This year I was lucky enough to attend all three days of the Institute of Fundraising’s amazing Fundraising Convention. I wrote copious colourful notes, which I will link to in a reading list at the end of this blog but first here are a few thoughts on the overall feel of this year’s conference…
We’re more optimistic
I was last at the IoF Convention in 2016, which was a pretty turbulent and worrying time as a fundraiser. The ICO had just panicked everyone working in major donor prospecting, GDPR was a scary and unknown beast and the Fundraising Regulator was being established. Things weren’t all doom and gloom, and fundraisers are a pretty optimistic bunch, but 2016 was a tough time to maintain that optimism.
Zip forward to this year’s conference and the mood felt very different. We’ve (mostly) got to grips with GDPR, the Fundraising Regulator is established and, whatever your opinion of the Fundraising Preference Service, at least we can see the effects that these various changes have had on fundraising.
For me it feels like fundraising has been through a rough patch but come out the other side determined to be great for our causes and better as a profession. At the convention, this wasn’t just reflected in some hugely exciting fundraising but also in us starting to be confident enough to face some of our own issues, through the work on diversity and on sexual harassment. The panel session on diversity was brilliantly honest, thought provoking and could have done with a much longer discussion. For a beautiful summary see these sketch notes from panellist Mandy Johnson
Our language is changing
Something else that struck me was how the way we talk about our supporters is changing. Gone are the days of referring to our one main target audience as ‘Dorothy Donor’ instead we are much better at exploring diverse potential audiences and the language reflects that. One of my favourite sessions of the convention was Lesley Pinder and Charlotte Forrest’s session on Supporter Experience. There were many nuggets of wisdom in there, but I particularly liked the way they were switching how they talk internally about donors to ‘people who donate’. This nicely reflects that people who choose to support us do that amongst a myriad of other things, and that we are just a very small part of their lives.
Similarly, a number of people mentioned how they dislike the term beneficiary, as it reflects an ‘us and them’ which isn’t really true of charity supporters and ‘beneficiaries’. I was wondering if we could apply Lesley and Charlotte’s thinking and instead use ‘People who we help’ or perhaps even ‘People who seek our help’?
We’re learning from outside the charity sector
This is not new, but something that came across very strongly for me this year. We are nabbing ideas from User Experience and Customer Experience Design, from the Arts, from the latest tech developments, and all of these influences are widening our horizons.
One of the criticisms I’ve heard in the past is that charities tend to ‘copy the case study’ rather than truly innovate, partly because this seems less risky. I’m sure there is lots of that going on, but many of the sessions I went to reflected people really thinking through how to develop new fundraising streams and what it would take to make it work for them. From the NSPCC’s use of Voice technology through to the brilliantly named ‘Pawsome players’ products for gamers by Cat’s Protection, there are plenty of genuinely exciting new bits of fundraising going on.
Another session I really loved (and left me feeling hugely fired up and motivated!) was the session on Grassroots Movements. This was a great panel session, where it felt like all the panel members had slightly different and well-reasoned views on the topic. Again there were too many fab insights to cover here without writing an essay, but one that struck me was the mix of the old and new: the way we now know and understand what made grass-roots movements of the past successful and how new technologies are helping us to exploit that knowledge. Panel member Carys Afoko summed it up nicely for me when she said that to create change you need an ecosystem: the grassroots movements and the established charities, let’s hope that we can do that on climate change.
Digital and Insight run through everything
My two main focuses in my job day to day are the use of insight in Fundraising and the world of digital fundraising. Only a few years ago, these felt like niche topics that were covered in their own focused sessions. This year I did attend lots of the digital stream (with some excellent sessions on trends, gaming, VR and voice), but there was interesting digital work happening in every session I attended, from students on social media through to the use of UX techniques to improve supporter experiences.
Insight was also key in many of the case studies. The importance of insight in doing great fundraising was evident throughout the brilliant ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ (#IWITOT) session run by Open & SoFII, where 8 people presented campaigns they admire. The really great ideas in this session were a mixture of understanding the audience and doing something surprising and timely to meet that audience’s needs. They also all used digital brilliantly (apart from Dr Barnardo obvs!).
We’re lucky enough to be in the best profession to work in
Ok perhaps this is an overclaim, but overall the conference left me feeling hugely motivated about how great it is to be a fundraiser. This year’s conference was filled with amazing sessions, truly heart-rending plenaries, beautiful moments (like seeing Gary the volunteer coordinator celebrate 20 years of conventions) and most of all great times connecting with an amazing bunch of people. I had some fascinating chats, met some old friends and made some new ones. I can’t wait to get on and try out everything I’ve learnt, roll on convention 2020!