Category Archives: Charity

Why do charities find good customer care so difficult?

I’m a fundraiser. My customer is the donor or supporter. I want them to feel special, because they are special. Without them, my charity crumbles. We are far from perfect but we do try our best to be good at customer care. Whether someone has donated in support of our work, or phoned up for one of our advice booklets, we try to respond promptly, and personally if at all possible. It feels a bit as if all our donors are major donors (and perhaps that new contact today could be a major donor, or a legator, in the future).

This is an issue that extends beyond any one charity. If supporters – or people in need of help – have a negative experience with a charity, there’s a risk they think all charities behave that way. My poor customer care affects your ability to raise funds. Alongside many things charities can do to increase income, my number one wish – that will have impact on both supporters and beneficiaries – is improving what we already do.

Last week, a report from Blackbaud said that over half  of event fundraisers felt their ‘efforts were “not properly acknowledged” by the charity they were fundraising for.’ Sadly, this didn’t surprise me. I know from personal experience and chatting with other charity workers that far too many charities can’t:

  • thank supporters on time
  • get advice booklets to requesters within two weeks
  • sign people up to an email newsletter
  • tell people how much they’ve raised towards a tribute fund
  • give people a smooth and simple website experience
  • provide a cheering station at events

All of these examples are charities failing to get the basics right. And this is really damaging. It reduces supporters’ connection to your cause, so loses you income. It gives a bad impression which gets spread to their social circles, which loses you income. And it fails people who urgently need help. It is unacceptable.

But if charities can build relationships, be responsive, show they care and communicate better with supporters, they will raise more money. I think charity management (the buck stops with us) need to get on top of this and get their organisations to be efficient with processing basic thank you letters or gift aid. What is causing the delay? It can’t just be size, because some small charities can be really slow to respond (but perhaps are forgiven by donors because of their size?) whereas some larger ones are quicker off the mark. Maybe supporter care teams can shed light on the ratio of staff to incoming traffic that works? Previous places I’ve worked did seem very under-resourced for supporter care, and it wasn’t clear that management appreciated the impact on income growth. I have myself struggled to balance quick, responsive supporter care with the pressure to find new ways of growing income.

My personal experience (and that of friends and family) underlines my point. One charity never thanked me for an online giving page I set up one Christmas before they sent me – months later – an email invite to do more fundraising in an event. Another charity has still not signed me up for their regular free magazine, despite me trying to sign up three times in a year. They are also renowned for the slowness with which they post advice booklets. A third has yet to thank a family member who raised £1600 for a fundraising event, when they only had a target of £200. Rachel Brown from the Fundraising Collective puts it well:

Good stewardship links directly to the gift, is timely, and encourages the next donation.

If you’re efficient and effective with your thanking, you will raise more money. Balancing personalised supporter care and finding new ways to raise money is not easy. Sometimes it is difficult to judge when you should invest time and resource into a new idea, which could boost income and enable a charity to do more good, but surely we all understand that an efficient organisation is better for our beneficiaries, uses donors’ money more wisely and gives supporters the sort of experience that brings them back time and again?

Please, let’s sort out basic customer care.


Why become a fundraiser?

more students are interested in working in the public sector, academia, or for an NGO than in investment banking, consulting or finance.

Alternative Aspirations: what do students really want from their career?

I’ve been invited to speak to the LSE Artichoke Society‘s conference. The focus of the conference is to inspire students through highlighting the stories of graduates who have pursued an alternative path.

As an alumni (Social Policy, 2003, I was a mature student), the story of the Artichoke society really rings a chord. At the London School of Economics (LSE), I was surprised by the number of undergraduates destined to move into the city, law or consulting as careers. And when I say destined, I mean without any real thought given to alternatives. LSE students are fiercely intelligent (I like to think, anyway!) and yet lots had barely considered their future choice of career, a big decision with implications for the rest of their lives. Many on accounting and finance, economic and law courses had long since made that choice. For some, it definitely seemed parental pressure or parental assumption, for others a lack of awareness of what their options could be.

Ironic that a university set up to further the leftwing aims of the Fabian society churns out undergraduates for the city. Although the LSE has a very healthy civil society side to its programmes and courses, it’s a target for the big financial and consulting firms to recruit new talent.

