4 big questions for international NGOs, and other highlights from the 2017 Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School

01 september 2017

Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School

By: Jean O'Brien, Dóchas


I attended the 2017 Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School in August; my goals were to gather insights and fundraising trends that would be of interest to the Dóchas membership.  I’ve distilled some of what I learned into this blog post, featuring key questions and highlights relevant to INGOs. There’s obviously much, much more than I can cover in one blog post - I'd recommend checking out the #ADFSS17 hashtag on Twitter to get lots more information and commentary from the event.

Are we challenging ourselves to take risks?

Keynote speaker Kay Sprinkel Grace, a writer and expert in philanthropy, tackled some big, challenging questions at the outset of the event.

  • Are NGOs accepting that we don’t ‘own’ the issues anymore? That everyone from major donors to people on the street now feel empowered to create change themselves?

  • Do we want to lead change, or are we happy to just ‘circle the wagons’?

Sprinkel Grace shared the frustrations that many philanthropists feel about working with NGOs, and dealing with bureaucracy and slow movement.  They are not waiting around and will act with or without us; she highlighted the Gates Foundation’s move away from a grant-making model towards a service model – a move that INGOs should be very concerned about. She argues that there is an urgent need to redesign our sector, and recommended the innovative ‘human-centred design’ model as a way to effectively change our thinking and processes for the better.

Further resources

What is the current state of Irish fundraising?

The Critical Fundraising (Ireland) Report by think tank Rogare was launched at the Fundraising Summer School, and is a must-read for all Irish NGO staff (not just fundraisers!).  It features excellent essays from local and international experts, and highlights the extremely challenging landscape that Irish NGOs find ourselves in, with the following issues identified as particularly pressing:

  • Serious shortage of fundraising staff

  • Upcoming General Data Protection Regulation

  • Unfavourable tax environment

  • Lack of a dedicated professional body for fundraisers

  • Hostile media and alarming dip in public trust

The report recommends a real push for collaboration among fundraisers, and cross-sectoral efforts to enhance the level of training available, gather stronger research and data, and lobby jointly on tax regulations.

Further resources

Are we doing enough legacy fundraising?

Dr Claire Routley covered the growing field of legacy giving. This form of giving is already significant in the UK, and is projected to grow to £5bn by 2050; but is only a minor source of income in Ireland at the moment.  Dr Routley is carrying out academic research into the motivations people have for leaving legacies, and had some extremely interesting insights into the ‘symbolic immortality’ people are searching for when they leave legacies. The motivation to leave a legacy often arises because of a very difficult life event, such as a bereavement or a life-threatening illness – the absolute last time that people should hear a charity pitch! Legacy messaging needs to happen on an ongoing basis and be incorporated into everyday communications, so that people are informed and ready when they come to making their decisions about their will. 

For charities to do effective legacy fundraising, we need to build trust and prove constantly that a gift will be well spent.  It’s also very important to be able to communicate a clear and inspiring vision of where your charity will be in 20-30 years.  Legacy fundraising is a major opportunity in fundraising for the Irish sector, and for me it seems that it requires a positive shift in talking about our impact and vision that will benefit us in shorter-term ways as well.

Further resources

Are we missing opportunities with major donors and philanthropies?

An absolutely fascinating session with philanthropy consultant Caroline Fiennes gave valuable insight into the mind-sets and requirements of major donors and philanthropies. Fiennes shared some truly wince-inducing experiences of approaching charities on behalf of major donors and trusts – charities that took three weeks to reply, charities that didn’t reply at all!  She provided some very practical advice for NGOs on ensuring that people like her, who are doing work on behalf of major donors, can find you:

  • List contact emails for senior staff on your website. Fiennes pointed out that many of the world’s leading academics have email addresses on their university websites, and questioned why so few charity CEOs do.

  • Ensure that there is a page on your website that succinctly explains what your organisation does. Sounds simple but according to Fiennes, a large number of charities neglect to do this.

When it comes to pitching to major donors, remember that they are likely to already know quite a bit about your cause, and are also usually highly scientifically literate, rational and impact-led.  They are a narrow but hugely important audience for whom many charities do not have a specific strategy.

Further resources

Other Highlights

There were too many highlights to share them all, and many were all about the conversation – but the following are a few that are useful and as standalone resources:

  • Agency Donor Voice are doing some really interesting work around segmentation of donors, arguing that the most important things to know about your donors is not their age or location, but their level of loyalty to your cause and the quality of the experience your organisation has provided them

  • Simone Joyaux ran interesting sessions on challenging conversations and dealing with bad board members – detailed handouts from both are available on the Ask Direct website

  • Norwegian digital expert Beate Sorum shared this very useful digital strategy framework for your digital fundraising

  • Karen Ingala Smith shared her powerful ‘Counting Dead Women’ campaign – tracking femicide in the UK

Final thoughts on the event

I was really impressed with the Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School and would highly recommend it to INGOs of all sizes.  It’s a hugely comprehensive event with two days of world-class speakers, in multiple streams so that you’ll always find a relevant topic. It covered a wide range of topics from the philosophical (becoming risk takers, whether there is really an ‘ideological difference’ between fundraisers and programme staff) to the practical (effective telephone fundraising, copywriting advice, fundraising on Facebook).  I really appreciated how much the speakers kept coming back to the importance of authentic storytelling, a human-centred approach, and working from our values.  In fact, I’d recommend this event for anyone in the Irish NGO sector, not just fundraisers.

More info: www.askdirect.ie/summerschool