read full story  here

PMS – Post Mortem Syndrome

We all have either suffered from it, or know of people particularly those doing tele-fundraising who suffer from it.

These are the ones who after almost every call sit back and ponder the outcome of it and, more often than not the calls that they post mortem are those that weren’t successful.

How much productive calling time is lost as a result of this? It’s likely that the time lost would be extremely high, imagine if each ‘agent’ spent 30 minutes in each ‘shift’ doing this – now imagine if there’s 10, 20, 30 agents doing it – that’s one heck of a lot of time – lost.

Why is it that tele-fundraisers spend time pondering the outcome of the calls that weren’t successful? There could be some positive reasons for this, however, it is more likely that they were looking at this in a negative fashion,  lost opportunity; and unfortunately this builds a negative frame of mind for them, with this being carried onto subsequent calls.

We can understand looking at the outcome of positive result calls, as there are often things that happened in that call that can be noted and used in future calls.

Perhaps it was their attitude, maybe they were more positive, had a clearer understanding of the outcome they wanted from the call.

Of course it could be that the person being contacted was in a better frame of mind, more receptive to the request for support.

Tele-fundraisers will have also picked up some positives from the “presentation” they gave, knowledge of the cause they were calling about, all of this helps build for a more productive, positive outcome for future calls.

On the flip-side – reflecting on the negative aspects of ‘failed’ calls only reinforces this, and this is a problem as it reinforces negative influences.

Reinforce the positives – shelve away the negatives unless there’s something that can be done next time to change the outcome.

See also:

Can Social Media Lessen the Negative Impact of Telephone Appeals

Making the Call – Tele-fundraising

Do it once, do it right – Planning your telephone campaign

Pick up that phone 

Donor Management

If your organization employs a telemarketing or similar team to raise funds, how do you do this?

Most organization who do this simply have a team of telemarketers, commonly referred to as tele-fundraisers, who are responsible for engaging with supporters, current and potential, in order to gain funds.

The general public, those who receive these calls, find them a nuisance especially when the come at dinner time; however for an organization they can be extremely cost effective and help raise funds in a quick manner.

However, for organizations doing this type of fundraising there can be a drawback – that being that there is often no long term rapport building opportunity between fundraiser and donor.

Having rapport with your donors can make a big difference, donors may know your organization, they may know what you do and the impact you’re making – but often it’s the person they have familiarity with, those they have a rapport with who can make or break ongoing support.

How can this be managed?

If you’re involved in tele-fundraising, and your staff are “served” numbers, not know who they are going to be talk to until the phone line is live, there’s little chance for staff to gather information to be able to ensure any relationship is maintained.

Donor nurturing can suffer, and it’s this area where another way of managing calls perhaps should be looked at.

If a call management system is being used, there is usually a way that calls can be directed to specific ‘agents’ – in doing this the possibility is there for the same agent to be the one who speaks with specific donors. The outcome, rapport is developed, relationships are nurtured and donors have more sense of trust with the organization.

Sure, there will be resistance, but this can be managed, what is more important having engaged donors or having ‘agents’ (and management) who are reluctant to change?

It’s now time to stop thinking in simplistic terms of getting funding – now, today, this week, and instead to look at the lifetime value of donors.

Change your thinking for “this call” to “account (donor) management” and you could find yourself with a happy donor, and a happier fundraiser.

What have you got to loose – when will you start looking at making the change, today, tomorrow – no time is too soon. As Nike says “Just do it.”

Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids

Not about charities or the non-profit sector, but this video is really worth a look

Child prodigy Adora Svitak says the world needs “childish” thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids’ big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups’ willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.

A prolific short story writer and blogger since age seven, Adora Svitak (now 12) speaks around the United States to adults and children as an advocate for literacy. Full bio »

Watch here: What Kids can learn from Adults

Personal Information – Given for One Reason, Used for Another

You walk down the street and get confronted by an organization asking you to sign their petition; you do so only to find out down the track that they have used your information for other purposes – how do you feel?

Recently an organization was “outed” for using names and contact information to add to their calling or mailing list; and when the organization was asked about this practice they simply said something on the lines of ‘people know there’ll be communication from us’.

Is this right? Remember you only gave your contact information so as to sign a petition, you didn’t, or most likely didn’t do it to be added to a phone or mailing list.

Is this another form of “chugging”?

When the NZ Privacy Office says people who give their information it is reasonable to assume they would be used to contact you, one has to wonder if this is the right attitude from a body set up to protect people’s privacy and to ensure information supplied is used for the purposes for which it is given.

In signing a petition, name, address etc are given mainly for the purposes of ensuring all names collected are bona fide.

If an organization then uses this information for other than what you supplied them for, from a personal perspective this surely must be in breach of the Privacy Act.

If you were to receive letters, emails or phone calls from an organization through this practise, would it put you off supporting them further?

Chuggers – Charity Muggers

Sometime ago I shared a post here that was originally written for 101Fundraising about the way people working to “subscribe” donors on the street behave, how their actions could negatively impact not only on “their” charity but on the sector as a whole.

Recently Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes covered the same topic, it would appear that chugging is still very much in the minds of people – so, here’s what Tim had to say:

Do charities realise the damage street fund raisers do to their brands?

Aggressive charity fund raisers are causing brand damage, argues Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes

The other day I watched an overly aggressive Save The Children ambassador almost knock a cup of coffee from a man’s hand on Sydney’s George Street.

A couple of days after that, I felt thoroughly patronised by an Amnesty International representative during an awkward social exchange in Martin Place.

And last Thursday, a Cancer Council worker rudely interrupted my phone conversation as I walked up Queen Street in Brisbane.

Not that these mercenaries really work for those organisations of course. They’re just wearing the tabards.

Read full article here