Chiltern Open Air Museum Director, Sue Shave and I were invited to facilitate one of the break out ‘workshop’ sessions at the AIM conference, held this summer in Edinburgh at the Royal College of Surgeons. The title of the session was ‘Volunteering and fundraising – A good Mix?’ During this workshop we shared our own experiences in this area and invited attendees to share and contribute their own findings. Joining us for the session was Julia Hill from Culture Force. Julia, who has years of experience working as a volunteering steward and manager, discussed the importance of engaging with volunteers appropriately when it comes to fundraising. She discussed the importance of recognising the invaluable contribution volunteers already make to our organisations and NEVER to ask directly for a financial donation. We learned the importance of communicating our fundraising needs aims with our volunteers on a consistent and regular basis, so that they could have an understanding our charitable needs. Julia’s discussions concurred with our own findings from our own volunteer workshops and online surveys.
The Flourish project has benefitted hugely, from working closely with our volunteering partner (Culture Force) as well as our external advisers in legacy and individual giving. They also made valuable contributions at the South West Federation conference held in Bristol and the South East heritage and charity sharing day held at Chiltern open Air Museum.
I have been asked to present at the Oxford University Museums Partnership on the efficacy of running a major donor campaign, based on some of the lessons learned within the project.
Chiltern Open Air Museum’s 40th Anniversary Appeal was launched in July. We set about recruiting a figurehead for our appeal and identified one of the Museum’s patrons and identified someone who has far reaching local connections as well as extensive experience, working with a wide selection of charities through a regional grant making body.
We acknowledged that for a number of our patrons, there had been little engagement or communication in recent years and for our appeal to work, we would need to resurrect the relationships and re-stoke their enthusiasm.
We recruited Lucy Marshall of Prospect Point, campaign consultant, to the project. Together with Lucy’s help, we compiled a solicitation chart, documenting the names of all potential donors for the appeal, listing who would contact them, the best means of contact and including contact deadline. We created an on-going reporting system, whereby we fed back to Lucy our progress and she would go away and produce as much research on each of our targets as possible. It was determined that we would request a specific donation, rather than adopting a generalist approach.
Consideration was given to the amount each individual prospect should be approached to donate to our campaign, taking into account research into their donations history within other organisations, a post code analysis, career history and areas of interest, if listed.
We were generally in agreement, that in order to achieve our aims, we would need to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the patron. On account of the fact that age and infirmity had become a significant factor, time was of the essence.
Due to the ages of a number of patrons, it seemed appropriate in some cases, to visit them in their own home. On occasion, it was necessary, to engage with and convince the patron’s personal assistant or ‘gatekeeper’ of the need to arrange a face-to-face meeting. Once in front of our target audience, we set about executing the following strategy and flow chart:-
* Explaining recent accomplishments and good news stories
* Demonstrate these through the use of visual aids i.e. brochures, leaflets, pictures printed off and laminated, depicting areas of their own interest i.e. a particular building style or take along an artefact reflecting the person’s interests.
* Deliver an invitation to our 40th celebration event
* Explain the financial needs/current projects being undertaken.
* Be prepared to describe current activity, as well as share your vision and future plans
* Make the ‘ask’ at the appropriate moment (and make the ask specific – “We wondered if we might ask for a donation of £X?”
* Consider a fall-back position. Where a personal donation could not be achieved, establish other ways they can support you i.e. by acting as an ambassador, running fundraising events or offering to give a talk to a paying audience.
* Be prepared for a grilling, regarding the financial state of your organisation. We found that, when approaching a new prospect, they may regard their financial contribution, very much as an investment into your organisation.
* Consider the following process:
We established that it is preferable to ask for a higher sum, than start too low not knowing whether you could have achieved a more favourable result. If the prospect appreciates the value of your organisation and wishes to help, they will offer an amount with which they feel comfortable.
Experience has taught us, that each meeting is different and must be tailored to the individual concerned. In summary, the more preparation and research into the intended target, will offer an insight into that person and their key motivators. The key to success, is by concentrating on what interests them, engage on that element and make them feel part of the organisation’s journey (past and present).
- We identified that for some donors, they consider a donation to be an investment into what they deem is a successful organisation, having plans and every likelihood of going from strength to strength. They key driver, being that their financial commitment would not be squandered, through poor management or lack of due diligence. It is therefore, essential to be prepared for searching questions in all areas that affect your organisation.
Researching your prospect and their areas of interest is of paramount importance.
- Determine how your prospect feels about your organisation, its achievements and challenges. Does a past supporter continue to feel closely associated, valued and appreciated for their previous contributions? Do they want to be involved in the onward journey? Are there any hidden objections, or feelings of disassociation?
- Set a realistic financial target, without being over cautious. By asking for a low figure, you will not know if a higher one could have been achieved.
- Research the target’s giving history or look at their likely wealth based on residency, any company finance data as well as their public profile. They will let you know at which level they feel comfortable making a donation.
- Take along visual aids. A picture really does paint a thousand words and ignites a spark of imagination. This works especially well, we found with a more senior audience, where concentration may be an issue.
- Relish the ‘wins’, appreciate where the improvement lie and enjoy the challenge!
We have achieved 85% of the monetary target we set ourselves, as a result of the collaboration with Lucy Marshall and the careful research and preparation ahead of any meetings with our prospective donors. Someone once said – ‘You cannot over consult’.
The solicitation programme has given us a platform on which to build the foundation of an individual giving campaign. It has also enabled us to reignite the interest in past supporters and to nurture new relationships, through an active approach involving site tours and well prepared home visits. As a result, we are now well positioned to continue the process through stewardship of those who have supported the 40th anniversary appeal.
We also appreciate that not everyone can offer a direct donation gift. They may be able to help out in different ways that can be equally rewarding to your organisation.
Written by Richard Berman
Flourish Project Co-ordinator