Guest blogger Caroline Danks of LarkOwl talks foul-mouthed Christian rock bands and sleepouts…
In my first ever fundraising role, I was part of a team of four focused on trusts and statutory fundraising. I loved it! The research and writing elements felt like an easy segue from my degree coursework. Phoning people felt like a big and scary (but do-able) challenge. My colleagues were generous in sharing their wisdom and my charity had invested in me and in my development.
At the same charity, there was also a corporate and major gifts team of four and an individual giving team, also of four.
When looking back and comparing the personalities of those in each team, I think we all fitted the stereotypes relatively closely.
The trust fundraisers were quiet, studious and reserved. We brought lots of money in, never shouted about it and occasionally went for a civilised lunch together of sausage, egg and chips at our favourite East End pub (so wild…).
The corporate team were a different breed. They were warm, personable, fun and energetic (not that we weren’t but, you know…). They were always the first to put the radio on and crank up the music (I can’t listen to Hey Ya by Outkast without thinking back to that magical time).
Their section of the office was colourful, there were always banners, balloons, mascots and t shirts hanging around. Very different to the trust office with our neat files, well stocked pen pots and private ‘touch it and you die’ non-communal tea mugs.
They were always roping people into volunteer at evenings and weekends or take on ambitious running / sleepout challenges.
It was through them that I got out of my comfort zone and experienced some of the most enjoyable and memorable times representing my charity within my local community.
- A gig by a Christian rock band in a nasty upstairs room at a ropey pub on the Walworth Road. The lyrics comprising bad language like I’d NEVER heard in my LIFE. Not very Christian…
- A drinks reception at a large city bank. I’d literally been in my job two weeks and knew NOTHING but there were free drinks!!! Twenty-one year old Caroline was THERE.
- The opening of a swanky new bar in West London. The celeb host was lovely, her assistant was not and my boyfriend and best mate who tagged along ended up getting terrible food poisoning from the canapes!
- The London Marathon. Just wow. Watching it is game-changing. I ended up running it for the following three years.
Here were the best things that I learned from that corporate team and how those learnings influenced my trust fundraising practice.
1. Creativity in buckets
I was conscious early on about how much harder their work was compared with ours (and have become more so since having actually done corporate fundraising in subsequent roles).
They couldn’t just write a letter and wait for the cheque. They had to do presentations, meetings, organise team building activities etc. The publicity and praise their donors were after was different to the requirements from trusts. Alongside project visits, they were often found posing with giant cheques, writing content for our website and for the corporate supporters too.
They were building partnerships through multiple touchpoints.
Not just a one-off request for money with a yes / no response.
Because of this, they seemed to be more on more intimate terms with their donors. Regular contact enabled them to build relationships in a way that we trust fundraisers never needed to.
Maybe charitable trusts don’t ask this of us but conversely, many will welcome it if we offer it.
Anything we can do to strengthen relationships in this competitive funding environment is a win.
2. Always on the phone
The corporate team ALWAYS seemed to be on the phone. They were never off it. And they chatted to their donors like they were friends. They seemed to know each other really well.
This was one of many tools they used to build meaningful, long term partnerships.
I am a massive proponent of getting to know trusts over the phone before you write to them. My top tips are:
- Do your research. Ask questions which demonstrate this.
- Write a script before you start
- Find a quiet room and stand up to make the call!
3. Usually absent
Whilst the trust fundraisers sat dutifully at our desks squirrelling away (bar the occasional visit to a project with a trust representative of course – we weren’t total hermits), the corporate team were ALWAYS out and about.
To a new fundraiser, I was suddenly aware that there were so many more steps to developing a corporate partnership than there were to securing a gift from a trust.
Additionally, individual donors journeys appeared very different. Clearly each corporate was being taken on their own, very bespoke journey and it was one which they had engineered and concocted alongside my colleagues.
If the team didn’t rock up in the mornings like the rest of us, then it was an indicator that they’d been working the night before or hosting an event at the weekend.
Pandemic or not, I reckon trust fundraisers could all probably get out a bit more if push came to shove.
Ideas to get you out of the office a bit more:
- Go through your list of donors
- Who is local to you? Have you met them?
- Phone them up to say thank you and invite them out for a coffee to show your gratitude and update them on the amazing difference their gift is making.
Thank you corporate colleagues!
THANK YOU corporate colleagues for showing me that there is SO much more to fundraising than researching like a boss and writing like a dream.
You have inspired me to make my trust relationships into genuine partnerships and in doing so, have improved lives, protected special places and made my working day a hell of a lot more fun.
Caroline is an expert in trusts and foundations, major gifts and capital appeals and has raised millions for good causes and runs LarkOwl with her partner Tony which supports charities with income generation from fundraising and commercial sources.
She writes a weekly blog which she shares with over 2,000 fundraisers every week via LarkOwl’s Nest Egg newsletter. Her writing has been featured in Fundraising Magazine.
For the past three years, LarkOwl have published research on the Return on Investment for different areas of fundraising. Their recent report published in September 2021 can be downloaded for free from their website.