I believe in the power of people to change the world and change lives. I don’t think charity has exclusive grip on this, many (most?) world changing ideas have come from the private sector and often relied on finance and legal advice from the city or equivalents. But I do think charities – and the funds that power their work – are an important way of building a better world. I don’t need persuading to follow a charity career, and despite some doubts at times, fundraising is a fantastic way to make a difference. Not least because you see the impact of your work in both directions – the charity and service delivery staff and volunteers creating change alongside the pleasure giving has on donors.

In preparation for my short talk (10 mins) under the theme of ‘Persuade’, I want to crowdsource thoughts from charity and fundraising professionals – why work for charity, and specifically, why become a fundraiser? Why did you become a fundraiser? What would you say to yourself at career defining moments from your past?


My charity of the year has made me feel amazing, again!

So, I chose this charity as my charity of 2014, and just a few weeks into 2015, they sent me a lovely email with good news about a student I support. I donate a monthly amount that covers the cost for one school student and the charity linked my support to a particular student, Jennifer. I received the email below telling me how a school in NW England (where charity founders Sue and Ron are based) had fundraised to raise money for shoes for Arise Community School students. They sent me a photo of Jennifer in her new shoes.

New shoes for Jennifer

But here’s the thing, the charity is new and run on the boundless positivity and love of its founders, Ron and Sue. Passionate and determined as they may be, they could really do with a helping hand in the digital sphere, at least some training or support to help them get things up and running. I wondered if anyone who knows me online (or in real life!) has connections with someone in or around Liverpool/Manchester who has expertise on social media, websites and the like, and could spare a bit of time to help Ron and Sue reach more people and bring in more support to boost the education of the children who live near Mt Kilimanjaro.

The charity – Africa’s Children in Education – now have a website, a Facebook group and a blog, and these all need updating on a regular basis to tell donors about the impact of their support and just to keep everyone informed of changes and developments at the school. (Like this phenomenal news!) Supporters get lots of updates from Arise Community School, and it would be fantastic for Ron and Sue to reach a bigger audience and for more people to see just what an impact this great charity has.

If you can help or you know someone who can, please put yourself forward. I promise you won’t regret it, the charity is doing such brilliant work and in the most positive and life affirming way!


When should you stop writing letters?

I was reading the sunday papers last weekend when I came across an intriguing start-up company called Inkpact Marketing. The genius idea of Charlotte Pearce, they hand-write letters for clients:

to offer a truly unique, exclusive and personalised marketing service, through handwritten letters. Our business is built on the understanding that relationships are fundamentally the most important part of business.

You could argue that outsourcing handwritten letters slightly flies in the face of a personalized relationship, but it’s still an intriguing idea and it seems to have impact with customers…or inkpact!

When I was young, I remember the day after Christmas being sat down to hand write all my thank you letters. My family is big, so it was a herculean task. Many years later, and my thank yous to family tend to be more on the electronic spectrum. My older siblings do still hand-write their thank yous, and I’ll freely admit, that feels special. At work, handwritten letters in their entirety are rare, but I try to personalize my communications as much as I can.

But there is a dilemma I feel I am no closer to resolving. As a fundraiser, I know that the personal relationship we have with supporters can be key to success. I’ve lost count of the number of charity blogs and expert advisers that talk about personalizing thank yous. They’re right, of course. I had a fundraising boss who used to set aside Friday afternoon every week just to personally write (ok, type, I think!) thank yous. I do type personal thank you letters and then top and tail. My personal bugbear? If you have time to actually sign a letter, then you have time to hand-write the salutation at the top!

I also encourage my team to personalize, and to be honest, they are brilliant at it. Our Events fundraiser juggles hundreds of supporters and over £300,000 of income every year and yet manages to sustain personalized communications with the vast majority. Undoubtedly this has brought supporters closer to the cause and motivated them to do more. Similarly, our Community fundraiser has developed a personalised approach to supporters that has increased their engagement and made them feel like we really care. (And, crucially, this is true. In the office, rarely a day goes by when we don’t comment on one or more of our supporters and the astounding commitment they show to help others. We describe them as amazing and fantastic because they really are! So we do care about them.)

What’s less easy to judge is exactly how much of a financial uplift happens as a result of these more personal relationships, and at what point might we have to reconsider our approach. We would all like to continue as we are, but as a charity, we have ambitious plans for growth and the more time spent personally communicating with supporters, the less time there is for the many other demands on our time. I balk at even writing that sentence but it needs to be said.

