There are people dying now, so give me the money

On 31 May, hundreds of fundraisers gathered in London to hear 22 fundraising professionals share which fundraising ideas they wished they had thought of. I was proud to be included in the line up of speakers.

I took some inspiration away from every single presentation. So that’s at least 22 ideas (if I include my own).  Not bad for an afternoons work.

Rebecca Mauger from Red Cross spoke about Live Aid. Now this struck a bit of a chord with me because I really remember Live Aid.

The Christmas before LiveAid, I remember going to WHSmith with my pocket money to buy the 7” single, ‘Do they know its Christmas’ to help victims of the Ethiopian famine. Yes that is physically going into a shop (with my mum), and buying a vinyl record and coming home and playing it non-stop on my parents hi-fi system. Back in 1984 this made me very cool. And I haven’t been very cool since.

At the time it was the UK’s best selling single and raised an estimated £8 million. The point is that it made giving to charity very cool for not just me, but for many people.

I also remember my dad coming home from work being super excited that he had seen Bob Geldof getting on a plane (my dad worked at Heathrow). He rushed off to Boots (yes the pharmacy) to get his film developed (no digital then) and we were delighted several days later (one hour service didn’t exist) to see 24 shots of a small man with big black hair (or possibly a hat) in a white t-shirt getting on a plane in the very far distance (no zoom lens). You might have an app that makes your photos look like this. My dad was, nevertheless proud of ‘meeting’ Bob Geldof, even though he was ‘a bit scruffy’.

Live Aid was a music concert held the following July simultaneously in London and Philadelphia. 58 bands played over 16 hours attended in total by over 170,000 people and the broadcast was watched by two billion people in 160 countries. Oh and they planned and delivered it in 12 weeks. Oh and this was before the internet or email was invented.

In 1985 Live Aid was an entirely new phenomenon for the fundraising world. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

I remember being glued to the telly that day. And I remember Bob Geldof getting all shouty and sweary. Now I know that he was getting frustrated that there wasn’t an urgent enough call to action when he famously said ‘f*** the address! –  there are people dying now, so give me the money.’ You can watch below.

The original fundraising target for LiveAid was £1 million and the final figure raised was about £150 million. Outstanding.

So thank you Rebecca for indulging me on a trip back to when I was cool. But more importantly for reminding us all that with an urgent need, passion, determination, bloody mindedness, a strong ask and sometimes a bit of swearing we can achieve outstanding things.

‘If the best thing we can say about our organisation is how much it costs to raise a pound then that’s a bit sad’

Today I was reading Kevin Baughen’s Penguin Blog, ‘Which charity brand will be the first to jump on admin costs? And it reminded me of couple of sessions that I saw at the FIA Conference earlier this year.

Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable and founder of Pallotta Teamworks spoke about how charities overheads are perceived by the public, media, government and their own staff.

Dan challenged the popular belief that the more of a donation that goes directly to services and the less that is ‘wasted’ on overheads including salaries, staff development and administration, the more effective the charity. He spoke about expectations that charity staff should be paid far lower than their equivalents in corporate organisations, and receive less investment in personal development and training, because they are compensated by the ‘feel good factor’ of working for a ‘worthy’ cause.

Dan used an example of soup kitchen A and soup kitchen B to illustrate his point. Soup kitchen A reports that 90% of every donation goes to the cause; soup kitchen B reports 70%.

But what you don’t know from this topline statistic, a statistic from which many people base their decision on which organisation to support, is that soup kitchen A serves rancid soup in a run down building with unfriendly staff, while soup kitchen B is open all the time, employs friendly staff, serves hearty nutritious soup in state of the art facility and also does case management.  In this scenario when making a decision on which organisation to support, the percentage that goes to the cause is not a good question. A better question would be; which charity makes the most difference?

Many charities are apologetic about the costs involved to raise funds. Almost half of charities claim that there are no costs associated with their fundraising. The lack of transparency regarding expenditure required to deliver sustainable fundraising only exacerbates public, media and government perceptions that somehow charities should fundraise for free, and that donors should expect 100% of their donation to go directly to services.

Adrian Sargeant in his Masterclass on ‘What every board should know about fundraising’ raised a similar point. He commented that “If the best thing we can say about our organisation is how much it costs to raise a pound then that’s a bit sad.”  The most important measure is the difference that a donor has made.

Adrian went on to highlight that in the UK we lose 50% of new donors in the first year. Then 30% year on year. In 2007, 38% of donors stopped giving. Over half of those stopped because they no longer felt personally connected. So, if we don’t continue to engage and build relationships with donors the initial cost of recruiting those donors is wasted.

