Are you passionate about your job?

On Tuesday I went to listen to wildlife film producers Patrick Morris and Huw Cordey tell their stories about the making of the BBC series Life and Planet Earth at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

They told stories of rats and leeches, caves and deserts, rivers and jungles. We saw the Tibetan fox with a strangely square head, watched monkeys in a hot tub at Hells valley in Japan and were wowed by breathtaking aerial shots of sand dunes covered in snow.

We learnt about some of the challenging conditions that Patrick, Huw and their teams had encountered; filming emperor penguins at minus 70 degrees, cameras broken by giant prehistoric fish and living inside caves for days with no daylight. And let’s not forget learning the process involved to make a cling film ‘burrito’.  (I’ll let you use your imagination with that last one)

Patrick and Huw’s brief with Life and Planet Earth was to raise the bar on previous wildlife films. They were tasked with enthralling the audience with epic cinematography and capturing the beauty and wonder of the planet in which we live by weaving stories around central lead animal characters to make the audience care about the wildlife they were watching.

They highlighted the importance of failure, how you need to have money to take risks and fail in order to push boundaries. They shared some of their failure stories, featuring eccentric Frenchmen in hot air balloons and giant trees (you may also imagine how that played out).

What struck me most was watching them effortlessly present, enthrall and capture the hearts of the audience, simply because they were talking about something they were passionate about. Their enthusiasm and passion was infectious. Can you say that about the work that you do? I hope so.

As if Patrick and Huw were not enough, he event was introduced by Sir David Attenborough.  And I got to meet him. Which was very exciting as he is one of my lifetime heroes. (Not that I had anything intelligent to say because I was too much in awe).

Thank you Patrick, Huw and David for your curiosity about our planet and the animals that inhabit it, and for inspiring the audience this week. Big thanks also your teams who fearlessly venture with you to some of the most remote places and tolerate extreme conditions in order to capture, share and inspire more of us to learn about the planet on which we live.

The event was organised by Epilepsy Action in memory of Octavia Morris who died age 27 as a result of her epilepsy.

Pillows, helmets and hygiene

Dave Brailsford, Team GB Cycling Performance Director attributes much of his teams’ recent Olympic success to incremental improvements.

The principle of incremental improvements across the cycling team came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.

This concept of incremental improvement or ‘aggregating marginal gains’ in sport is not new, but it has not been included into every element of a training strategy with such conviction before.

GB Cycling’s training included rigorous training schedules to improve physical fitness, a carefully planned diet, a series of marginal technical improvements to equipment and working with psychologists to adopt a winning mindset (which included reducing the number of racing days but competing in those fewer races with a focus on winning).

Brailsford also highlighted the importance of other things that might seem of little importance, like sleeping in the right position, having the same pillow when you are away, training in different places and being scrupulous about hygiene so as to reduce the chances of getting ill.

“They’re tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference.” Dave Brailsford

The team also looked to worlds outside of cycling for answers. They hired Formula One engineers to model the aerodynamics of helmets and bikes, the “pillow” idea apparently came from the Royal Ballet and the emphasis on hygiene is the result of talking to surgeons about avoiding illness,  (Rumour has it that Brailsford had someone to continuously clean the door handles in the Olympic village lest germs should get into the camp)

For me, the team’s success is about the sum of the parts including; the dedication of the cyclists and the coaches, the physical training schedule, the best equipment, working with psychologists to ensure that cyclists were focused on success and the hard work and constant striving to be the best that they can be.

In addition to all of the above, the GB cycling team were doing something different to their competition, and I think that also contributed to making them outstanding.

Dave Brailsford and his GB cycling team bought home 7 gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics. Tell that to anyone who doesn’t see the value in incremental innovation.

What tactics can you borrow from the GB cycling team and apply to your fundraising?

For Sale: baby shoes, never worn

Fundraisers, think about your most successful fundraising campaign, mailing, event, individual gift, trust application or corporate pitch. I bet that they all have something in common. In some way they have fulfilled a need for your audience, captured their imagination and evoked some form of emotion that has inspired them to take action.

