Translating the energy of a conference into practical learning and action which is woven into your working life can be hard to achieve and this is even more of a challenge in 2020. Two TEF mentees have been determined to apply their learning from attending the 2020 Institute of Fundraising Convention and in our latest pair of blogs, Louisa Johnson and Tessa Thompson give us key highlights and a thought provoking digest of how they are turning the inspiring sessions into direction and action in their fundraising roles.
In this blog, Louisa provides five key themes which she is using to prioritise and find a clear direction during a changeable and challenging time.
I had not attended an IoFFC before the Tony Elischer Foundation gave me an opportunity to join this year’s virtual event. So, it may be that previous Conventions would also have left me feeling inspired, energised but mostly just quite dizzy by the end.
Moving the Convention online widened participation, and also introduced a bountiful array of content. As well as three days of live sessions, this year’s Convention gave participants access to a wealth of on-demand sessions, available until the end of the year. Whereas most conferences begin with a flick through the programme and making tough choices that you will ultimately be stuck with, this year’s Convention was a conference where you could technically watch everything.
The fog of indecision was not an unfamiliar feeling after four months of pandemic life. Choosing the next step to take with confidence has at times been a struggle in our personal and professional lives, at a time when normal life flew out the window. And this inability to choose between options and make a plan isn’t just my own personal neurosis. Our teams are looking to us for support and reassurance. Our donors are looking to us for leadership amid global uncertainty. And service users who rely on charities are finding that relationship rapidly redefined.
With this chaos comes an opportunity to take a leap forward, to use our fundraising to create new paths and donor relationships. To provide hope and a positive decision.
So amongst it all, how do we make good decisions and clear commitments to our organisations, our supporters and to ourselves? How do I stop being overwhelmed by the new possibilities, get over all the cancelled plans, and make good choices for the next few months?
Luckily, some brilliant Convention sessions gave me some direction and signposts. Below are some of the points that stuck with me from some of my favourite sessions, and that I’ll be using to help me prioritise what’s important when the future seems unclear.
1. Hold on tight
The first choice to be made at a time of crisis is to check what you still have and secure it. For fundraising teams, that means prioritising our closest donors and redoubling our efforts to create lasting, meaningful relationships with them.
Amy Hutching’s live session ‘What just happened?! How coronavirus has changed the fundraising landscape and what to do about it’ gave an illuminating view of how the past few months have impacted the wider section – a helpful reminder for those of us who haven’t been able to focus on much beyond our own organisation. It was also a reminder of the need to focus first on existing supporters and what is working for your fundraising right now.
We also need to hold tight to our support networks and the steps we make to take care of ourselves. Amongst many other brilliant pieces of advice, Deanna Wolf’s on-demand session about ‘Building your personal and professional resilience’ covered practical steps to help take care of your wellbeing in times of stress and high activity.
2. Remember that all the answers can’t be found behind us
There is a very good argument for reflecting on the state of fundraising following the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession. Chloe Amstein’s talk highlighted the cost of the last recession to individual giving and how her team at WaterAid worked hard and stayed focused through the tougher years to come out stronger.
This blog has previously also shared Tony Elischer’s reflections on the last recession, which is highly recommended reading. (scroll through the blog list on our website to find this)
The wisdom of those who were working in fundraising twelve years ago is to lean in to existing supporters, be realistic in our projections and expectations (these are not normal times) and to keep working on a novel proposition and how we ask.
This advice is valuable but we can’t solely rely on lessons from the past. Firstly, as quoted in Chloe Amstein’s talk, “This recession will probably be much sharper and deeper than most previous recessions and the shape of the recovery is unusually hard to predict” – Les Binet, adam&eveDDB. The coming months and years are unpredictable, future lockdowns may drastically affect recovery, and working and spending habits may be permanently transformed.
At least some of the answers must therefore be found by looking forward. The live session ‘The Status of UK Fundraising 2020’ from Blackbaud and the IoF emphasised that those organisations who have invested in digital fundraising tools and skills are the most optimistic about their fundraising outlook. Even without the clear advantage of digital fundraising in a world of social distancing, it is clear that those organisations who have embraced digital fundraising and new technologies will stand a better chance of growing new relationships and income streams in the ‘new normal’. There are undoubtably other innovations and opportunities ahead that will help to pull us through the next few years, and fundraisers must protect the time and flexibility needed to respond to new initiatives.
3. Use the change for good
A definite Convention highlight for me was the live session ‘Relevant and ready for the future: Exploring opportunities in fundraising in the 2020s and beyond’ chaired by Joe Jenkins. It presented the audience with an impossible choice: which of the following is the most important priority for successful fundraising?
- To fundraise for a green recovery
- To create anti-racist inclusive fundraising
- To ensure fundraising always enhances our mission
- To join up internally as one team with one mission
Unsurprisingly, a consensus was not reached. All of these areas require attention and action, not only for fundraising to be successful, but also to be moral and viable.
The sector is currently undergoing a mass, collective restructure. Very few organisations have been spared the need to look at their fundraising activities and their viability. Teams are being restructured and reformed. Strategies are being re-examined and refocused. New activities and income streams are being created. This turmoil offers the chance to examine hiring practices and other standards, to ensure our fundraising meets the challenges we’re facing and truly reflects organisational values.
4. Be a human
The leadership track at this year’s Convention gave us sessions on living our values and leading with vulnerability. The live session ‘ Leading with vulnerability – what does this really mean and how can I get there?’ questioned what we mean when we talk about being ourselves at work. Meanwhile, the on-demand session ‘Stepping up into leadership & becoming the leader you want to be’ provided practical exercises to help fundraising leaders define their leadership styles, starting with naming their values.
I’ve committed myself to working through these exercises in the new few weeks and considering how to use them to have meaningful conversations in my mentoring relationship and with the people in my team.
5. Do “the next right thing”
Confession: I have stolen this last header from the film Frozen 2 and no, I’m not a parent. But having decided to make the most of my Disney+ trial, I was struck by this line “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing”.
Doing the next right thing has meant many things for me over the past few months. For you, it may mean reaching out to that donor you’ve not found time to update yet. It may mean checking in with a team member that has been struggling. It may mean an email, some admin or to simply take a step back for the day. Who knows, maybe it means writing some kick-ass appeal copy or a virtual event plan. But all that we can ask of ourselves is to make the choice to take the next necessary step along the right path, and accept the things we can’t do right now.
This is going to be an unsettling and unpredictable time. The successes and learnings at next year’s Convention will be historic. And we’ll get there one step at a time.
A bit more about Louisa….
Louisa’s career in fundraising began as a student volunteer for the charity who later became her first employer. After six years as a fundraiser for international development organisations, she made a slight pivot to fundraising for fact checking. As Fundraising Manager at Full Fact, the UK’s independent fact checking charity, she supports donors who are frustrated with the accuracy and honesty of public debate to join the fight against bad information. As a working carer, she wants to help support initiatives to make the fundraising sector a compassionate and inclusive place to work.
Watch out for blog no.2 by Tess next week.
Louisa and Tess are both mentees on the Tony Elischer Foundation mentoring programme. Alongside working with an amazing mentor for twelve months, participants have access to wider development opportunities which nurture their leadership skills. Applications are open for our autumn 2020 cohort. Apply via our website by 19th October.