Developing long-term relationships requires investment. It simply can’t happen for free. Charitable organisations must continue to invest carefully in their fundraising and at the same time be bolder and more transparent about the real costs involved in running an effective sustainable fundraising programme.

This paradigm shift has to be led from within the sector. It is the responsibility of charities to change the perceptions of the public, media and government and help them understand that fundraising efficiently does indeed cost money.

Kay Sprinkel Grace described fundraisers as brokers of dreams, giving supporters the opportunity to make a difference to the world. Yet our big dreams and ambitions, and those of our supporters are often reduced to apologetic conversations about how much it costs to raise a pound.

How can you be bolder about the real cost to raise a pound? And more importantly how can you show your donors that their donation to your charity will make the biggest difference?

It was much easier before the internet came along and wrecked everything

I’ve gone a bit techy this week. On Tuesday I went to the launch of ‘More than shaking an online tin – How can we take technology-enabled giving to a new level?’  – a new report by nfpSynergy for Spring.

Yesterday I went to the Institute of Fundraising technology group’s conference.

In particular I enjoyed the opening plenary by James Kliffen, Head of Fundraising at Medecins sans Frontieres  on fundraisers making the digital transformation. My key take outs were;

  • The importance of recruiting and keeping monthly givers.
  • Volunteer doctors and nurses working in difficult and dangerous places tell their stories to engage donors. Brilliant.
  • Thank you letters are written by the doctors and nurses working on the front line – very special and powerful.
  • When their emergency tsunami appeal raised all that they could responsibly spend on aid for tsunami after 5 days they stopped their appeal. Brave and transparent.
  • Their newsletters are sent only when there is news and they never make an ask for money. Interesting given the recent and ongoing ‘how often should we ask’ debate.
  • The pinball effect when people ‘bounce’ off different messages but only remember the last message they saw, so when you ask them how they found you the answer is often ‘I Googled it’ so its hard to measure what activity is more effective at driving traffic to your site.
  • The biggest challenge is data integration and there was no single answer on how to do it.

I heard a case study from Deniz Hassan from Merlin about their experience of fundraising from Facebook. He talked through the mechanics of how Merlin used Facebook to engage and grow their donor base. Three key take outs were;

  • Any campaign must be integrated into other fundraising and campaigning activities.
  • You have to test and refine and test and refine and test and refine…..
  • Do not forget the fundamentals of fundraising, engaging hearts and minds and telling stories.

Howard Lake did a great session, ‘Creation, curation, donation’ with lots of practical tools that you can use to find, edit, sort and present strategic messages and make the most of the good and relevant information that already exists on the web. My three favourites are;

  • Scoop it – for publishing your own magazine style content.
  • Storify – to build stories from a range of media on the web.
  • Wordle – for generating word clouds.

The conclusions from both the report and the conference are broadly the same.

  • Mobile is big, use of smartphones is increasing and there are real opportunities for charities to develop in this marketplace.
  • Integrating and measuring the impact of different digital tools is difficult, which also makes it difficult to choose which tools to use in the first place.
  • It’s important to remember the fundraising basics, engaging donors through storytelling and showing them how their support makes a difference.
  • Do not underestimate the resource needed to ensure you get the most from your use of technology.
  • Charities must take risks and test new technology to remain competitive.
  • It was much easier before the internet came along and wrecked everything.

You can download the Spring ‘More than shaking an online tin’ report here or see a brief overview of the report on the UK Fundraising blog.

You can also download the presentations from the Institute of Fundraising Technology conference here. 

Creativity, Innovation and Quality of Life

Innovation is a buzzword topic. You can even do a Masters Degree in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership at City University in London. It has its own acronym; it is fondly referred to as the MICL.

This is great because they have free public lectures. Last week I went to listen to Professor Patrick Jordan talk about Creativity, Innovation and Quality of Life.

Quality of life is defined as the wellbeing of individuals and societies. There is an increasing emphasis on the importance of quality of life and wellbeing. The Office for National Statistics is now attempting to measure national wellbeing in the UK.

Jordan suggests that there are nine major factors that need to be taken into consideration when measuring quality of life in his 2010 paper, ‘The Good Society Framework’.

The nine factors are explained below with examples highlighting how innovation and creative thinking are helping individuals and communities improve their quality of life.

1. Relationships; the quality of our social,family and interpersonal relationships is the single most important factor in measuring quality of life or wellbeing. Research has shown that there is a loneliness epidemic in older men.  Men communicate best when bought together round a task. Men in Sheds is an innovative project responding to this by establishing a task based shed network providing a community of support and social interaction for men.