In the charity sector there is a lot of talk about the ‘donor journey’ but for me the start of any donor journey is you finding your story and telling it in a way that touches people’s hearts as well as their minds. Telling a story written by your marketing team isn’t good enough. You have to find your own stories that evoke passion and power in you.

People give to help people. The relationships you build with your donors are your relationships – you build rapport, you build trust, you inspire donors to get involved, you make a difference.

I think perfecting the art, and it is an art, of seeking out real stories and telling them in a way that inspires both you and your donors is the essence of being a fundraiser.

A book that has inspired me is Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath (Random House, 2007). They outline six principles that will help your stories to inspire your audiences’ hearts and minds.

1. Simple – Keep your story simple. Focus on your core message. Using analogies helps simplify complicated information.

Help the Aged’s ‘make a blind man see’ press advertisement is a great example of a simple story.

2. Unexpected – Say something unexpected to get attention. Ask questions to hold people’s attention and curiosity.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn. A six-word story by Ernest Hemingway. Think about it for a moment. Those six words are somewhat unexpected yet hugely powerful. You can read more six word stories here or submit your own.

Amnesty produced an award-winning unexpected message to throw away this flyer in their insert campaign.

3. Concrete – Be specific. Paint a mental picture with words by using sensory language. The famous president of the USA John Kennedy painted a picture with words in a powerful speech when he said, ‘I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.’

An RSBP campaign to save the albatross brilliantly uses this technique. You are asked to picture the scene: imagine you are in a restaurant tucking into your first bite of succulent Pacific salmon. Something is not right. Read more about what happens next here.

4. Credible – Provide compelling details, whether it’s research and statistics, the name of an industry expert, or something down to earth about the difference you are making.Research shows that many people respond better when they can link their contribution to providing help to a specific situation or person.

‘If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one I will’, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

The Child’s i Foundation raised £10,000 in 38 hours to save baby Joey’s life. The story is all about baby Joey and his parents. Take a few minutes to watch the video in the link. I challenge you not to be moved. Which leads to sticky principle number five.

5. Emotional – People care about people. People care about situations that they can identify with. There is a range of ways in which you can do this and I like  Action Aid’s What a Feeling campaign that asked ‘How does it make you feel to be part of the Action Aid community?’

6. Stories – The very process of telling a story helps people see how an existing problem might change and how they could help that change happen.

St Mungo’s, a charity for the homeless in London, uses real life stories and includes inspirational accounts of how, with help, people can change their lives.

How to seek stories

Does your storytelling spell SUCCESS? The more of the six principles that you can weave into your communications, the more likely it is that your messages will stick. Your challenge is to continually and deliberately seek stories that inspire you and that you can tell to inspire others. Here are some tactics to help you do just that.

  • Carry a notebook with you. Use it, make collecting stories and observations on life a habit. We know that the more connections we make the more likely it is we are going to put those connections together to come up with something new. That something new could be your wonderfully compelling story… or the next big fundraising idea.
  • Read more stories. Millions of authors have spent time writing stories. Read them. Think about what the author does to keep you eagerly turning the pages. Try using that author’s tactics on your own stories.
  • Watch films and consider their storytelling styles. What keeps your interest? What turns you off?
  • As with everything, if you are going to become good you need to practice. Practice telling stories; practice on your friends and family, use your voice and body language to bring the stories to life.
  • Volunteer at a local school or a reading stories project – or perhaps you have a Ministry of Stories near you? What a cool place!
  • Practice writing. Start a blog.
  • Get some storytelling training. It will be one of the best investments you and your organisation will ever make.
  • Enjoy your story-seeking adventure.

Have a go. Tell us how you get on.

This blog was first published on sofii  and I am running a session on storytelling at the Institute of Fundraising Scotland conference in October. Perhaps see you there.

Has anyone else cried a lot this week?