In the end, what our supporters are keen for us to do is spend their hard raised money on helping everyone affected by cardiomyopathy. It’s not always easy to justify spending time handwriting letters in that context. At what level do handwritten letters reduce our investment of time and people in growing income in other ways? If I hand-write to all our individual givers, they may really appreciate it and some may well increase their donations, but all I would have time to do would be a personal letter writer. Not apply for tens of thousands of pounds in grants, not think strategically about tying together our annual appeal with our campaigns. Should big charities have teams of personal letter writers? Would donors really accept that, however much personal delight they felt when receiving one themselves?

As I said, it’s a dilemma I am no closer to resolving, however appealing the idea of handwritten letters may be!

What’s your view?


My charity of the year

Writing this post excites me more than anything I’ve written this year.

I feel like I almost had a secret for the past few months. It started when I went to the annual Citizens Advice conference and I met an amazing lady, Sue Hayes. We were chatting when she told me the Charity Commission had just registered the charity she and her husband had started. My interest was sparked immediately because she mentioned Kilimanjaro. As a fundraiser, Kilimanjaro is synonymous for me with intrepid supporters trekking for days up a mountain and raising thousands of pounds. I have never been, and I had never really thought about the place itself or the situation in which these fundraising treks take place. I should have.

When Sue explained more about what the charity does, I was hooked. Here was someone who had never intended to become the founder of a charity but along with her husband Ron, they had seen an urgent need and they couldn’t ignore it. You can read their full story here, which shows how much effort they have put into it and also their passion for education as a way out of poverty.

We spoke and I loved how Sue described the children she had helped over the years, a couple of whom had come over to the UK to visit when they had reached school leaving age. This charity had clearly been a labour of love for Sue and Ron for many years, but only recently had they got the official stamp of approval from the Charity Commission. Being a techie geek, I was mad keen to visit their Facebook page, Twitter feed and website. They didn’t have them. I said to Sue that they really must get a website up and running, and last week, it went live.

For me, this charity shows the positive and joyful side of Africa. Sure, newsletters and fundraising appeals make clear the desperate circumstances of some of the children (otherwise there wouldn’t be the need for a charity), but the focus is optimistic and forward-looking. Just look at the photos and tell me you don’t want to be part of that!

This is a charity that belongs to the people it helps, it is a charity that is not patronising those it helps but letting them lead the way. It is a charity that is doing something really sustainable and long term, in difficult circumstances. It is a charity where the link between donor and beneficiary is made clear, where you can really see how your support helps, and what a massive difference a small regular gift can make.

My charity of the year is Africa’s Children in Education and I think they really are ACE! Please visit their website, have a look at the work they are doing to change lives for good. And look at the impact you can have with incredibly small donations. If you can spare some money, consider donating to their Buy a Breakfast Appeal.

I hope they inspire you as much as they inspired me this year!

ACE Charity

PS: They are new to the world of social media, so show them your support on Twitter 


What theatre can teach charities and fundraisers

Many years ago, I worked as a stage manager and I have kept my love for theatre. There are many elements to putting on a theatre production that translate brilliantly into the world of charity.

Theatre is fundamentally about emotion and story. Great performances, great scripts and great shows connect with the audience on a deep emotional level, which can make them happy or sad, elated or scared. The audience are not just objective viewers or observers but feel the drama, they engage with the characters, understand them and want to know them more. The fascination we have for performers is not because of who they are but who they pretend to be. Emotion is the heart of theatre, and surely the heart of successful fundraising too.

Directors often remind the cast to keep the story moving along – tell the story, keep the audience wanting to know what happens next, how does it end? The story’s a journey. What’s the story of a charity? Their history is rarely undramatic. Fundraisers can tell this story, with the big picture as background but the foreground needs to be about individuals, heroic people and the darkness they must defeat (whether a disease, homelessness, poverty or animal abusers). How does the story end? That’s where supporters have a role to play, they can create the happy ever after.

Working in theatre, I met so many interesting and different people. Whatever their background, whatever their personal story, we were an inclusive, friendly and welcoming bunch (or tried to be). Being different, being bold and original, defying convention made great shows and spellbinding performances. The thrill of the new, the unique synergy of the stage, connected with an audience, excited them, drew their attention. Parties were never dull in theatre. Unfortunately, the same is not always true of charities, which nowadays can feel scarcely different from the corporate world. That isn’t always a bad thing but if it means staff become too corporate in their mindset, innovation may suffer and the intensity fades of the mission that needs achieving. Surely a strong businesslike approach can work alongside original and daring thinking?