2. Economy; this refers to people’s degree of economic spending power and the extent that jobs develop and reward individuals. In tough times, with public trust in large banking corporations at rock bottom, there has been an opportunity for the development of peer-to-peer economics. Zopa provides opportunities for people with savings to lend. The lenders earn interest and the borrowers receive better rates than banks can offer. Regulated by the FSA, Zopa has half a million members who have to date lent more than £190 million.

3. Environment and infrastructure; this is about how pleasant, effective and efficient our environments are. Transport for London invested in an initiative to ensure public transport in London was accessible to people with disabilities. Yet, despite the improved access, people with disabilities were not using London trains and buses. In particular wheelchair users didn’t use buses. Transport for London worked with Jordan to establish why. He discovered primary reason wasn’t the physical barrier; it was because of the uncomfortable interaction with the driver and the public. Bus drivers are measured on punctuality, the additional time to help a wheelchair user on and off the bus meant their bus would arrive back at the depot late. Because of this they often didn’t stop for wheelchairs – or were stressed and rushed when they did. Making using the bus a bad experience best avoided. Therefore changing the time measure for drivers, rather than the physical environment may improve the bus experience for wheelchair users.

4. Health; in particular access to good healthcare and food. Jordan spoke of a hospital project in Korea. They turned their radiography ward into an entertainment centre. Patients could upload photos and listen to their own music in an attempt to take some of the trauma of sitting in a stark and unwelcoming ward by making the experience as comfortable as possible.

5. Peace and Security; this refers to levels of crime and if people feel safe in their homes and public spaces and whether or not society is affected by war or terrorism. Jordan spoke of initiatives to develop more effective ways to identify terrorist suspects. Currently terrorist suspects are single people in a public place, looking nervous, with a backpack, meeting another single nervous person. Anyone who has ever been on an internet date is a hot terrorism suspect based on current techniques.

6. Culture and leisure; this is about identifying if there is a rich and rewarding
culture and opportunities to participate in leisure activities.  GoodGym is an organisation that connects people who want to get fit, with physical tasks that need to be done and benefit the community. So rather than mindlessly pound a treadmill you can run to an elderly neighbours garden that needs digging. Great concept.

7. Spirituality; the choice to practice which religion you choose, access to spiritual and philosophical teachings. An example is the Meditator app for smart phone has been developed to enable more people to relax and experience the benefits of meditation.

8. Education; this places the importance on enriching educational opportunities the enable people to function effectively in society. An example of a project enabling better educational opportunities is the US Knowledge is Power Programme (KIPP). Based on the premise that levels of achievement are often inhibited by low expectations, KIPP uses the slogan ‘work hard be nice’ to build the confidence and expectations of students from undeserved communities that they will go to, and do well at college.

9. Governance; so whether there is democracy, fairness and freedom of expression. Social media has given the masses a voice and the ability to spread campaigning messages. There are many examples of groups coming together to have a voice or take action; from the organization of the riots in London last summer to the uprising in Egypt last January.

Jordan’s final point was that using innovation and creativity to create a better quality of life was for all. Not for the few that can afford it – but for everybody.

How can we better engage our creative and innovative skills to improve our individual and community wellbeing? What do you think?

PS. You can find out more about MICL at a free open day conference in London on 11 June.

Why we have our best ideas in the shower

This evening I watched the live stream of a RSA talk by Jonah Lehrer about new research that is deepening our understanding of the human imagination.

Not actually being at the RSA in real life was a strange experience, I felt like I was intruding as people arrived and I watched by myself. In silence until the speakers took the stage. It was also a modern-day miracle given my recent service from Virgin Broadband.

The talk was based on Lehrers new book Imagine: How Creativity Works, which explores where creative thoughts originate.

CRAP

No I’m not being rude. CRAP is apparently an acronym for Compound Remote Associates Programmes.

CRAP is like the word puzzles you get in the Sunday paper. Unrelated words are presented and the problem is to find a fourth word that relates to them all, e.g. for the words; pine, crab and sauce  – the solution word is apple.

The study showed that the creative insight that comes before a solution, can be detected in the brain 8 seconds before it arrives. It’s identified by functional resonance imaging and electroencephalography.

In plain English this means that the bit of the brain behind your ear that scientists don’t know huge amount about shows a sharp spike in alpha wave activity. This alpha wave pattern closely resembles that of someone who is in a relaxed state.

Therefore the conclusion is that if you are in a relaxed state (and a good mood too apparently) you are far more likely to develop creative thoughts.

So this is good news. If we can relax more, and spend more time on the activities that relax us; going for a walk, having a bath, taking a break from our desk or having a few beers with friends (A different study showed that undergrads who were too drunk to drive had a 30% higher success rate in solving these sorts of problems… make of that what you will) it will help us be more creative.

