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Small charities: 6 steps to improving your fundraising strategy

For small charities, promoting your cause on a large scale can be challenging at the best of times. Caroline Thwaites, Fundraising Manager at RASASC Guildford, breaks down the approach she took…

Here at the Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC), Guildford, I am the Fundraising Manager. I work on a part-time basis, trying to juggle the demands of work and family simultaneously. Fundraising Manager sounds very grand, but as most fundraisers in small charities will know, being the Fundraising Manager also means I am Fundraising Assistant, Database Manager, Major Donor Fundraiser, Corporate Fundraising Manager and Trust and Foundation Lead and Event Manager as well as Tea Maker (my colleagues may dispute this!) and Maintenance Assistant.

For me, working for a small charity is a fundraiser’s dream. In a small charity you can come in, make an impact and see the results of your endeavours daily. Meeting our clients and seeing and hearing the work of our ISVAs (Independent Sexual Violence Advisors) and thinking I helped to get this funded is what truly motivates me.

1)     Build relationships

If you are working as the fundraiser for a small charity, then there is simply no hiding. This is not a job that can be done from behind a desk. Fundraising is ‘friend-raising’ as cheesy as this sounds. People need to like you and trust you in order to invest in your cause and they can only do this if they meet you. A faceless email does not work- they need to see you. We invest time in meetings and relationship building and recognise that time invested in this way does yield results.

2)     Diversify your income structure

When I joined RASASC our Operations Manager had also just joined. We quickly realised that the charity was overly reliant on statutory funding which makes us vulnerable to shifts in policy or a change in administration. And so, we decided that we wanted to look to diversify our funding mix so that we kept the statutory income but focused on generating income from grants and trusts as well as community and corporate.

Our long-term aim is to move to an income structure which sees:

  • 1/3 from statutory sources
  • 1/3 from grant making trusts and foundations
  • 1/3 from corporate and community

To date, we are well on the way to achieving this. We have been successful in grant and trust fundraising, something that wasn’t really undertaken before we arrived. One of the reasons for this success is that we spent time and scant resources pulling together clear evidence of the need and impact of our work before we started to apply for money. I would recommend to all fundraisers that they really scope the area that they are working in, so that they are keenly aware of the local need and can evidence this before submitting any applications.

3)     Discern what your audience needs

We use surveys (Survey Monkey is good for this) as well as surivors’ feedback and our evidence of waiting lists to prove need. We then use freely available information such as the Vital Signs reports from Community Foundations, in our case, local crime statistics and the Office of National Statistics which all help to support and strengthen our case for support.

I have spent many years writing bids and if I am trying to highlight an issue then I always type it into Google first. The chances are that if I am talking about the issue then someone else will have already published a paper on it. Citing external papers and reports helps to support our applications and gives credibility to what I am trying to say from a source that is outside of our organisation.

4)     Develop case studies

In addition, I believe that our grant and trust funding has been successful as we have been able to develop strong case study documents and have engaged those with credibility in our field to endorse and comment on our work. I do think that external commendations help. Our recent Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and the nomination of key staff for sector awards such as the Lime Light Awards (Sexual Abuse Sector) helps the funder feel secure in the knowledge that our charity is a leader and is well respected in its field. Case study documents don’t need to be glossy. Just clear concise and highlighting change is all that funders really need.

5)     Anticipate national awareness days

Rape and sexual abuse is still a hidden issue and one which people often don’t want to acknowledge. To get maximum interest in any event we are organising, we try to plan our events to coincide with larger national awareness days. This helps us to secure free media to promote events that we are running and also helps to show our support when benchmarked against the bigger picture. For example, we held a Survivor’s Walk during Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week to spread the message #itsnotok.

For others in this sector, I would always recommend looking out for relevant awareness weeks as this helps to engage the local press and will generate more publicity for anything that you are doing.

6)     Use the fundraising community

As a small charity we have capitalised on free, or very low-cost, training. I am a volunteer for The Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI) and would encourage fundraisers who want to discuss issues to use the free one-to-one support calls that the organisation offers. I would also encourage people to sign up to Charity Connect as this is a great way of asking questions to sector colleagues. In this sector I have found that people really do help each other- you just have to ask! 

Caroline Thwaites is Fundraising Manager at the Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC), Guildford.

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