Innovation is the heart of theatre. New works, new interpretations of old work, new styles of theatre keep things fresh. Immersive theatre is a great current example that charities should heed – what better way to involve donors than giving them a proper insight into the work they’re funding? Groundbreaking ideas that make audiences and fellow artists open-mouthed and stupefied show that risks must be taken. The best shows are always the ones that break the trend, that refuse to copy or pay homage to what has gone before. Charities are often borne when someone sees a new way of dealing with an old problem, or identifies a new problem that underpins others. Never be afraid of thinking outside the box. If theatre hadn’t, we’d still be in the world of proscenium arch. Charities that break the mould get recognition, support and show the way for others to follow.

Comparing pay shows something interesting. However high up the hierarchy you are, theatres rarely pay well. You may be intelligent, skilled and professional, but your craft is a calling, not a job. Even when it becomes a job, it’s never, ever for the money. The hours are atrocious, there is no work-life balance and the working conditions (hot lights, cramped spaces, travelling from venue to venue) often verge on unbearable. But it is borne because of a belief in doing something special, and being part of a magical experience. Almost everyone who works in theatre has experienced that magic from the audience perspective first, catalysing their passion. Similar people exist in the charity sphere, but I’ve met more people just doing it as a job in the third sector than I ever did in my theatre career.

Everyone working on a show – from actor to stage manager to front of house (a range of different and highly specialised talents) – focus on one thing – audience experience. Make them gasp, cry, laugh, smile, scream… Techies might not admit it, but they love the thought of changing lives, enriching lives, making life worth living.

No theatre company is the same. There are as many variations of Shakespeare as there are theatres in the world. Test, tweak, try new things, adapt, change, revive. It’s not just that variety is the spice of life, but that lots of different people take different approaches. Those criticising charities for too much duplication need to consider whether it is truly duplication, or is it different approaches to the same problem (lots of anti-poverty charities or cancer charities, but if they take different approaches, they can all be making a positive difference, in different ways.)

There is always (hopefully) a vision. Sometimes just one person’s – the Director. Sometimes a whole company ethos (watch RSC shows, or Punchdrunk, or the Michael Grandage company) and sometimes a remarkable combination of writer and director. The secret to a successful show is the vision it strives for, to enrich the soul and heart or change people’s lives… Artistic vision drives great shows and charities should ensure they have a vision of the future that also inspires the whole organisation and its key audiences of beneficiaries and donors.

Words. The order, the choice, the tone, the emphasis. For me, the script is the single most important aspect of a show. If the script doesn’t work, all the best actors, directors and designers can’t rescue it. If the script is brilliant, it can still be spoiled by poor delivery or bad direction. In charity, the words we use to describe our work, the letters we write to our donors, making sure our beneficiaries speak for themselves, all of these are crucial to connecting with the people that matter – those we are here to help, those who support us, the volunteers and staff who deliver services and raise funds. Words matter the most because everything else depends on them.



The pause.




Time to think, to reflect. It’s a busy world and working for charity can be a relentless and frenzied experience. But creativity and power often lie in those moments where we stop, step outside the everyday, and take the long view. In all the hustle and bustle, we must never forget why we exist, we must keep our minds focussed on the end goal and not just the processes in which we are immersed.



Are charities technophobic?

Technology has the power to transform the world and people’s lives.

And yet too many charities are frustratingly slow to pick up on technology and particularly, the potential of the digital world and the internet. The persistent idea of an “office” being somewhere productive when it clearly isn’t (if your creative thinking happens outside the workplace, you’re not alone), or the poor quality of many charity websites (in general, let alone when visited on mobile), it can seem like charities or their leaders are prone to being luddites.

Social Media should be at the heart of communications

There still seems a reticence from many CEOs, Trustees and senior staff to pick up on the power of social media to help them do their work. How many times have you heard people in those roles express bewilderment at Twitter or Facebook? Perhaps letters were considered a weird fad back in the day…

Mobile – not digital – First

This should be the mantra for any charities redeveloping their digital services. Charities have understood people are willing to donate by mobile on public transport and adverts encouraging this have multiplied in recent years. Charities that help people with health conditions know their beneficiaries are also mobile and they expect to engage easily and conveniently to find information and support whenever they need it not just whilst sat at a PC. Supporters deserve their experience to be smooth, seamless and fast. Neither group can be solely catered for through technology. Face-to-face interactions are often essential in delivering services and developing strong relationships, but technology is incredibly helpful and should be many charities’ biggest focus.

