Three challenges every charity faces

by Dana Kohava Segal (MInstF)

Big ones. Small ones. Local ones. International ones. Health, community, aid & arts ones. Ones with loads of Boards, and ones with no paid staff.

In all my experiences of working with charities of all shapes & sizes – from MSF to SSF – there are three challenges I’ve come across that each of them faces in one way or another:

CHALLENGE ONE: STORY TELLING

You’re not alone in dealing with this challenge. Because the nature of storytelling is an evolutionary one. As a species, we constantly evolve the way we share and receive stories… although some of those evolutions look strikingly like things from our past (hieroglyphics and emojis??? Not that different…).

Every charity I have worked with has had to, at some point, question their story. So if I had to offer some top tips to tackle this challenge, that would be the same for all charities, they would be:

  • Are you actually articulating the problem? By that I mean not about you, the work you do, why you are important… but the story of the problem you are there to change and ultimately end. We’re often so absorbed in the thing we are doing that we forget to communicate why we are doing it. Make this the number one thing you do when you read copy about your charity – ask yourself: has this talked about the problem you are trying to solve?
  • Are you making it human? Big problems can be super abstract. Abstract means we have to engage our thinking brain, and you know what we don’t do when we are busy thinking? TAKE ACTION. If you want supporters to take action, don’t make them overthink about the problem. Make the problem as human as you can – by that I mean simple, and relatable as one story. This great example from Save the Children has applications to so many charities (this also applies to animal charities!!!).
  • Are you making it urgent? Stop reading this blog and take a look at the news. It’s kinda crazy, isn’t it? Global warming, refugee crisis, poverty… it just doesn’t stop. And the thing is, it all needs attention. This is where communicating urgency comes in – you have to explain why someone has to take action NOW, rather than later. Otherwise, as compelling as that grant application is, it will get moved to the next meeting. So make sure you communicate this urgency in relation to the reader – not just you (needing it before the end of the financial year won’t cut it!). It’s important to also say that urgency can also be positive – perhaps it’s an unmissable opportunity you need support for. This can also work well for the right cause.

CHALLENGE TWO: GROWING THEIR FUNDRAISING INCOME

Again – you’re not alone in this. Because the truth is, that income from individual giving has remained relatively stable for the last 10 years. Even in the USA, the largest fundraising market in the world, although it is growing in terms of cash donated, it actually has less people donating year on year. So the world isn’t getting more charitable, folks…

This means that competition increases to grow your income from those who are willing and able to give. So what can you do? Well – I have a few nuggets of advice:

  • Do less, but better: is more income the only way you’ll be able to solve the problem you need to solve? Or are there some internal changes and efficiencies that could save you money, thereby increasing your income in a different way? We often look outside for solutions, when sometimes, they’re actually inside the charity.
  • Start from where you are: this epic tweet from Rory Green says it all:
  • It’s easier to get someone who cares to give you money, than to get someone who has money to care. Start from the people who care. Your board, your volunteers, your service users – I’m not saying it will be all of them, all of the time… but start with the people who get it, rather than tying yourself in knots trying to attract the attention of Richard Branson.
  • If you’re already doing well at one thing, focus on it: charities often say they need to diversify their income because that’s what others say. Sometimes, they’ll do that at the expense of the thing they do really well, but stopped doing so well at because they took their eye of the ball and got distracted by a new, shiny thing. Don’t be that charity. Focus on your good thing. Do more of that.

CHALLENGE THREE: THANKING DONORS

If I hear one more person at a training session say “yeah, but what about the people who don’t want to be thanked?” I’m probably gonna turn into that little red swearing emoji. So many charities assume the best when it comes to fundraising, and the worst when it comes to thanking. WHY?! Thanking is the best part… so how do you make it count?

  • Be authentic: like my fellow Great Charity Speaker Nikki Bell articulates in this awesome tweet…

…the best voice to talk in is your own. That’s true for thanking too. Find a way that’s genuine beyond the standard ‘I’m writing to say thank you for your kind donation of….’. My favourite example of late is from the brilliant American political candidate, Beto O’Rourke who sent the most epic, person and genuine thank you email to his supporters for a race that he lost.

  • Roll your R’s: credit to my colleague Philly Graham here, who always reminds me to roll my R’s – Receiving (as in, actually saying you got the gift), Recognising (giving people a personal touch) and Reporting (making sure you explain the outcome / impact of their donation). This can’t be done in one hit, overnight. So plan it out and make sure you’re maintaining that contact over a period of time, to give it an extra boost of goodness.
  • You don’t have to spend loads of money, to make it feel good: My favourite thoughts on the quality of an effective thank you comes from this blog by David Burgess, who talks about making your thank you’s SUPER – Speedy,Unique, Passionate, Engaging and Repeated. We know this is the number one reason people don’t give again… so don’t do all that hard work to get them involved, and then let them slip away from you!

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