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  • 22 Jan 2018
    It’s tempting to think that the recent fundraising crisis came out of nowhere – with public resentment whipped up by the media and a few horror stories – but the reality is quite different. Frustration and dissatisfaction had actually been simmering away for a long time. In 2016, nfpSynergy reported that the charity sector had one of the lowest complaint rates across seven sectors, but the highest level of people wanting to complain but not doing so. Given that the other sectors included pensions, mortgages and broadband providers, that’s a sobering statistic. So why have people been growing increasingly unhappy with charities? Specific cases of bad practice haven’t helped, but I think there’s a broader issue. Most public fundraising methods seem to rely on interrupting – rather than complementing – our everyday lives. We get stopped in the street. People knock on our doors. Charity appeals pop up on TV and through our letterboxes. In a world marred by spending cuts and growing inequality, this may feel inevitable. More and more people are being denied happy and healthy lives, and charities are stepping in to pick up the slack. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if these fundraising methods work and people have the money to donate, what’s the problem? The issue is that so many fundraising methods feel incompatible with a changing society. Digital technology has given people an unprecedented level of choice and flexibility. We stream music that we want to listen to, rather than sitting through songs we don’t like on the radio. We watch our favourite programmes on-demand on Catch Up TV, instead of “seeing what’s on”. We increasingly live in our own bubble where we do things on our own terms. So when we perceive that we’re being interrupted unnecessarily – whether by a company, a charity or an individual – we can feel harassed or angry. So street, door-to-door and television fundraising – while hugely successful financially, particularly for household name charities – are often negative experiences for the public, stirring up feelings of pressure and guilt. I’m not saying that ‘traditional’ forms of fundraising are fundamentally wrong, or that the negative media coverage is all justified. However, in these tough times, many charities will need to raise increasing amounts from the public to keep supporting their beneficiaries. For this to be sustainable for the sector, we need to be more creative and varied in our fundraising efforts. A popular buzzword today is ‘disruption’ – the concept (originating in Silicon Valley) of smaller companies unseating market leaders in an industry with an innovative or simpler solution. But perhaps the most effective way of ‘disrupting’ fundraising is actually to be as non-disruptive as possible. We need to find more ways to fundraise that fit in with or add value to people’s lives, rather than interrupting them. I’ve seen a few great examples recently – and while many are being implemented by large charities, there’s plenty for all of us to learn: 1) Rounding up in shops Last autumn, staff in my local Tesco in Bristol were fundraising for Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation. To support their efforts, Tesco added a prompt to their self-service machines asking customers to make a small donation to round up their bills: Over about a month, I must have donated ten times (I’m not a very strategic shopper, and Tesco is a one-minute walk around the corner). Never more than 10p – but with so many customers and transactions, you can imagine how this small but frequent giving can add up. While this did involve adding an extra screen to the self-service process, I could choose to donate or decline within two seconds. It didn’t feel obtrusive at all, and there was no awkwardness in saying no. Many people supported two charities that they might not have thought of giving to before. Smaller charities may find it near-impossible to forge a partnership with a major supermarket. However that doesn’t stop you approaching local shops or restaurants about a similar arrangement, or applying to supermarket community schemes like Waitrose’s green token scheme. You can also look at joining nationwide schemes like Pennies. 2) Good old-fashioned community fundraising Community fundraising is brilliant because it performs a social function as well as raising money. It gives people something positive to do and the opportunity to meet new people, which can be really important for some. While most people immediately think of the Macmillan Coffee Morning – which raises almost £30million annually – personally I love Mind’s Crafternoon fundraiser. This promotes mental health and mindfulness, encouraging people to come together and focus on making something. Any charity – no matter what size – can design an attractive community fundraising idea for their own supporters, whether that means a database of a thousand people or a small group of friends and family. The key is to develop your idea in consultation with your target audience, start small, gather feedback and gradually scale it up. Ultimately, community fundraising works best when it’s led by volunteers, with minimal input and support from paid staff. 3) Social media collaboration Building an audience for fundraising is tough for smaller charities, so catching a leg-up makes a huge difference. I’ve always loved this example of how the popular Humans of New York photoblog raised over $100,000 in less than an hour, by weaving a powerful ask for a local cause into an inspiring story. Founder Brandon Stanton had already built a huge audience that enjoyed glimpsing other people’s lives and hearing their stories, so appealing for help was a logical and unobtrusive next step. Winning the trust of an audience that are already passionate about something, and making a related ask on the platform they already use, is another great way of weaving fundraising into the fabric of everyday life. Building a relationship with a blogger or YouTube star isn’t easy, but might be a better bet than approaching major companies, particularly if there’s a reason why they’d support your cause. Try looking out for rising stars and make contact with them before they hit the big time. 4) Gamification Ever been through Stockholm Airport and seen these charity arcade machines? I love this for two reasons. Firstly, it takes something that’s already popular and adds a fundraising twist. If people like arcade machines in airports, why wouldn’t they love using them for a good cause? Secondly, this is a brilliant example of the gamification of fundraising. This increasing trend uses games, challenges and adventures to give people an added incentive to support a cause – and it really works. You’ll probably struggle to get arcade machines placed in major airports. However, you can still use this as inspiration:  can you ‘gamify’ any of your existing fundraising efforts, or add a fundraising twist to something your local supporters already enjoy doing? 