Culture change

With all these technological advances, it seems extraordinary that so many helplines run by major national charities are only open during “standard office hours” (by which they mean 9-5, even though these are not even standard office hours any more!). The insistence on so many staff working every day in offices seems counterproductive on so many levels, and costly. Morale, creativity, flexibility, rent and energy savings are just some of the benefits to charity of having non-office based staff.

It’s not acceptable in 2014 to have the mantra of “what about those who are not online?” to determine your communications or business strategy. If a charity gets direct mail or other hard copy communications wrong, they may receive a complaint or some feedback, but how much attention is paid to the much larger number of people who use their websites and if it doesn’t offer what they want, they click or flick away?

Of course, those not online must also be able to access information and support, but if strategy is driven by that small and decreasing audience, where is the focus on the vast majority of the audience?

Content is not king, delivery is.

Content alone is not enough. If your presentation is poor – a low quality website with poor navigation, unresponsive design and missed engagement opportunities – your high bounce rate indicates the content isn’t being read or used properly. Charities that don’t have easy-to-use website help points, downloadable guides and booklets, or easy-to-share videos and infographics, are failing to meet the needs and demands of the bulk of their beneficiaries, supporters and staff.

Invest for a return, show your supporters you care.

Despite platforms like JustGiving, some of the technology specifically for charities is poor quality, and it restrains fundraising and service delivery. Synchronising different platforms verges on the impossible. Tribute Fund sections of some major national charity websites are embarrassing, almost insulting. Do they really expect someone to want to support a charity that has a clunky, dated and unfriendly approach to building a memorial to their loved one?

Halfway there?

There are many amazing examples of both leaders and charity specialists who see the potential for modern technology to deliver for charities, but they seem exceptional rather than the norm.

Up-to-date technology that works well should be a central plank in the future development of charities big and small. With so many free platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google Grants etc – size need not make a difference. Technology can deliver real and sustained change and build a better world. Leaders of those charities slow to take advantage of this amazing potential need to rethink their attitude, and catch up.


What we learnt from our first telephone fundraising campaign

We started our first ever telephone fundraising campaign about three weeks ago after a few months of preparation and planning. We stopped after two weeks but in that short space of time, we learnt a great deal. We knew going in that as a new venture for us, set against a backdrop of a strategy review and forthcoming rebrand, and some negative coverage of telephone fundraising in national media, there were risks but we felt it was worth trying.

Telephone fundraising is a successful way of getting income
This campaign had three aims – to increase some regular gifts, to get previous donors to give again and to get potential supporters to give. We managed varying degrees of success with all three and by the time we stopped, we were on course to achieve our target. It was clear that (some) people don’t mind being phoned and asked to increase their support for a cause they believe in. It was also clear that some people do mind. The challenge for all charities is to understand which category their supporters belong to (you can ask, but that isn’t always a reliable indicator – what people say and what they do are different).

Being open about costs is right but not easy
The warmth our supporters feel towards the charity was both a positive (they want to support us) and a negative (some didn’t understand why a charity they felt so close to was using an agency to call them to ask for gifts). In the past, we had raised expectations that we could buck trends or change reality – that somehow we really could do more with less. This has bitten us! Of course we love to connect closely to the people we help, we want them to feel we are always there for them. But we also need to be open about the fact that we can only do more if we can raise more, that their support is an essential part of that, and that there are costs to increasing income.

It doesn’t always pay to stand out from the crowd
Despite using a reputable agency who worked really hard to get ready for the campaign, and whose callers I went to visit and brief, there was concern amongst supporters that we were a) paying someone to call b) not calling them ourselves (people drew a distinction between us and agency staff, even though agency staff were a lower cost than if we had called). As a specialist charity, many of our supporters and beneficiaries see us as ‘different’ from others. We have probably played on that to our benefit in the past, but it meant we had raised supporter expectations of how personalised our approach can be. For example, many supporters know and really admire our Chief Executive. They know most of the staff by name. They indicated more willingness to support us if asked by him or other staff. But some of our warmest supporters were less keen when it was a paid caller from an agency. We realise that we need to be more transparent about the costs of all our fundraising, and that if we are to grow, we need to explain there is a limit to how much any member of staff can do.