I have spent a lot of time in the last week crying at the telly. Who knew that the achievements and disappointments of the Olympic athletes could have such an emotional impact?

My first Olympic emotional moment was when I saw Roger Bannister carrying the Olympic torch across the finish line of the Oxford track where 58 years ago he became the first runner to run a mile in under 4 minutes.  Roger is now 83 and you can see his somewhat slower stint on that famous track and an interview here. 

The story of the first four-minute mile

On 6 May 1954 Roger Bannister ran the first ever mile in under four minutes. This, at the time was an incredible feat as athletes had tried to break through this time barrier for years and years. Some experts even said that it was physically impossible, that the human heart would explode under the pressure to run a mile in under four minutes.

There are several things that I love about this breakthrough story, firstly that Roger wasn’t a professional runner, he was a medical student and he just ran for 45 minutes every day. Secondly, he believed absolutely that he could run a mile in under four minutes. When asked how he did it he said, “ it’s the ability to take more out of yourself that you’ve got”.

Within 2 months of Rogers’ record, Australian John Landy set a new sub four-minute mile record. The next year, 37 other runners ran miles in under four minutes.

In fact, since 1954 hundreds of runners have broken this record. There were no great training breakthroughs, human bone structure, lung capacity and heart performance didn’t suddenly improve. So what happened?

Roger believed he could do it; he focused and did better than his best. Rogers belief raised the bar enabling others to also believe they could do it. I think that belief was absolutely key to Roger achieving his breakthrough success.

So when I saw Roger carrying the torch last week I welled up. For me Roger Bannister is much much more than a person who ran the first four-minute mile.

Roger Bannister showed others that something that ‘experts’ had believed impossible was possible. By doing this he allowed others to believe that they could do the impossible too.

Apply this principle to your fundraising or other areas of your life where you want to make great achievements. Next time you are attempting a seemingly impossible task, remember Roger.

Do what he did;

  • focus on what you want to achieve
  • believe in yourself
  • take more out of yourself that you’ve got
  • and make it possible.

First published as a guest blog by the Fundraising Detective.

 

The London Olympics flash mob at Wimbledon

In the Olympic ticket fiasco I somehow managed to get Centre Court tickets for the first day at Wimbledon.

Warned about airport style security and long queues we arrived early. A rare thing happened; the sun was shining so we decided to sit outside. We went up to Henman Hill or Murray Mount (whatever the hill at Wimbledon is called this year) to see if there was any other Olympic coverage happening on the big screen.

The people next to us said that they heard that there was going to be some ‘special surprise guests’ at 11am so we stayed, placing bets that it would be, (and really hoping that it wouldn’t be) Cliff Richard singing ‘Summer Holiday’.

Then someone got up and started dancing. It looked a bit weird. Then we realised she was one of the main dancers from the Opening Ceremony the night before. Then lots of other people started dancing. Then more. And more. Then we finally caught on that the ‘special surprise guests’ were this flash mob. They were awesome. You can see it here.

The dancers were excellent. It lasted about 5 minutes and then everyone went back to ‘normal’ as if nothing had happened. Apart from the cheers and whoops and laughter from the crowd.

I’ve never seen a real live flash mob before. It was really exciting and weirdly emotional. And although we were only watching in awe, we still felt part of something. All of us on the hill shared a unique moment. I felt part of something special. I was practically in tears with excitement about the day. And I was not alone. It was incredible.

So in fundraising we know that people take action based on an emotional response. So would it make sense to use the flash mob concept to engage groups of supporters in an emotional way when asking them to consider taking action for a cause?

I found these flash mob examples;

A way to get people to take their seats at a charity dinner and dance.

A way to get a campaigning message about recycling across.

Has anyone used the flash mob concept in their fundraising or campaigning? And if so what were the results? I would love to know.

Do you check your mobile when you are on the toilet?

At the Institute of Fundraising Convention last week there was a lot of talk around technology enabled giving (or TEG, yes, we have a delightful new technology enabled acronym) and in particular the use of mobile.

