Despite a difference in size and focus, the third pairing in the Charity Choice twinning scheme have found common ground — and were able to share some fascinating and valuable insight on donor profiling and major gift fundraising.
At first glance, Macmillan and Kidasha would seem to be poles apart. Kidasha, an international development charity dedicated to supporting disadvantaged children in Nepal, has an income of under £1m, the majority of which is restricted projects funding from institutions, foundations and major donors. Macmillan, on the other hand, is a household name cancer charity with an income of more than £155m, a large percentage of which is raised through its highly successful mass fundraising programme.
Generating this kind of unrestricted income is a huge challenge for small charities like Kidasha. “But it’s something we need to do, not only to sustain our core organisational capacity but to be able to develop new programmes and attract new funding streams”, says the charity’s chief executive, Janice Miller.
So how can a small charity such as Kidasha, which has little brand presence and which lacks the resources that a large organisation like Macmillan has, successfully canvas and identify target demographics so that it can interact with those groups in a tailored way? “Small charities like us cannot afford the very efficient, streamlined and highly resourced research and insight operations that Macmillan has”, says Janice. “We have a very small reach, so income from mass fundraising streams is virtually non-existent. So naturally, when we were paired up with them as part of the Charity Twinning initiative, we wanted to seek their advice on starting down the road of mass fundraising.”
Simon Phillips, director of fundraising strategy, customer care and performance at Macmillan, believes that his charity’s success in this area has been achieved through sticking to four simple principles: “Ask more; work as one team; use research and insight to drive decision-making; and be completely supporter-centric”. He was keen to demonstrate to Janice that being small is no barrier to gaining valuable insight into your supporter base. “While it is the case that we have resources - including a big research team - that Kidasha doesn’t have, the principles are exactly the same”, he says. “It’s about trying to understand who your target audience is, how they behave, and why they give you money. Then you can try to develop your programme around it.”
Macmillan has built up its mass programme through a combination of individual marketing, national events such as World’s Biggest Coffee Morning and challenge events. It currently has millions of people on its database. Kidasha has just 400-odd. “Well, you’ve got to start somewhere; so start with your 400”, says Simon. “Phone up as many of them as your resources allow, and find out what sort of people they are. Give them a simple questionnaire about why they have given to you before.”
So far, Kidasha has established that its supporters tend to be people who have travelled in Nepal and have witnessed first-hand the problems there with children living on the streets. “That’s your starting point”, says Simon. “You may have a very limited budget, but once you’ve worked out in more detail who your target audience is, you can work out exactly what you should be spending those limited funds on in order to attract more of those kinds of people. Perhaps Kidasha could consider getting involved somehow with the travel industry in Nepal, for example. But these are questions the charity can start to address further down the line. First, you need to better understand the 400 - and then work from there.”
While Macmillan continues to invest in what is working well in its mass programme, it is also looking at ways to drive up its major gifts income. “This is an area in which Kidasha has excellent experience - they’ve learned a lot about how to work with donors who wish to own and drive a project’s purpose and desired outcomes”, says Simon.
‘Co-creating’ projects with major donors can open up many opportunities, he says. “Using the enthusiasm, experience, expertise and funding of major donors, you can design and implement solutions that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.” However, co creation is not without its challenges - namely, how to ensure you are still aligned and delivering your corporate strategy while meeting the needs of the donor.
“The problem that can evolve is that the charity’s work becomes donor driven, rather than needs driven”, says Janice. “For example, a donor may wish to make a large gift to us for a drop-in centre to be built, because they want to help provide shelter and protection for the street children they have encountered on their visit to Pokhara. While this is a generous act, Kidasha’s partners currently run eight shelters in Pokhara, all of which are fully funded for the next two years. That donor could therefore benefit more street children by funding something different - for example, a project that builds on existing community outreach programmes to support families in extremely poor, hard-to-reach areas and attempts to address the root causes of why children end up on the street in the first place.
“In such a situation, the relationship manager would communicate this to the donor openly and honestly, then ask whether they would be happy for their gift to be used in a different way. On one occasion, our chief executive refused a gift (politely!) as the project simply did not need it. The donor appreciated the integrity of not accepting the money just for the sake of it, and was happy to gift it to a different project as they were suitably convinced that the alternative was a very worthy project.”
In her meeting with Simon, Janice shared some of the other challenges - and the successes - that her charity has had in joining up its donor-led projects in a consistent fashion. “Most notably, they described how they have developed relationships with two major donors for one project”, Simon explained. “In some cases, they have been able to ‘buddy up’ one major donor with another, aligning them on a particular project. That was quite an interesting approach. People often talk about having an individual conversation with an individual donor, but actually you can connect a couple of donors around a project - and this can add balance. It worked well for Kidasha, and it’s something we can possibly apply more to our own work. This kind of insight is really helpful as we look to work with more donors on a co-creation footing.”
We’ll meet again
Simon and Janice have pinpointed a number of other areas of focus, and have agreed to meet up again soon to talk about these. “We’d like to further explore the relationship between fundraising and those responsible for service delivery, for example”, says Simon. “We want to talk more about the challenges both organisations face, and the initiatives we’re each trying out in order to improve end-to-end understanding.”
Both organisations have found the twinning experience to be a valuable one. “It’s been fascinating to gain insight into the workings of an organisation so opposite in scale to ours”, says Janice. “It’s given us an appreciation of the difficulties faced by large charities - even one as successful and well regarded as Macmillan. The sheer scale of these organisations can create challenges in agility, complexity and communication, the likes of which smaller charities don’t experience”.
“We all have strengths and weaknesses that we need to work on - but we can all learn from each other”, says Simon. “It’s been refreshing to talk about another organisation’s challenges and opportunities in a different field and at a different scale. It’s reminded us how brilliant this sector is, whatever the size, shape and focus”, he concludes.
A mini guide to major gift fundraising
- Major gift fundraising is a long-term undertaking that requires a personalised interaction. In most cases it should be carried out by a high-level representative of the organisation who is passionate and knowledgeable about the organisation and the cause.
- Take care to avoid a scenario in which the charity’s work becomes entirely donor driven, rather than needs driven.
- Think outside the box: consider ‘buddying up’ two major donors so that they are aligned on one project - this can add balance to a project.
Top tips for developing a successful mass programme
1. Work out who your target audience is.
You can do this even with a small supporter base and limited resources: phone your supporters with a simple questionnaire; find out who they are and why they give to you.
2. Use that data and insight to drive decision making.
This is crucial to fundraising success in such a competitive market at a time when the general public’s donation wallet is reduced.
3. Decide what you should be spending your money on in order to attract more supporters.
Be bold and brave, and don’t be afraid to test things out.