Like any relationship, open communication with your supporters is essential
The criticism we received came from the heart. Some people felt hurt that we would ask them for money in this way, but when we explained we were trying to reach more people and needed more funds to do so, and that we had chosen to use an external agency because they had the expertise and were cheaper and more effective than us doing it in house, there was better understanding of our motivation. We think this presents us a good opportunity for open dialogue. We want to be as transparent as possible, so that we can build the same trust around fundraising as already exists about the services and support we provide to our beneficiaries. We also realised that we hadn’t effectively communicated the reason for needing more funds. Despite (from our perspective) regular communications about our work, without communicating a clear strategy for growth and the funds that would be needed to achieve it, it seemed like we were asking for more money without a good reason.

Timing is everything
So, we have paused the campaign. We are going to finish developing our strategy, and come up with some really clear examples of how supporters can help us reach goals we have all agreed on. We also will draw a better distinction between the people we help (who can be dealing with really significant issues and have only us to turn to) and the people who have signed up to support us rather than be supported by us. This is a particular challenge for health charities, especially those focussed on genetic conditions, as there can often be a blur between beneficiaries and supporters.

Our supporters are amazing. They inspire us and enable us to do so much. Those supporters who challenged this new style of fundraising will help us to make better connections in the future. As someone wise said before we started “Whatever happens, you will learn loads!” They were right, we have and we don’t regret giving it a try and look forward to returning to it in the future.


Ten essentials for effective fundraising

1. Inspirational and powerful vision

so that donors know the positive future their support will achieve.

2. Clear strategy over long and medium term

The charity’s work is based on a plan to get from where they are now to where they need to be – donors see how their support enables the transformation beneficiaries need.

3. Annual business plans with costed projects

The need for funds now is matched to activity happening now that links into the longer term strategy – ie how a gift today brings a better future closer. The plans give something really clear to report on each year – ie: this is what the charity said it would do, and this is what it achieved (the progress it has made over the year, thanks to donors’ support.)

Costed projects are important, so fundraising can tell donors how much their gift will help, and they are essential for grant funding.

4. Measure Performance

Fundraisers need to show donors how their gifts are being spent in best way possible to achieve the objectives of the charity (which have matched donors objectives through the vision) – both overall organisational objectives and specific project objectives for any particular piece of work. Measuring performance shows a charity has thought about what will work best to achieve something and that is why increased funding is needed.

5. Impact reporting, both quantitative and qualitative

To tell past donors and encourage future donations by showing what the work achieves – the people/animals/buildings/environment the charity helps, the difference donations have made, to one and to many.

6. Detailed financial reporting

Funders in particular, and donors, look at the costs incurred (such as governance and fundraising) in relation to expenditure on meeting charitable objectives. Detailed reporting is necessary to unpick exactly what things really cost and what donations will achieve and can help justify investment to achieve bold objectives.

Important for fundraising to have clarity on restricted vs unrestricted income and for all departments to have detailed breakdown of their expenditure – are resources being allocated as efficiently as possible?

7. Efficient internal processes

Supporters and funders are keen to know their money is being used with maximum efficiency. Any indication of a charity spending money inappropriately can hinder fundraising growth (and also means it is not maximising the resources it has and increasing the time it will take to reach its objectives.) Effective project management and mindfulness of costs is not about positive PR, it’s about being as efficient as possible in order to achieve a vision of the future as soon as possible. Prompt processing of inbound requests shows a charity focusses on external audiences not its organisational needs.

8. Targeted and planned marketing

Communications always work best when the audience is identified and the communication is focussed on them.  Detailed segmentation of mailings and focussed marketing appropriate to the right audiences requires planning ahead in a comprehensive way.

9. High quality design

To engage on the emotional level that makes donors give and give again, materials need to be well designed and pack an emotional punch, with good quality, hi res, emotional photos with real people/animals/environments in them. Well designed publications with emotional (and informal) language engage donors in a powerful way.

10. Powerful, public leadership

A board of trustees that are engaged, show an interest in what staff are doing, boosts staff morale and increases individual staff engagement with their work and performance at their job. Teams that are well led always perform better than those with disengaged or poor leaders. Senior leadership are pushed to the fore for donors and articulate key messages accurately, powerfully and emotionally, so that donors follow their lead and understand the importance of their donations to achieving the vision.

