Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Celebrating fundraising: Musings on the National Awards

We're rapidly moving towards one of the highlights in any fundraiser's calendar - the Institute of Fundraising’s (IOF), National Convention. Which brings with it the annual celebration of the great and good of fundraising: the National Awards. 

Last week saw the unveiling of the full shortlist - and what a list it was!  The IOF tell us that this was a year with a record number of entries, and there is some fantastic fundraising on display.  I chatted with a handful of fundraisers who had had campaigns shortlisted to get some insight from them on what the shortlist tells us about the state of the sector, what it takes to be shortlisted, and their feelings about making the cut.

Contributions from:
Adrian Salmon - Footsteps Fund Manager, University of Leeds
Danielle Atkinson - Head of Digital & Individual Giving, Merlin
Katia de Gregorio – Head of Donor Marketing, Breakthrough Breast Cancer

I was struck by the diversity on offer in this year's shortlist. There are representatives from large and small organisations; household names to brand new charities; shiny new ideas and well-executed old-faithfuls.

Adrian was delighted to see representation from organisations that many wouldn’t realise are charities – two in academic fundraising, but also cultural and heritage organisations, like the Natural History Museum.  He points out that these organisations have a lot to offer back to the sector, particularly in the realms of major donor fundraising, and it’s fantastic seeing them recognised alongside the names that everyone identifies as charities.

Katia agrees: “It shows how competitive and diverse the sector is…(and) the range of causes shortlisted is broader than ever”.

It’s also a great reminder that top-class fundraising doesn’t have to be expensive.  Danielle points out: “there are smaller charities, who don't have the budgets of the big boys, thinking creatively and effectively to deliver the best fundraising possible”.  Certainly no-one could say that this is a list comprised of the “usual suspects”!

Katia was interested to note the innovation that the shortlist demonstrates – not purely within the “most innovative” category, but across the board; she says, “charities are embracing new ways to engage supporters – or using existing channels with new offers”.   This is one of the fantastic things about awards like this: “It’s great and inspiring to see how charities are adapting and using channels – or combinations of channels – in new ways”.

I wondered what it takes, aside from meeting the category criteria, to be shortlisted.  Both Katia and Danielle impress the importance of writing the entry itself well – with judges reading so very many entries, you need to make it simple for them to see at a glance why the campaign was so amazing and is worthy of shortlisting (and hopefully winning!). Danielle suggests bullet points for clarity and to save words (a nifty tip which makes a huge difference in this situation!).

Katia believes that, in this competitive world, “Good results don’t cut it anymore, they need to be exceptional” – and I think it’s worth remembering that exceptional results don’t necessarily have to mean raising hundreds of thousands of pounds.  Crucial, says Danielle, is showing clear success against targets with your results on your entry form – and to make the financial objective clear from the very outset.  

And ensuring that there’s a clear focus on demonstrating why this appeal is different.  It doesn’t need to represent something brand new to the sector but you must be able to show that it’s different for you – and that it’s made a difference.  It’s also really important to be able to identify what others can learn for it – as surely a key point to awards like this is to allow fundraisers to learn from each other and develop their own work?  So make sure your entry shows transferability.

Adrian believes that the campaigns that do make the grade are usually ones which have not only achieved great results, but have used great creative to do so.  At the heart of good fundraising, he explains, is an understanding of who donors are and what they want to see – and recognition that we are not the target audience!  He also talked about the importance of knowing when to engage external partners, to understand that while we may be experts at fundraising, there are added dimensions that the right partner agency can bring to help us see outside of our own understanding of “our donors”.

Some people are suspicious of awards, seeing them as an exercise in, in Adrian’s words, “mutual backslapping”.  But for Adrian, even the act of entering is a valuable exercise – to spend time, reflecting, to communicate succinctly to external people exactly what the challenges were and why the campaign was so successful, and to crystallise months’ worth of work into a few hundred words is a valuable discipline.  And, he says, it’s “great to be recognised” for the good work that you are doing. 

Danielle agrees.  She enters awards in part to recognise the hard work of her team, to demonstrate to them that their managers and the organisation they work for values them and the effort they put in to running their appeals.  It means a lot to her and her team to be shortlisted: “the rush to see who you're up against - but also to see what esteemed company you are keeping! But the pride that knowing your work is worthy of being shortlisted is great”.

Katia echoes Danielle on this point, talking about the enormous efforts across a whole organisation that goes into running a successful campaign – and often huge input from multiple agency partners too – she says “it’s brilliant for so much effort (and such great results) to be recognised”.

Whatever your views on the merits of awards, I hope you have found something on the shortlist to inspire you in your fundraising.  I’m looking forward to being there on the night and celebrating all that’s great about our sector – and hoping against hope for a win!  

Lisa Clavering 

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