Fairtrade Foundation and Orangutan Land Trust are the second pairing in the Charity Twinning scheme, and recently met up to share their experiences in general fundraising, corporate partnerships and grants
A skills sharing scheme between large and small charities might sometimes be perceived as a case of David and Goliath, with the small charity bound to benefit more from the experience. But when international charity Fairtrade Foundation was paired with the much smaller Orangutan Land Trust, the former was eager to discover how the latter, smaller charity ran its individual giving programme, with a view to setting up a similar programme themselves.
David Finlay, fundraising officer for Fairtrade, explains: “The foundation is looking to boost its fundraising activity, as 80 per cent of our income is currently derived from our commercial and certification services. Individual giving is a relatively new area for us, so we were interested in taking part in the Charity Twinning scheme to develop our general fundraising skills.”
Meanwhile, Orangutan Land Trust, while confident in its individual giving programme, wanted to learn from the larger organisation how to improve its grant applications. “Working with a small staff in which one member may be responsible for numerous activities makes it difficult for us to focus fully on any one area in particular”, explains Michelle Desilets, the executive director of the charity. “We were delighted when we were told we would partner with such a reputable and visible international charity as Fairtrade Foundation.”
The two charities met at the end of June to share their respective experiences in working with trusts and foundations and attracting individual donors. They also shared feedback on which areas of fundraising they could expand upon and improve. “We discussed the importance of being honest about our experiences, both good and bad, because both charities recognised the opportunity to gain insights and develop new strategies”, says Michelle. “If a fundraising effort has failed, it helps to identify why it failed, how it might be improved, or why it might not be worth pursuing again. Equally, if one charity used a certain technique that proved to be highly rewarding, this can be a good incentive for the other to pursue a similar technique.”
Talk this way
It quickly became apparent to both charities that communication was key, not only in getting the most out of their time together, but in driving their fundraising initiatives forward.
For Fairtrade, the question of communication wasn’t just about donors, but also internal stakeholders. “Internally, how do you generate the urgency to be ambitious and seek new funding if the majority of operational income is already secured”, asks David, “and how do you encourage individuals to donate to Fairtrade, without undermining the message that trade – and not aid – is our primary solution for addressing poverty?”
After meeting with Orangutan Land Trust, Fairtrade looked at its brand messaging to see if a change in language style would encourage greater donor engagement. “OLT has helped us think through how we position our individual giving work and the language we use, helping us move away from sharing ‘information’ to connecting with the drivers which engage donors to give”, said David. “For us this has meant switching our beneficiary focus from ‘farming cooperatives’ to the stories of individual farmers, honing in on how support for Fairtrade offers specific change for each farmer we aim to help.”
The charities also discussed how they could position themselves uniquely in an increasingly crowded market. Even niche charities need to deal with this issue, as Michelle explains: “There are already a number of orangutan-focused charities, meaning donors are confused about which charity does what”, she says. “This creates a challenge for us, as we need to communicate to the public what makes us unique and deserving of their donations.”
Both organisations recognised that charity work can sometimes result in ‘tunnel vision’, where it becomes difficult to appreciate your own value. Explaining the importance of what you do to an outsider can clarify its importance within your own mind, which then helps to suggest ways this can be communicated to the donor.
“Talking to Fairtrade reinforced our belief that we are in fact unique, and that this must form the basis of communications to our potential donors”, explains Michelle. “This is not only to differentiate ourselves from other groups, but also to demonstrate why our organisation should be supported.”
The two charities discussed how branding can also play a big role in helping an organisation stand out from the crowd. OrangutanLand Trust recently introduced a corporate partnerships scheme that will incorporate certification, and Fairtrade was able to provide some valuable insight from its own experience in this area. Through having its logo appear on everyday products, Fairtrade has benefitted not only from certification as a source of income, but the branding has helped it become a trusted household name. OrangutanLand Trust, which is beginning to become associated with sustainably produced products, now aims to use its own its logo on these products to help to solidify its reputation.
A dead cert
Fairtrade was also able to share some of the lessons it’s learned about seeking grants. “We wanted to help prevent Orangutan Land Trust from falling into the same traps that have caught us out over the years”, says David.
Their discussions have helped Orangutan Land Trust to understand the differences in applying for small, medium and large grants. “There are various resources available that can help an organisation determine which grant-giving agencies are most likely to fund their cause”, says Michelle. “There are websites with specific search filters, and you can explore what projects funders have previously supported and how much funding they generally give.”
One of the key lessons was that with limited resources, it is much better to seek medium-sized funders that fit your objectives than to send endless grant applications to small funders. “Grant application guidelines help to determine if your project is likely to be considered, and also if you will be able to fulfil the grant maker’s expectations”, says Michelle. “For larger grant-giving agencies, Fairtrade recommended we submit joint applications with charities that share our aims.”
Fairtrade also suggested thinking about the big picture for enhanced funding flexibility. For Orangutan Land Trust, this meant thinking beyond orangutans and looking at how its work also supports communities, the environment, and sustainability. “Don't just seek the most obvious”, says Michelle, “be creative and demonstrate to other interest groups how your work has an impact on the issues that concern them. Taking a broader approach can help create further funding opportunities.”
A new commitment
Michelle and David have more meetings planned for the future, but have already started to make changes. “We’re beginning to integrate the option to ‘donate’ to Fairtrade into our events, for example”, says David. “This gives people the option to support us beyond buying certified products or campaigning for change.” The two charities have also committed to sharing funding opportunities with each other, and being a ‘critical friend’ for new applications and appeals.
“As our relationship develops we can be reactive and flexible to the needs of each organisation”, says David. “The twinning partnership with Orangutan Land Trust has provided us with third party insight into some of the challenges we’re facing, and the opportunity to get honest feedback on new areas of work.”
Michelle agrees: “The lessons learned from experienced fundraisers can be invaluable to a small charity looking to maximise income and to not fall into traps. Being open and honest with each other will help us ensure that these lessons continue to be valuable.”
Top tips for better communication
- Simplify your story. Succinctly summarise what you’re fundraising for and why it’s important. Without this it’s unlikely your audience will remain engaged.
- Use the right language. Talk about your work in a simple way, without using jargon that only your team understands. Adapt your message to make it relevant for the audience you’re speaking to.
- Include case studies or examples of your work. Good fundraising relies on a compelling case to substantiate what you’re asking the funder to support.
- Understand your unique offering. Write down what your unique selling points are and ensure this forms the basis of your communication to potential donors.
To find out more about Charity Twinning and how to get involved, visit charitychoice.co.uk or email email@example.com.
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 33, September 2013