All of these will ensure a charity comes across as coherent, purposeful and well managed. Being an efficient, effective and emotional charity is appealing to support.


The obligations charities owe beyond their own beneficiaries and donors

In a survey released last week on the State of the Sector, nfpsynergy’s research highlighted a really important issue. One of the questions showed that 85% of the sector believe demonstrating impact is key to persuading a cynical public. This finding comes from those working in the sector, for whom impact is a current issue. Supporters wouldn’t necessarily use that word, they might just want to know that their money is being ‘put to good use’. Even then, supporters aren’t wandering around thinking whether their money is being used as best it can, but with several big negative stories in national media about charities perhaps giving rise to concern, it’s not unreasonable to think more explanation of how charities are making good use of money would be helpful.

Some charities are wrestling with how best to explain what they do with the money they’re given. Are lots of facts and statistics helpful? Would publicly available monthly management reports, with reference to KPIs, help the public understand? Unlikely, and in a spirit of honesty, some reports can be pretty incomprehensible internally. But this is not a reason to stop trying. Maybe charities should ask their Comms staff to help write management reports as if they were being given to the media. And then … give them to the media… Or at least, publish them on their website. Why do donors have to wait for an Annual Report that’s six months out of date when the charity has monthly reports that are current?

Why do donors give? To support the cause, to support what a charity has asked them to support. So, if you’re a charity that helps animals, how have you helped them, in what ways have you helped? If you aim to prevent homelessness or debt, how much advice have you given, how effective has it been in preventing homelessness or helping people out of debt? If you help people affected by a health condition, how many people have you helped and how have they rated the help you’ve provided? On what basis do your Board judge success? How can that be explained for a public audience? If it needs ‘explaining’, perhaps you should revisit those management reports!

But explaining the good that charities do is only half the story. We also need to be much better at explaining why we do things the way we do, and why we are organised the way we are. And yes, that includes wrestling with the thorny issue of salaries. In a hostile political and media environment, battening down the hatches is a terrible idea. The same nfpsynergy survey also showed a large majority feeling “charities need to be more transparent about their use of money”. There may be some who feel they want to hide from public glare, but my sense is most prefer to be transparent, not just because they see it as the right thing to do, but because they don’t have anything to hide. If you can’t justify your own pay, or if your Board can’t justify the amount they pay the CEO, then ask why that is. The same nfpsynergy survey asked those within the sector about pay over £100,000 and there’s a clear split whether such pay is justifiable. I think if a job is complicated and requires very specific experience and expertise, high pay can be justified, if there is also a lack of suitable candidates. But all those criteria need to be met and then, crucially, the performance needs to be closely monitored.

But if we believe monitoring the effectiveness of employees is important, whether on £100,000 or much less, surely we need to monitor organisational performance for our donors, and our beneficiaries? And why shouldn’t the results of that monitoring be made public? Be transparent. Explain the good the money has done. Be clear on your aims. Explain how you are making progress towards achieving your aims (and where you aren’t making progress, explain why and what you’re doing to change things). We are brilliant at communicating a need, so that billions of pounds is given in support of charities every year. Is it beyond our capabilities to communicate what we do, how we do it, why we do it and how good we are at doing it?

All of this is important for our own donors and beneficiaries, but charities that fail to do so are not just letting down their own donors but the whole sector. The more charities that fail to live up to expectations, the bigger the risk of increased cynicism. Charities which are not transparent, clear about their impact and how they reward staff, are not just doing a disservice to their supporters and beneficiaries, they are letting down their peers in the sector. Some think that those charities which fall down in this regard may increase their own supporters’ cynicism about them, but not the wider sector. But I wonder whether the accumulation of charities that are less transparent, poor on impact reporting and failing to powerfully articulate their mission, vision and values, are risking an overall reduction of trust in charity.

First and foremost, charities owe it to their supporters to be open and honest, to explain what they do and what they have achieved, to live a “nothing to hide” culture throughout the organisation. But they also owe it to their peers, to set an example and be a “good charity”, because that reinforces the sector and increases confidence. Charities do amazing things, we change the world, we change lives for the better. Let’s prove it in public. All the time.

No person is an island, nor is a charity.