5) Making donating easy When people decide they want to donate to you – no matter how or where – it’s not the end of the story. The physical act of donating has to be intuitive and convenient – if it’s too complicated, you’ll lose donors. As technology moves on, people expect the organisations they interact with to keep pace. The use of contactless cards is booming – contactless payments now account for a third of all card purchases, up from 10% just two years ago. Cash is a fading force, and charities are losing out by still relying too much on it – by as much as £80million per year, according to this report. It’s worth exploring options now for taking card and contactless payments, as the cost and barriers to entry will continue to come down for smaller charities. Also, make sure your donation and registration forms (both online and paper) are as simple as possible. Found this blog post useful? You may also like:    The Power of Storytelling: Six Top Tips by Mike Zywina  
    8120 Posted by Mike Zywina
  • 13 Feb 2017
    I recently went to SOFII's annual ‘I Wish I Thought of That’ (IWITOT) event, where 17 fundraisers present an inspiring fundraising campaign or idea that they wish they'd come up with. I’ve always thought this is a great concept, as it’s nice to listen to people wax lyrical about somebody else’s work, rather than promoting themselves. And no matter how big or small your charity is, there are always a few ideas to take away with you as inspiration! There’s often a recurring theme at IWITOT that links together the presentations, and this time was no exception. Many of the fundraising ideas featured a charity that had taken a backseat and allowed their supporters and beneficiaries to tell a story in their own voice. Doing this can be really powerful, especially in the social media age where people engage with and share content instantly. Storytelling, authenticity and spontaneity are crucial, and people are increasingly suspicious of ‘formal’ advertising and contrived campaigns. This is something that charities often miss when they set their sights on creating the next Ice Bucket Challenge or No Makeup Selfie. These campaigns are almost impossible to replicate, because their organic beginning – somebody sharing a personal, engaging update with no grand plan – is what made them successful.  The best campaigns aren’t dreamed up in a boardroom or on flipchart paper. It’s the organic messages, the simple supporter stories that aren’t put through a brand filter, that really capture people's imagination. So when charities are too eager to raise awareness about their organisation and ‘get their message out there’, all too often they manage to achieve the complete opposite. I’d like to share a couple of really personal, spontaneous campaigns that were showcased at IWITOT:  1. Emmy and Jake’s tandem fundraising challenge When Emmy Collett received the heartbreaking news that she had thyroid cancer, she embarked on a 2,000km tandem cycling challenge from London to Copenhagen with her childhood sweetheart Jake to raise money for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. Emmy’s inspirational efforts showed that it’s possible to remain active and upbeat despite having cancer. Her updates were also brutally honest, showing people the true side of her illness, treatment and painful symptoms. As Emmy and Jake’s poignant tale quickly gained publicity, the Royal Marsden made a conscious decision. They committed to remaining in the background, letting the young couple keep telling their story their way, without controlling what they said to the media. It was a brilliant decision – while donors felt compelled to give to two amazing individuals, it was the charity that really gained.  2. Paul Trueman’s ‘The Archers’ campaign After BBC Radio’s long-standing programme ‘The Archers’ featured a hard-hitting domestic abuse storyline, Paul Trueman was inspired to use it as an opportunity to raise money for a good cause: ‘Because Kirsty can't do this on her own, people. If over the last year or two you've sworn at the radio, tweeted in outrage, taken the name 'Robert' in vain, or posted your disgust at the worsening situation in Blossom Hill Cottage, then now's your chance to do something constructive about it. A fiver could get Helen (and Henry) a taxi round to the safety of her mum's farm (she's not 'allowed' to drive). A tenner could get her that maternity top (he made her send back). Just a crisp twenty could order a seasonal starter at Grey Gables and perhaps a quiet, conciliatory word with its head chef.    Time to do something constructive and think of all the women who are genuinely stuck in relationships like this - and much, much worse. So, joking apart, all the money from the Rescue Fund will go to the brilliant Refuge, helping all those women who don't have a mate like Kirsty and their own organic cheese shop waiting for them at the end of it.’ This highly unusual fundraising campaign used a fictional storyline and ‘ask’ to highlight the plight of real women. Refuge, the beneficiary charity, could have jumped on this and taken the opportunity to liken it to their own case studies, sell their work and 'polish up' the message. Instead, like the Royal Marsden, they trusted the creator of the story to be its best ambassador. After raising over £170,000, it seems like a pretty good decision. Now over to you… In today's world of spontaneous online interactions, I think that too many charities underestimate how well others can tell their story for them. So here’s the question – is your charity is brave enough to take a step back and let your supporters tell their own story too? This requires courage, faith in the people who represent you, and a willingness to relinquish control. For small charities, the chance to gain publicity and raise awareness is all too rare. So when it comes, you might understandably feel the need to refine and maximise your message as much as possible. Trouble is, when you reframe things using words that matter to you, and put your charity front and centre, you usually lose that vital authenticity and those all-important shares as a result. However, if you can resist the temptation to do this, maybe someday people will be talking about your high-profile and inspiring campaign and wondering how they could replicate it. This blog is based on a blog that first appeared on on 20 December 2016 Found this blog post useful? You may also like:     Rod's Top Tips on Running for Fun and Funds! Developing a Fundraising Plan - Strategies and Ideas Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2017 Wise Words from Alistair Sill: Local Hero Champion 2016
    6523 Posted by Mike Zywina
  • 08 Dec 2015
    Mike Zywina is an experienced fundraiser and the founder of Lime Green Consulting, providing affordable consultancy to smaller charities specialising in fundraising strategy, events management and individual giving. He is also a trustee for AbleChildAfrica and an ambassador for Good News Shared.  Did you know that the average email open rate in the charity sector is around 20%? This means that for every five people that you write to, four of them won't read it – and for many charities the numbers are worse than that. In the age of online content, we read things quickly in a spare moment and are accustomed to punchy and engaging information, otherwise we switch off. People tend to be on several charity mailing lists, so trying to make your charity newsletter get noticed can be a real challenge. The problem As my day job involves providing fundraising support to small charities, I have a natural interest in charity news. However, many smaller charities rely on the old-fashioned method of sending newsletters as a mass email with a PDF attachment, which can be really ineffective. If you’re doing this then not only are you missing an easy opportunity to engage your supporters better, you may not be aware of how little they are engaging. PDF newsletters tend to look flat, dated and uninspiring. If you have a lot to say, it’s difficult to present it in a way that is friendly for the reader – newsletters running across five or more pages can be daunting! They can also fail to create that important call to action – the reader simply reads a couple of stories then either deletes the newsletter or files it away. Manually sending out mass emails with a PDF attachment can take ages, especially if you have to do it in batches of 50 or 100 to avoid issues with your email provider. This is also a sure-fire way to trigger spam filters, so many emails won’t ever reach your supporters' inboxes. Yet you’ll be working in the dark because it’s impossible to know how many people are opening them, what they’re reading and what they like to see. The solution If all this sounds rather familiar to you, it’s time to start using email marketing software. There’s no need to worry, a lot of this software is cheap, quick and easy to set up. This little technology upgrade will enable you to manage your email subscribers, design newsletter templates and send them out in one click. There are many advantages: Design an engaging email template to use quickly every time. This will give your newsletters a much more consistent and professional feel. Send mailings at the touch of a button. They're gone in seconds, there's no need to send them in batches and there's far less risk of getting caught in any spam filters. Manage content between your newsletter and website. Including shorter stories in your newsletter with links to full articles on your website will make your mailings more engaging and digestible. You can also see how popular your content is by monitoring which stories people click through to read fully (see below). Your best content will achieve more as it will be seen by both your newsletter subscribers and website visitors. See crucial statistics at a glance. This software lets you easily see how many people opened your mailings, who clicked on links and how many email addresses bounced. You can start to build a picture of what type of content is most popular and follow up with individual supporters who, for example, click through to an events sign-up page. Save time. People can unsubscribe with one click and are removed from your mailing list automatically. New subscribers will automatically join your list ready for your next mailing (bear in mind that you may still need to update any separate database/CRM).   If you’re worried about the time and cost involved, you shouldn’t be. There are many great email marketing packages which are cheap or even free. For instance, Mailchimp - which I use myself for our Lime Green Consulting mailings - is completely free if you have less than 2,000 contacts, and prices start at £6 per month after that. If you can design a PDF newsletter or do basic web page editing, you’ll be capable of using the software. The small amount of time that you invest up front in getting to grips with it will be outweighed by the ongoing time and efficiency savings. There really is no excuse for persisting with PDF mailings – it’s time to get out of the dark ages!   For further advice on supporter communication and fundraising, please visit or download our free fundraising helpsheets.   Found this blog post useful? You may also like: The Power of Storytelling: Six Top Tips by Mike Zywina  Storytelling Tips for Charities by Becky Slack 5 free tools to share your organisation's story by Nisha Kotecha Dawn rises over Mount KilimanjaroHow to make friend with the media by Kay Parris How Charities can tap into the hyperlocal by Zoe Amar      
    5158 Posted by Mike Zywina
Tips & guides 10,618 views Mar 16, 2016
The Power of Storytelling: Six Top Tips