The bad news is that for many people it is hard to relax and switch off from the stresses of daily life. Also relaxation alone wont cut it. According to Lehrer to master the elusive skill of creativity we also need grit, serendipity and real life face-to-face interactions.

And to find out more you can see the RSA film of the event here.

Perhaps that explains why so many of us have our best creative ideas in the shower?

I’ve never cried in a hardware store before. Although perhaps you have.

I was in E Hayes & Sons in Invercargill in New Zealand. A strange place to hang out on holiday amidst the natural beauty of New Zealand’s South Island you may think. And you would be right.

But this is why.

On the way to Invercargill I watched a film starring Anthony Hopkins called The Worlds Fastest Indian. It was made in 2005 and based on the true story of Burt Munro and his quest to turn his 1920s Indian Scout motorbike into the fastest motorbike in the world.

Burt was a somewhat eccentric motorcycle fanatic who spent his time tinkering with his motorbike in his shed, making improvements to the engine and bodywork. He would often work through the night choosing his passion for speed over sleep. He improvised with found items rather than ‘proper’ equipment. He would cast parts in old tins and make his own barrels and pistons.

In 1962 he travelled alone to the USA to fulfil his ambition to achieve a worldspeed record at Speed Week on the salt flats at Bonneville, Utah.

His local community, friends and family did not believe that he could do it. Even the local motorcycle club were sceptical about their eccentric neighbour. The only person who did believe in Burt was Thomas, the small boy who lived next door.

Against the odds, Burt and the motorbike arrived in Utah, 8,000 miles away in one piece. Burt charmed officials to let him race despite not registering, being 63 years old, riding the oldest bike in the competition with no apparent regard for his own safety. He had no safety parachute or fire extinguisher. Officially both were required in order to be eligible to race.

Burt broke the world record achieving 179 mph. Burt returned to Bonneville several more times setting more speed records in his lifetime. Burt died on 6 January 1978, aged 78.

“You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat-out than some people live in a lifetime” Burt Munro

Burt’s story inspired me because of his passion (for motorcycles) and his single-minded pursuit (of speed) – and his success despite the odds.

It is an enchanting and beautiful story told with love and humour. I fell in love with Burt Munro a bit. So that’s why, when I came across his motorcycle bike and memorial to Burt in a hardware store in Invercargill – it was all a bit emotional.

So if you ever feel in the need of inspiration against the odds, take 90 minutes out of your day-to-day life and watch The Worlds Fastest Indian. 

Focus on where you want to go

Over the last few weeks I have been travelling in Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes I have been travelling with friends and sometimes on my own.
ImageI’ve learnt lots of new things, mostly through trial and error and with the help and kindness of strangers. Who knew you were not allowed luggage on the train from Wellington? (it has its own secret carriage) Or that shops often shut at 4pm and lunch finishes at 2.30?

I’ve been grateful to many people for their directions and help. I also have several observations.

  • People are kind and happy to help – and pleased to be asked for help.
  • People are proud of and keen to tell you about the area in which they live.
  • People like to recommend places to go and things to do and see.
  • People are interested in where you are from and how you have enjoyed visiting their country.
  • Most people have a friend or relative in the UK that they wonder if you know.
  • Most people are rubbish at giving directions.

Most people are rubbish at giving directions because they know too much about the area and tell you information that is irrelevant. Most people also start by telling you the way not to go. For example….

Helpful person 1

  • Helpful person 1: “So you come out of the station and on your left you will see the water.”
  • Me: “Great – So I look for water…”
  • Helpful person 1: “Don’t go to there”

Helpful person 2

  • Helpful person 2: “Go to the end of the road. At the roundabout see the big council building, with a yellow and blue sign and to the left of that there is a park.”
  • Me: “Great – so I’m looking for a council building, yellow and blue and a park”
  • Helpful person 2: “Don’t go that way”

Helpful person 3

  • Helpful person 3: “At the bus stop you see a deli type shop with beautiful flowers in the window and it does excellent coffee.”
  • Me: “OK – looking for the deli and flowers”
  • Helpful person 3: “Don’t go that way – go the other way”

OK so I think you get it. My question is; wouldn’t it be better to focus on what I should be looking for and where I should be going, rather than giving me information about the landmarks that I should avoid?

It makes me think of a driving analogy that a friend told me.

“You are driving. The road is icy and your car spins out of control. There are telegraph posts at about 10 metre spaces along the roadside. If all you think about is not hitting the post, the likelihood is that you will hit the post as that is what you are focusing on. What you should be focusing on is aiming for the gap. You need to focus on where you are going.”

We often spend time concerned with where we don’t want to go, whether in work, relationships, life or simply giving directions to hapless travellers.

If we focus on where we do want to go rather than on where we don’t want to go, surely we stand more chance of arriving at the right destination?