Heralded as the most powerful device ever invented; enabling us to access life’s essentials from money to friends to pizza, our mobile phone is a device which the majority of us do not leave home without.

There were some interesting stats from The Mobile Mindset Study, including;

  • nearly 40% admit to checking their phone while on the toilet. (*and that’s just the people who admit it. Personally I bet its more)
  • 63% of women and 73% of men ages 18-34 say they don’t go an hour without checking their phones.
  • 73% say they felt panicked when they lost their phone
  • 24% said they check their phones while driving.

We also learnt that 80% of the world’s population has access to a mobile phone. In fact globally more people have access to mobile then they do to clean drinking water.

In developing countries most people will only ever access internet on mobile phones (which was somewhat ironic as I didn’t have an internet connection in the conference session) meaning that globally mobile is going to be an increasingly important channel.

In 5 years mobile users will overtake desktop users. (a friend of mine actually had to explain the term ‘desk-top’ to a young person recently, who was baffled at the whole concept of a computer belonging to, or being static on a desk…..)

Mobile has also changed consumer behaviour in that people are constantly connected, and continually juggle and filter information. People have developed continuous partial attention disorders (CPA for acronym fans), a new condition which disables a person from concentrating on one thing for longer than about 10 seconds (in severe cases).

So, given all these stats, it was interesting that in a digital fundraising session when the audience were asked how many websites are mobile responsive one hand went up. And only four people knew how much of their web traffic came from mobile. (Most organisations get 10-15% of their web traffic from mobile and the number is increasing) And only one or two organisations had surveyed their online audience in the last 2 months. (there was significantly more than four people in the room in case you were wondering)

We know fundraising is about building relationships, understanding and connecting supporters to the cause, and making it easy for them to get involved. We also know that almost everyone is carrying the internet in their back pocket; connecting them to the world. Yet it doesn’t seem that we are developing our communications to ensure they are accessible to these growing audiences? Why not?

So to summarise the key messages on mobile fundraising;

  • mobile is becoming more and more important to engage with multiple audiences
  • use of mobile is growing fast
  • make your content is accessible for mobile
  • you cannot pretend that mobile isn’t happening
  • if you can’t help people give on mobile you are missing out

Or perhaps I got a warped view because all the people in the room were not putting their hands up because they were CPA suffers and really stressed out at not being online and connected? Possibly. In a funny way I kind of hope so.

Are you still useful?

This week I went to ‘Overturn’ the MA in Innovation Management Degree Show at Central Saint Martins. Who even knew you could do a MA in Innovation?

Innovation expert Max McKeown (taller than I expected) delighted the audience for over an hour with a great presentation and some rather interesting innovation discussion featuring;

  • If anyone wanted or expected future to be exactly the same as it is now
  • How washing machines have made women in America fat
  • Pondering over to what extent past experiences affect our behaviours

Pretty intense stuff for a school night, but the observation that really struck a chord with me was;

If you have been with your firm for less than 6 months then you are still useful.

You are still useful because new people have enthusiasm that something can change. New people bring diversity as they are external to established systems and can see where change could make improvements. New people ask questions. New people challenge ‘the way things are done around here’.  Six months were how long it took for a person to stop being new, to stop asking the challenging questions, to stop believing that something can change.

The next question was how long we thought it takes for a new person in an organisation to get listened to.

There was a range of answers. All over 6 months.

So there we go, organisations employ people for their skills and experience to get the job done as well as their potential to ask questions and drive change. For the first six months they tend to do that, question and challenge, as time goes by they challenge less until they are one of the team, conformed to the status quo. That is just when they start to get noticed and gain influence. But by that point it is too late.

Sound familiar? Or not? Love to know your views.

P.S. Central Saint Martins Kings Cross Campus in London opened last September.  It is an awesome building, part of the regeneration of the Kings Cross area. Find a reason to visit if you can.