Mike Zywina is an experienced fundraiser and the founder of Lime Green Consulting, providing affordable consultancy to smaller charities specialising in fundraising strategy, events management and individual giving. He is also a trustee for AbleChildAfrica and an ambassador for Good News Shared. 

Sunday 20 March is World Storytelling Day, an annual celebration of the art of storytelling. Given that charities typically have a wealth of inspirational material at their fingertips, this is a timely reminder of what we could achieve if we used stories more to inspire our supporters and share our key messages.

There’s no doubt about it, the humble story is still holding its own. In a world full of data, statistics and spreadsheets, there are loads of ways that charities can demonstrate their impressive impact and the hard-hitting reality of the problem they’re trying to solve. Yet studies have repeatedly proved that most people are more inspired by a great story, a compelling case study, and the impact their donation can have on a single beneficiary.

Stories captivate us on an emotional level in a way that rational facts rarely can – and many of us trust our heart over our head when making decisions such as donating to a charity or buying a product. Stories can burn an image onto our brain and help us to make sense of the world and our experiences. They’re a bigger driver of our behaviour than many of us realise.

Commercial Storytelling

Many companies are brilliant at exploiting this. Frequently the story dominates to such an extent that the product is barely mentioned. The John Lewis Christmas advert feels like the official opening ceremony for the festive period these days – who can forget last year’s man on the moon? This love story about milk bottles is actually about something completely different, but you wouldn’t know it until the very end.


Charities are learning fast

Charities are increasingly harnessing the power of storytelling to stand out in a world where there are thousands of good causes competing for our donations and attention.

As charities, we enjoy the natural advantage of having powerful and inspiring stories to tell. We support people who battle against personal challenges, often showing huge courage in the face of adversity. Our heroic supporters dedicate their time, energy and creativity to volunteering and quirky fundraising efforts.

Telling a story is a great way of explaining your vision of a better world and what needs to change. Stories are memorable and easy for your supporters to share with others, and they motivate staff and volunteers. In a world where we are more interconnected than ever, this is really powerful.

A great example is the remarkable story of Stephen Sutton, who turned his battle with cancer into a £4million fundraising effort for Teenage Cancer Trust. Stephen’s personal story inspired millions of people to take action in a way that no statistic or charity newsletter could have done.

Stories are a great ‘leveller’ for smaller charities

You may not have the budget for that expensive marketing campaign or fundraising app, but your stories cost nothing to find and little to share. However, in my experience, many charities don’t capitalise on this, perhaps because they don’t take the time to look within themselves for a great story, or don’t realise quite how inspirational that story could be.

Here are my six top tips for telling your own powerful stories:

1. Delve deep into your organisation – trustees and senior management don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. The best stories are unlikely to emerge from your boardroom. You need to engage project staff, volunteers, beneficiaries and fundraisers. This is a great way to find authentic content and engage everybody from top to bottom in the task of finding the story that best represents your cause.

Good News Shared logo2. Keep it positive – evidence shows that people are tired of ‘traditional’ charity appeals about suffering and pain. Increasingly we must deal in hope, change and happy endings. If you’re looking for inspiration then I’m proud to be an ambassador for Good News Shared, a website which shares brilliant stories that showcase the positive and inspiring work done by charities and social enterprises.

Check out for some storytelling inspiration

3. Faces not figures – a personal story is always more memorable than even a powerful statistic. Make your story about one inspiring individual and include photos and background information to make it feel more authentic.

4. Mix your media – no matter how good the story, too much text will always put people off. We live in a world full of videos, audio books and infographics, and organisations are finding ever more creative ways to share their content. So keep the text to a minimum, use plenty of vivid images and try creating a video of your story – it doesn't have to be professionally produced to be engaging.

5. Make it easy to share – why do all the hard work yourself? Every person has the potential to spread the word to others. You never know who may mention you to a company, trust or high value donor. Encourage supporters to share your stories by making them clear, memorable, short and bursting with pride.

6. What next? Don’t leave your supporters wondering what they can do to help. Finish with a clear call to action – this could be a request to donate a certain amount, sign up to an event or share the story on social media.

Why not mark this year’s World Storytelling Day by spending a few minutes thinking about how your charity can be better at storytelling? Here’s some further inspiration to help you:

For further advice on supporter communication and fundraising, please visit or download our free fundraising helpsheets.


Found this blog post useful? You may also like:   
Storytelling Tips for Charities by Becky Slack 
5 free tools to share your organisation's story by Nisha Kotecha 
How to make friend with the media by Kay Parris
Get your charity’s voice heard by Duncan Hatfield
 How Charities can tap into the hyperlocal by Zoe Amar